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  • Position Analysis: Catcher

    Joe Mauer is looking to have a big year for the TwinsLikely Starter: Joe Mauer
    2012 Stats: .319/.416/.446, 10 HR, 85 RBI, 81 R

    Potential Backups: Ryan Doumit, Drew Butera, Chris Herrmann


    Joe Mauer wasn't officially honored as the American League's Comeback Player of the Year last season, losing out to Fernando Rodney, but he had an awfully good case. His 2011 campaign was as tumultuous as that of any player in baseball, seeing him descend from idol to villain in the eyes of a fan base frustrated by vague injuries, disappointing on-field performance and lacking accountability. Magnifying all these issues were the backdrops of a disastrous season for the club and a massive contract that was just getting underway.

    In 2012, Mauer put it all behind him.

    Some worried that the seeds of trouble sprouting in that '11 season would blossom into long-term limitations but last year it was like none of that stuff had ever happened. Mauer looked like his old self, spraying line drives all over the field and competing for a batting title down to the final days of the season. Rejuvenated, he posted the third-highest home run total of his career. As if to prove a point about the condition of his legs, he attempted 12 stolen bases -- as many as the previous four years combined -- and set a career high for games played with 147.

    The one thing that changed, relative to past successful seasons, was a dramatic reduction in his workload at catcher. Behind the plate for 83 percent of his starts in 2010, Mauer saw that number drop to 50 percent as his playing time at DH and first base shot up.

    This approach made sense for two principal reasons: first, caution with his battered legs was clearly warranted; second, moving Mauer out from behind the plate didn’t hurt the lineup the way it has in the past due to the presence of an offensive asset as the backup.

    Ryan Doumit looked like a great fit when the Twins signed him to a one-year deal prior to the 2012 season, and he worked out so well that the club extended his contract for two years in the middle of the summer. He’ll be back to help ease Mauer’s workload, while both players can periodically fill in elsewhere.

    With those two locked in, the question is whether a third backstop will accompany them on the roster. That has largely been assumed, since Drew Butera has held down a spot three years running and re-signed for $700,000 during the offseason, but Ron Gardenhire has hinted that he’s ready to snap his long-standing trend and carry two catchers in favor of a more potent bench.

    Without Butera weighing the position down, the Twins could realistically boast the best offensive output of any team in the league at catcher, especially if the prime-aged Mauer takes another step forward with 2011 shrinking in the rearview mirror.
    This article was originally published in blog: Position Analysis: Catcher started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 31 Comments
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      Free Mauer!!--Let him catch as much as he wants. There is no need to put a 1B glove on Joe, the position is well-staffed. Limiting his catching starts like last season wastes much of the value Mauer brings to the team--lots of offense at a position most teams (and all too often the Twins) simply grin-and-bear-it and hope for anything positive. Use the DH position as it was intended--for someone who hits a great deal, but often is a liability in the field.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kwak View Post
      Free Mauer!!--Let him catch as much as he wants. There is no need to put a 1B glove on Joe, the position is well-staffed. Limiting his catching starts like last season wastes much of the value Mauer brings to the team--lots of offense at a position most teams (and all too often the Twins) simply grin-and-bear-it and hope for anything positive. Use the DH position as it was intended--for someone who hits a great deal, but often is a liability in the field.
      The flip side to that question is this: what do you accomplish by wearing down Mauer's already beaten legs with a heavier catching workload in a season where the team's going nowhere? Keep in mind they've got Mauer under contract for another five years after this.

      I say have him catch often early, but once the team inevitably falls out of realistic contention, cut back significantly. More starts at 1B/DH than catcher late in the year.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by Nick Nelson View Post
      The flip side to that question is this: what do you accomplish by wearing down Mauer's already beaten legs with a heavier catching workload in a season where the team's going nowhere? Keep in mind they've got Mauer under contract for another five years after this.

      I say have him catch often early, but once the team inevitably falls out of realistic contention, cut back significantly. More starts at 1B/DH than catcher late in the year.
      I totally agree. If the Twins aren't winning, there is no sense in wasting games behind the plate. If Mauer is still able to catch 100 or so games in a couple seasons, say 2015 and 2016, we'll all be happy he didn't wear down during these "down" years.
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      I wonder how much longer Joe will be effective as a catcher.

      Joe started in the minors in 2001, and he caught roughly 300 games in the minors. Joe has has caught in another 845 or so games in the majors. He is a big guy who has had to overcome a major knee injury. And his caught stealing percentage last year was only 14%.

