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  • Top 10 Stories for 2013: #5 Can Mauer catch and stay healthy?

    Joe Mauer carries a lot of pressure on his knees, both physically and metaphorically speaking.


    Some of that is pressure a few of us can relate to, like being a newly married man with a family on the way (twins, no less). Most of it, however, we can’t. Like checking your bank account and seeing a figure which includes multiple commas or getting buzzed by a Chris Sale fastball followed by a slider that seems to bend through space and time. And the scrutiny that follows when you don’t deliver 30-plus home runs a season.

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    As the anchor of the lineup, Mauer’s knees carry the weight of the local baseball world.

    Physically, catching can definitely take a toll on the body, especially the knees, and that can certainly affect a player’s output at the plate. After the 2011 season, then-hitting coach Joe Vavra said in a radio interview that he noticed Mauer had troubles “getting off of his backside and favored his legs a bit” during his swing. To improve, Mauer focused heavily on strengthening his knee after that season and entered the 2012 season better prepared for the rigors of the position, and the numbers speak for themselves.

    The added offseason attention helped overall but he also demonstrated that he could continue to hit even while catching on a regular basis – a feat some felt was not possible as they plotted a new position for Minnesota’s highest paid athlete. In 2012 his offensive production when adorning the tools of ignorance far exceeded that when he wasn’t squatting in 2012. In 323 plate appearances last year while catching, he put up a triple-slash line of .365/.460/.493 with six of his home runs. The results were significant improved from over his 2011 season in which he hit .239/.328/.324 in the aftermath of his knee surgery.

    That said the knees may have been a factor behind his defensive decline in ’12. His caught stealing rate plummeted to a career low and the coaching staff attributed this to a mechanical change.

    “I don’t know if he’s throwing different but I think he’s had some injuries that have changed some of his mechanics,” manager Ron Gardenhire told reporters in camp. “His arm is still there, he’s still got a cannon. I think the tendencies are when you are not able to work on things like that a lot you get a little long with your actions.”

    One of the biggest questions is how many innings will Mauer play as a catcher. While Mauer has offensive acumen that would play anywhere on the field, having his bat at the catcher’s position greatly enhances his value to the team, allow someone with more traditional power to assume the first base or designated hitter role.

    Last year, in terms of innings played at the position, he ranked 26th among all backstops. One of the game’s ironmen, the Cardinals’ Yadier Molina, caught multiple games in a row for long stretches of time, maxing out at 12 in September. By comparison, Mauer’s longest streak was three games in 2012. With the addition of Ryan Doumit, it is conceivable that the days of Mauer hooking up the chest protector for more than 900 innings are behind him, but Gardenhire says the amount that Mauer spends behind the plate in 2013 is purely up to his star. With more time to heal and his admitted passion to catch, he could be more inclined to do so this year.

    The defensive abilities may simply erode with age but Mauer’s hitting will never come under question. If you are expecting a sudden home run outburst, that is probably never going to come to fruition. Because of his hitting style and ballpark that is not conducive to it, his home run totals will probably fall into the 10-to-15 range annually. Still, the on-base percentage and high average should continue so long as he is able to draw a breath.

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    This article was originally published in blog: Top 10 Stories for 2013: #5 Can Mauer catch and stay healthy? started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 11 Comments
    1. Lesser Dali's Avatar
      Lesser Dali -
      Although the most value comes from Mauer when he is catching, the way the Twins used him last year seemed to work out well and might be the best plan to utilize Joe's talents in 2013.

      My gut tells me Mauer has his 2nd or 3rd best hitting season, behind, of course, 2009.

      We will all have to live with him catching 80-100 games. If it keeps his bat in the line-up, and healthy, I certainly have no problem making peace with that scenario.
    1. Mr. Brooks's Avatar
      Mr. Brooks -
      Quote Originally Posted by Lesser Dali View Post
      Although the most value comes from Mauer when he is catching, the way the Twins used him last year seemed to work out well and might be the best plan to utilize Joe's talents in 2013.

      My gut tells me Mauer has his 2nd or 3rd best hitting season, behind, of course, 2009.

