If he doesn’t hit for more power, Mauer will be an average first baseman

(Associated Press)

Joe Mauer’s catching days are over.

The Minnesota Twins announced today that Mauer will be moved to first base full time because of his age and the impact of years of catching. Mauer missed the end of last season because of a concussion he sustained while catching.

Mauer, a gifted athlete, will excel at whatever position he plays. But a Gold Glove, batting-title winning catcher is rare — and a lot more valuable than a high-average, low-power first baseman. At $23 million a year, that’s a lot of money to pay.

Mauer led all American League catchers in on-base percentage plus slugging — a statistic that reflects success in hitting and hitting for power — just ahead of Cleveland’s Carlos Santana, who also is spending more time at first base these days.

Mauer, though, would rank only third in the league if he duplicated that stat as a first baseman. And his home run output, even in years when he wasn’t injured, puts him closer to the bottom of starting first basemen in the league.

That could always change with a move to an easier position. Mauer could concentrate more on his gifted hitting, and less on the defense required as a catcher.

How does his future career at first compare to his future as a catcher? It’s actually fairly easy to know.

First, since he’s 30 now, there’s plenty of data to predict using the Brock5 calculations, which predict future performance. The system, developed by the Society of Baseball Research (SABR), also compares each season’s production to others at the same position, because at some point, a player can be replaced by a better player.

Let’s look at Mauer’s future numbers as a catcher:

Age Games AB R HITS DBL TRP HR RBI BB AVG
2014 138 508 62 156 32 2 9 61 76 0.307
2015 135 504 58 152 34 1 9 59 70 0.301
2016 141 515 58 155 33 1 8 58 77 0.301
2017 142 516 54 153 33 1 7 57 67 0.297
2018 144 517 50 149 31 1 6 54 70 0.287
2019 145 516 47 147 30 1 6 52 67 0.284
2020 147 515 42 138 28 1 5 48 67 0.269
2021 147 512 47 149 31 1 5 51 65 0.292
2022 148 508 34 126 26 1 4 42 64 0.249
2023 59 168 13 47 9 0 1 15 21 0.278
2024 71 192 14 50 10 0 1 16 24 0.259
TOT 2596 9231 1149 2804 570 27 161 1130 1274 0.304

That’s an everyday player well into his thirties, even though it’s worth noting his batting average is about to tail off sharply. And yet, he remains a full-time player. Why? Because there’s no one coming along to take his job with those numbers, as the Twins will most certainly find out as they try to replace him at catcher.

Now let’s look at the same projection, only moving him to first base.

Age Games AB R HITS DBL TRP HR RBI BB AVG
2014 138 508 62 156 32 2 9 61 76 0.307
2015 135 504 58 152 34 1 9 59 70 0.301
2016 141 515 58 155 33 1 8 58 77 0.301
2017 142 516 54 153 33 1 7 57 67 0.297
2018 144 517 50 149 31 1 6 54 70 0.287
2019 145 516 47 147 30 1 6 52 67 0.284
2020 147 515 42 138 28 1 5 48 67 0.269
2021 78 249 23 73 15 0 2 25 32 0.292
2022 100 307 21 76 15 0 2 26 39 0.249
2023 24 55 4 15 3 0 0 5 7 0.276
2024 8 16 1 4 1 0 0 1 2 0.257
TOT 2380 8584 1108 2632 537 28 161 1079130 1274 0.304

There’s not much difference over the next few years (the program doesn’t account for Mauer concentrating more on power hitting, only establishing a minimum performance level to keep a job at a particular position), but after that his playing days dwindle quickly.

Why? Because first base is where all great hitters end up (before they become designated hitters) and the numbers Mauer is projected to turn in aren’t good enough to keep him in the lineup in the face of younger, and probably much cheaper players. His career at first is about 200 games shorter than his career as catcher, if, of course, he could physically absorb the damage of catching, which he obviously can’t anymore.

If, on the other hand, he can perform next year with near identical statistics to his 2009 season, check out what it does to his future:

Age Games AB R HITS DBL TRP HR RBI BB AVG
2014 138 523 94 191 30 1 28 96 76 0.365
2015 135 512 61 154 30 0 16 71 71 0.301
2016 141 526 70 169 29 1 20 80 77 0.321
2017 142 526 64 166 30 0 16 74 67 0.317
2018 144 528 62 165 29 0 16 73 71 0.313
2019 145 527 54 156 28 0 14 67 68 0.297
2020 147 525 50 152 26 0 12 63 68 0.289
2021 147 522 54 162 28 0 12 65 66 0.311
2022 148 519 41 139 24 0 9 54 65 0.268
2023 79 251 22 74 13 0 4 28 31 0.295
2024 100 308 26 86 15 0 5 32 37 0.278
TOT 2645 9633 1285 3029 563 25 257 1337 1312 0.314

His career lasts another 300 games, and he hits almost 100 more career home runs. That’s what the Twins are hoping will happen in 2014. And that’s why 2014 will be a critical year for determining Mauer’s future with the Twins.

How accurate are these projections? When I last ran one for Mauer in 2010, it predicted that this past season he’d hit .322 with 4 HR 49 RBI and 49 walks in 122 games. He played in 113 games, batted .324 with 11 HR and 46 walks.

  • Dylan

    How does third out of 15 AL starting first basemen (which is where he’d rank in OPS) make him “average”? I’d say 3rd out of 15 is decidedly above average.

    • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

      I’m looking at the projection for the career, not for last season. The next few years look just fine, after that the decline is fairly noticeable UNLESS the move does, in fact, give him the opportunity to hit for more power, than he’s quite a beast.

    • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

      By the way, you could pay #1, #2, and #4 (assuming Mauer is #3) combined and still have $5 million left over compared to Mauer’s salary.

  • Starquest

    $23m is too much, but the Twins were in a no-win situation with Joe Mauer. Local guy, fan favorite, damned if you sign him, damned if you don’t.

    But it’s not like Joe Mauer is the source of the Twins’ trouble. The Pohlads could simply spend more money and attempt to compete. They’ve chosen not to.

    • http://blogs.mprnews.org/newscut/ Bob Collins

      As his career winds down, I imagine he has to make a decision as to whether the cabin up north is worth the losing.

  • joetron2030

    Something I’ve been puzzling over since seeing these numbers: Why the drop in games played in ’14 and ’15 then an increase in games played in ’16 and onward?

    I’ll admit to skimming over the linked page describing the system but I did scroll through it relatively slowly to see if there was any mention of that.

  • Ralphy

    The arc of Joe Mauer’s season and projected career change dramatically if he has runners on base to open up the infield and a decent threat behind him in the line-up so he gets a pitch to hit. Take any HoF player and compare them with and without a strong supporting cast. Roberto Clemente with Willie Stargell behind him, .345 & 20 HRs. Without Willie Stargell, .301 & 10 HRs. Joe Mauer with David Ortiz on deck – .325+ & 20.

    I do agree that any team that blows their payroll on one or two players and surround them with a second tier cast is looking at a long season.