      It seems to me that there is a significant probability that Joe may need to catch less in the future.
    1. jm3319's Avatar
      jm3319 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Kwak View Post
      Free Mauer!!--Let him catch as much as he wants. There is no need to put a 1B glove on Joe, the position is well-staffed. Limiting his catching starts like last season wastes much of the value Mauer brings to the team--lots of offense at a position most teams (and all too often the Twins) simply grin-and-bear-it and hope for anything positive. Use the DH position as it was intended--for someone who hits a great deal, but often is a liability in the field.

      *facepalm*

      Basically the same responses to this as the people posting above me. Yes, Mauer is most valuable as a catcher, but he has no value if he isn't on the field at all or worn out from catching everyday. I'd rather see him have a longer career with slightly less "value" by DH/1B more often than grind him into the ground on what's most likely going to be a terrible Twins team this year, and hopefully slightly less sucky next year. If we were actually contending this year, I'd be all for pushing him to catch as much as possible, but would still like to see him rest at 1B/DH.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by glunn View Post
      I wonder how much longer Joe will be effective as a catcher.

      Joe started in the minors in 2001, and he caught roughly 300 games in the minors. Joe has has caught in another 845 or so games in the majors. He is a big guy who has had to overcome a major knee injury. And his caught stealing percentage last year was only 14%.

      It seems to me that there is a significant probability that Joe may need to catch less in the future.
      If Harmon Killebrew and Miguel Cabrera (6'4" 240#) can play Third Base, why not Mauer?
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      When/if Mauer needs to move from Catcher--then that can be done.

      Oh my, all the scsred Sallys--Mauer might get hurt. Anybody can get hurt. That factor was included in the evaluation to extend him that 8-year contract. He truly wants to play catcher, he is able to do so at a high level, and that's where his value lies. You people sound like the Twins should just use Mauer to wave to the crowd before the game, and lead the 7th inning stretch's "Take me out to the ballgame". Maybe we should just build a statue of him and permanently display his picture on the scoreboard--so he won't get hurt?
    1. glunn's Avatar
      glunn -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      If Harmon Killebrew and Miguel Cabrera (6'4" 240#) can play Third Base, why not Mauer?
      I agree that eventually third base might be a good home for him, but it would be nice if the Twins had someone really good to take Joe's place at catcher. I suspect that they will want to keep him mainly at catcher until they have a better replacement than Doumit/Butera, or at least until one of the prospects proves himself.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by glunn View Post
      I agree that eventually third base might be a good home for him, but it would be nice if the Twins had someone really good to take Joe's place at catcher. I suspect that they will want to keep him mainly at catcher until they have a better replacement than Doumit/Butera, or at least until one of the prospects proves himself.
      That might be a longer wait than Mauer's knees can handle. Hermann certainly had a short-term setback this spring and Pinto's been around for 7 years and still only in AA.

      Brian McCann is a free agent next year- with another $20M likely coming off the Twins payroll. The Twins love getting a cheap rehab reclamation project...
    1. h2oface's Avatar
      h2oface -
      Maybe they could trade for a young up and comer at catcher......... Wilson Ramos.

      Mauer's eye at the plate amazes me. Watching the WBC, and his "called strikeouts".......... that aren't strikes........... it becomes so obvious. The umpires are horrible on the close pitches on the outside of the plate. Mauer lets them go, but gets called out. The replay shows that it barely missed the plate. Mauer is right. The umpires are WRONG. The worst part of baseball, to me, has always been how inaccurate the plate umpires are at calling a consistent strike zone within the rules from umpire to umpire. They should just let Joe Mauer call them if they don't go electronic.

      So many armchair slugs know baseball better than Joe Mauer. They think. Let the guy catch if he wants to catch. All the money that your opinion is not spending has no real say in the matter.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by h2oface View Post
      Maybe they could trade for a young up and comer at catcher......... Wilson Ramos.

      Mauer's eye at the plate amazes me. Watching the WBC, and his "called strikeouts".......... that aren't strikes........... it becomes so obvious. The umpires are horrible on the close pitches on the outside of the plate. Mauer lets them go, but gets called out. The replay shows that it barely missed the plate. Mauer is right. The umpires are WRONG. The worst part of baseball, to me, has always been how inaccurate the plate umpires are at calling a consistent strike zone within the rules from umpire to umpire. They should just let Joe Mauer call them if they don't go electronic.
      The announcers praised the umpire in the face of the obvious miscalls. "Mauer passed the word to his (new pitcher) about the 'generous' strike zone, and as Mauer himself found out, the (umpire) is consistently calling it both ways!"

