No sense waiting for the Joe Mauer of old

Ann Heisenfelt/AP

Last fall in this space, I presented a series of projections of the kind of season Twins firstbaseman Joe Mauer would have, based on the Brock5 calculations of Bill James, the godfather of SABR, the Society of American Baseball Research. Or, as the get-off-my-lawn crowd in baseball would say, “the stat freaks.”

It’s a fairly old tool as these things go, but it’s still a good barometer of where a career is headed. The projection of career length is based on the theory that a player must maintain a certain level of performance to keep from losing his job to another player. Mauer’s performance declined in 2013, but so — as the New York Times points out today — did most other hitters.

How did it do with Mauer? So-so on the statistics, but the bottom line was dead on. He would be an average baseball player who missed games.

The spreadsheet predicted Mauer would hit .307, with 9 home runs, 32 doubles, 61 RBI, 76 walks, 62 runs scored in 138 games.

His final actual statistics: He hit .277 with 4 home runs, 27 doubles, 55 RBI, 60 walks, 60 runs scored in 120 games.

I’ve seen BROCK5 projections that were better, but that’s pretty close.

What’s ahead? More of the same. Let’s recalculate the prediction for future years by adding Mauer’s numbers from this just-completed season.

Voila! Or “read ’em and weep.”

Year G AB R H DBL TRP HR RBI BB AVG
2004 35 107 18 33 8 1 6 17 11 0.308
2005 131 489 61 144 26 2 9 55 61 0.294
2006 140 521 86 181 36 4 13 84 79 0.347
2007 109 406 62 119 27 3 7 60 57 0.293
2008 146 536 98 176 31 4 9 85 84 0.328
2009 138 523 94 191 30 1 28 96 76 0.365
2010 137 510 88 167 43 1 9 75 65 0.327
2011 82 333 38 85 15 0 3 30 32 0.255
2012 147 545 81 174 31 4 10 85 90 0.319
2013 113 445 62 144 35 2 11 47 61 0.324
2014 120 455 60 126 27 2 4 55 60 0.277
2015* 129 490 72 142 32 2 7 54 64 0.290
2016* 133 497 70 144 31 2 5 51 69 0.290
2017* 137 509 66 144 32 2 5 51 61 0.284
2018* 140 513 60 139 30 2 4 48 65 0.270
2019* 74 246 28 67 14 1 2 23 30 0.272
2020* 43 125 13 32 7 0 1 11 15 0.255
2021* 8 16 2 5 1 0 0 2 2 0.279
2022* 3 6 1 1 0 0 0 0 1 0.237
2023* 1 1 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.262
2024* 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0 0.243
TOT 1966 7275 1059 2215 456 33 134 928 982 0.304

*projected

The most meaningful part of the prediction is that Mauer’s career will end two years sooner than last year’s prediction had indicated. He’ll only play four more seasons as a full time player, it predicts.

His batting-title days are over, and he won’t hit home runs. In short, the Joe Mauer of the future is — at best — the Joe Mauer of the present.

It’s possible that had he not had his concussion, he’d be a different player. But the calculation doesn’t indicate that. It predicted several years ago — before the concussion — that Mauer would pretty much be the player he is at this stage of his career.

  • Gary F
  • Dave

    Nate Silver’s book made an interesting observation. Most players who get these blockbuster contracts are already on the decline before the ink dries. Production peaks around age 27 or 28.

  • blindeke

    why you gotta do this to me bob? why you gotta be like that?

    • Ha! If you guys don’t want him anymore, I know a team that could use him.

      • blindeke

        a team that shall not be named. i will always be a big mauer fan and think he can age OK.

  • TT

    “I’ve seen BROCK5 projections that were better, but that’s pretty close.”

    It got the batting average give or take 30 points, if he had hit .337, it still would have been “pretty close” I suppose. This is why people make fun of baseball statheads.

    • And the reason statheads make fun of old school baseball fans is old school baseball fans never look past batting average in analyzing player performance. They mostly still think .300 is some magical entry to the hall of fame.

