Monday, October 6, 2014

It's Raining 40-Men: Joe Mauer

No player on the Twins is more famous than Joe Mauer.  No player is scrutinized and criticized like Mauer, but no player cashes bigger checks either.  In terms of dollars, not size.  I like to think that Oswaldo Arcia gets paid in giant novelty checks.  Was 2014 kind to Joe Mauer?

2014 Season Overview
No, 2014 was not kind to Joe Mauer.  What would be the opposite of smooth?  If only there were a book that could tell me such things.  Mauer made the transition from elite offensive catcher to Lyle Overbay in 2014.  Unfortunately, because of his contract, he needs to be referred to as Lyle Overpaidbay.  Mauer finished the season with a .277/.361/.371 batting line, 4 home runs, 55 RBI and countless people questioning his value, manhood and soul.  No, 2014 was not kind to Mr. Mauer. 

Mauer did start to show signs of the "old Mauer" near the end of the season.  When Mauer went on the disabled list with an oblique injury in early July, he was batting .270/.342/.350.  That's not as awful as you would be led to believe, but it certainly was not the level of production we had come to expect from such a talented player. 

Things got somewhat better in the second half.  Starting with his return from that oblique injury on August 11, he batted .289/.397/.408 to finish the season and he was even better in September at .305/.406/.390.  The lack of power is not cool, but if Mauer can hit some combo of .300/.400/.XXX in 2015, I'd take it. 

2015 Role Projection
First Base - Starter - Top of the Lineup

2015 Season Prediction
I anticipate that Mauer will perform more like he did in August and September rather than how he performed in the first half of the season.  I think he'll hit for slightly more power and he'll return to a .400 OBP-guy.  I also think his defense will be improved and he'll basically be Mauer-lite, exactly what we should expect from a guy in the decline phase of his career.  I also think it's safe to say that he'll never post a .324/.404/.476 batting line like he did in 2013. 

The real question is - will the new Twins manager have the insight and stones to bat Mauer in the leadoff spot?  Really, that's Mauer's best spot based on his talent, approach and production.  I predict that veteran-ness will trump logic and Mauer will remain in the middle of the order.

A 90s Song for Joe
Alice in Chains - "Love, Hate, Love"

Long-Term Outlook
Mauer will be 32 in 2015 and he's not going to change his approach.  Mauer isn't going to add power and he isn't going to stop poking the ball the other way for singles.  The hand-wringing is likely to continue for four more seasons.  If you want to yell about what Mauer doesn't do, you're going to be quite hoarse. 

Why not focus on what he can do?  OBP and walk rate tend to stay stable as players age and Mauer had an elite OBP prior to 2014.  If those skills are still present, and his second half indicates they are, he can still be a good offensive player through his current contract and possibly a little longer.

Is he a keeper?
I don't think it's really a question worth asking.  You can't get good value in a trade for Mauer and he's still good enough to be a productive player.  Even in a very down year, he posted a 107 OPS+.  That's terrible production for his contract, but it's still 7% better than the average player.  His OPS+ was above 130 in August and September.  That would be much more acceptable. 

Mauer is almost certainly going to be overpaid for the next four seasons, but that's a sunk cost.  Mauer is a keeper and unless you trust one season (and really, one half-season) over a ten-year career, it seems reasonable to think that he'll bounce back to a moderate extent. 


  1. If Mauer could be something like the 2004-2006 version of Lyle Overbay, that wouldn't be so bad.

    1. That's very true, Overbay was a productive player at his peak.