      Yeah right, buddy, consistently bad.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      If Joe averages 74 games catching for the 5 years while playing 140 or so games total, that has to be a big positive. Catching too much is going to hurt him. FULL STOP. So, don't do that, especially with Doumit and Herrmann (and Pinto starting in 2014 or so) who are capable of sharing the load. Mauer can DH and play first base, especially in the post-Morneau era as Parmelee is going to be relegated to the bench or will be gone with the arrival of Sano and Vargas.

      Mauer can catch 100 games but he is going to require many more days off if he does that. I don't think 2012 was that egregious in terms of the value they got out of him. In fact, it was about spot on.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by jokin View Post
      That might be a longer wait than Mauer's knees can handle. Hermann certainly had a short-term setback this spring and Pinto's been around for 7 years and still only in AA.

      Brian McCann is a free agent next year- with another $20M likely coming off the Twins payroll. The Twins love getting a cheap rehab reclamation project...
      Herrmann: spring training means very little. One can see that in case after case throughout baseball. Herrmann will be fine. And Pinto turns 24 if a few weeks, so calm down.
    1. Teflon's Avatar
      Teflon -
      The loopy logic of having what amounts to a 24 man roster and a minor league catcher all season long just so the Twins can avoid the possibility of losing the DH for a couple at-bats in one game should both other catchers be playing and one gets injured -drives me freakin' crazy. The last time I looked, baseball still lets you pinch hit and do double switches in the batting order - so even the chance of a pitcher having to hit in that situation is minimal. This is like making your kids share a bed room even though you have another one unoccupied on the off-chance that the Pope will move in with you when he retires.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      If Joe averages 74 games catching for the 5 years while playing 140 or so games total, that has to be a big positive. Catching too much is going to hurt him. FULL STOP. So, don't do that, especially with Doumit and Herrmann (and Pinto starting in 2014 or so) who are capable of sharing the load. Mauer can DH and play first base, especially in the post-Morneau era as Parmelee is going to be relegated to the bench or will be gone with the arrival of Sano and Vargas.

      Mauer can catch 100 games but he is going to require many more days off if he does that. I don't think 2012 was that egregious in terms of the value they got out of him. In fact, it was about spot on.
      The earliest projection I've seen for Pinto is 2015.

      The value for Mauer goes up significantly with time spent at third and fills a spot that still remains in question. First base looks like it's going to have plenty of other options for players who have few other options to get themselves in the lineup.
    1. jokin's Avatar
      jokin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Herrmann: spring training means very little. One can see that in case after case throughout baseball. Herrmann will be fine. And Pinto turns 24 if a few weeks, so calm down.
      On my second cup of coffee, even calmer than when I first posted. Agree about ST meaning little in the long run, that's why I wrote that Hermann "certainly had a short-term setback." Can we agree that Hermann is an athletic, versatile player who became a catcher as a second position? Can we also agree that Hermann has achieved a slightly above modest .754 OPS in two years at AA? Further, has he demonstrated in his brief major league appearances that he has a way to go to master major league pitching? The Twins hedged their bets heavily on Hermann's arrival date by extending Doumit through 2014.

      Pinto is a very good-hitting catcher, who doesn't come with much reputation behind the plate. While it's exciting to have a potential toy cannon on the roster versus the likes of a Butera, it's probably important to note that Pinto DHd nearly half of his games played last year.

      I get that the Twins have made a major commitment to Pinto and Hermann. I would just hope that rather than making them the Designated-Duo-by-Default to the Mauer legacy, they at least consider the option of jump-starting by a couple years the return to legitimate contention by considering filling one of the catcher spots with a proven veteran, proven bat, a winner, willing field captain, and leader for all the young pitching talent about to hit the Majors. They certainly will have carved out the payroll space by the end of this season to do so.
    1. worm33's Avatar
      worm33 -
      Its funny how you took the 2012 BA and coupled it with the 2009 OBP and SLG?
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      .319/.444/.587?
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by worm33 View Post
      Its funny how you took the 2012 BA and coupled it with the 2009 OBP and SLG?
      Yikes, dunno how that happened. Dreaming, I guess...
    1. birdwatcher's Avatar
      birdwatcher -
      Teflon, I love your description of Gardy's loopy logic on Butera. The Butera decision is Gardy at his worst.

      I agree that the Twins will probably have to go outside the organization for a catcher in a year or so. This means I agreed with jokin, who probably spit his coffee on his keyboard.
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