      • TT

        ” reason statheads make fun of old school baseball fans is old school baseball fans never look past batting average in analyzing player performance. ”

        What does that have to do with your column or my comment? I used average because its the only number you provide that has any internal context at all.

        The rest of your “projections” are all just counts where the differences largely reflect how much he played. If Mauer had played a 156 games, would that have been “pretty close”? How about if he walked 92 times, 8 more than his previous career high? Or hit 37 doubles, his second best year? How exactly do you define “pretty close”? Certainly no one would be complaining about his lack of offense if he put up those numbers “pretty close” to your projections. Or writing stories about his decline.

        • In baseball statistics, the “if” doesn’t matter. At all. The only thing that matter is the “is.” His performance is the “is.” The numbers are the “is” and they reflect what the “will be” will be.

          His performance vs. the expected floor is the “is”. The numbers vs. expected numbers are the “is” and the context.

          Average, actually, doesn’t have any context that runs, walks, hits and power don’t provide in more abundance. Average is only hits divided by ABs. That’s it. It was pretty much discredited as having much contextual value years ago.

          Runs, on the other hand, reflect your ability to get on base. So do hits and walks. Doubles, Triples and HR reflect your power.

          James’ formula nailed almost all of his projected stats with the exception of hits. He was off by 14 hits, which would have given him his .307 average.

          But while it showed he would miss more games, it didn’t calculate his inability to stay in the lineup would be so pronounced. The calculation for the future considers this reality.

          Mauer is tracking expected performance and has for several years now.

          His performance isn’t a fluke. It’s not an off year. It’s not something he’s going to bounce back from. It’s the “is.”

          Try to find an old Baseball Abstract by Bill James and it’ll make some sense to you. Or click the link.

          • TT

            I read BIll James, both then and now. That includes his recent admissions that much of what he wrote in the Baseball Abstract was wrong and built on a faulty understanding of statistics. He was, after all, a sports writer who had discovered the power of the personal computer and figured out how to use its number crunching to create entertaining baseball stories.

            “Average, actually, doesn’t have any context that runs, walks, hits and power don’t provide”

            You chose the statistics and included average, I didn’t. Average does a decent job of measuring hits against opportunities. That is called context.

            “James’ formula nailed almost all of his projected stats with the exception of hits. He was off by 14 hits ”

            … and projected 16 more walks, over twice as many home runs, 20% more doubles and 18 more games …

            “James’ formula nailed almost all of his projected stats”

            No, it didn’t. It wasn’t even close. Its a parlor game that tells us nothing. It provides no insight into what Mauer will do next year that we don’t get by noting he turned 31 this year.

          • Would love to see the link with James’ comments. Hadn’t heard that.

            Not sure where you got his background. I don’t believe he was ever a sportswriter. I believe he was a security guard.

  • Jack Ungerleider

    Personally I don’t put a whole lot stock in this year for Joe Mauer. It was an off year. Between the move to first base, possible lingering effects of last season’s concussion, and the pressure put on him early because of the All Star game being here this year, he had a lot of things swirling around him. A new manager will take some of the press focus off him, as will the rise of the young guns (Santana, Vargas and Arcia). With a healthy off season maybe he can get a better, more relaxed start next year.

    Forget everything else on that chart and keep an eye on his strikeout to walk ratio and OBP. If the walks are up the OBP will be up and the BA will follow.

    • tboom

      You miss the point of the statistical analysis, the “off year” was 2009, and the past 4 years have been regression to the mean.

      The feeling I get is that fans aren’t really upset with Joe, most recognize he had a career years in 2009. At the end of 2009 everybody thought he was the second coming of Hrbek (local boy capable of carrying local team to the Promised Land). What is upsetting is that ownership rightly went out on a limb and signed a big contract and got burned. Now ownership has taken a “once burned twice shy” posture, which means the Twins aren’t going anywhere soon.

      • The fans would’ve roasted Pohlad if he’d just gotten a bill through for a publicly financed stadium and then let Mauer go. The fans would’ve gone crazy.

        He had to “go big” to show that he would.

        Too bad that after Mauer, he wouldn’t.