      We will all have to live with him catching 80-100 games. If it keeps his bat in the line-up, and healthy, I certainly have no problem making peace with that scenario.
      I disagree.
      I think they did an excellent job of managing him last year, but last year he was coming off the whole 'bilateral leg weakness' fiasco of 2011.
      Now that he appears to have all that completely behind him, there should be no reason, IMO, that he cant catch 110 games per year.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      People always seem to think that if he doesn't catch as much as they think he should, it's all on him.

      Some things to consider:

      Doctors told Morny and the team that him getting worn down could cause a recurrence of his concussion symptoms. Mauer was the most logical choice to fill in for him when needed.

      Morny plays in the AL and is a good enough hitter where he can DH or fill in at 1B. Most catchers aren't good enough hitters where it'd be okay to bench starters in favor of them.

      The team actually has a MLB quality player as his backup where having him DH or play 1B isn't such a strain on the lineup....as opposed to say, Butera a the backup catcher.

      Gardy makes out the lineup card...Mauer doesn't.

      If he was in the NL where DH wasn't an option he'd catch more. If he was on an NL team that has a very good hitting 1B, he'd catch a lot more (cause the 1B couldn't be moved to DH).
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      I think Mauer is the Twins best 1B and could win a gold glove at 1st if he played the position every day.Pretty sure he's in the bottom of most defensive category's as a catcher at this point. Furthermore, do the Twins want to risk another bi-lateral whatever fiasco? So I challenge the idea that he has his most value behind the plate. His value is in his health and his .400 OBP and his potential gold glove level defense at 1B. Him catching has become a liability. There is simply too much money involved and he's not so good defensively at the catcher position anymore. It happens. He was always big for a catcher so maybe it caught up to him a little sooner than some, but it's really about the money. Obviously, the Twins can't say this stuff publicly because of the Morneau Parmalee glut at 1st and the long list of Twins position players that would probably be better served as DH, but I expect in time Mauer will be the Twins starting 1B.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      > The defensive abilities may simply erode with age but Mauer’s hitting will never come under question.

      Doesn't part of what contributes to the defensive side also affect hitting? Bi-lateral leg weakness was something of a punchline, but corresponded to a poor offensive season, by his standards anyway. I'm not ready to separate the two issues quite as much as this quoted statement suggests.
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      Quote Originally Posted by Mr. Brooks View Post
      I think they did an excellent job of managing him last year, Now that he appears to have all that completely behind him, there should be no reason, IMO, that he cant catch 110 games per year.
      Giddyup.
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      People always seem to think that if he doesn't catch as much as they think he should, it's all on him.

      Some things to consider:

      Doctors told Morny and the team that him getting worn down could cause a recurrence of his concussion symptoms. Mauer was the most logical choice to fill in for him when needed.

      Morny plays in the AL and is a good enough hitter where he can DH or fill in at 1B. Most catchers aren't good enough hitters where it'd be okay to bench starters in favor of them.

      The team actually has a MLB quality player as his backup where having him DH or play 1B isn't such a strain on the lineup....as opposed to say, Butera a the backup catcher.

      Gardy makes out the lineup card...Mauer doesn't.

      If he was in the NL where DH wasn't an option he'd catch more. If he was on an NL team that has a very good hitting 1B, he'd catch a lot more (cause the 1B couldn't be moved to DH).
      Giddyup again.
    1. Thegrin's Avatar
      Thegrin -
      Different bodies react differently to age and wear and tear. Modern knowledge can strengthen his knees. Except for his throwing out potential steals, in what ways is Mauer worse ? He still blocks balls thrown into the dirt, calls a great game and handles pitchers at an elite level. If Joe hits like Joe and catches 130 games, then Mauer will earn every penny he is paid.
      Throwing out potential base stealers is at least 1/2 the responsibility of the pitchers. They have worked on this during ST and Joe will benefit from this work during the season.
      Mauer is not the Twins best First Baseman. He does not hit with enough power to be the Twins #1 first baseman. Morneaux at 1B and Mauer C is much better than Mauer at 1B and Doumit catching. Heck, Parmalee at !B with Mauer catching will be better than Mauer at 1B and Doumit catching.
      Mauer and Morneaux are the top stories for the Twins in 2013, but starting Pitching is the #1 story, and the #2, #3, #4 & #5 stories for the year. If they are not good stories, the rest of them won't make much difference.
    1. Kobs's Avatar
      Kobs -
      If the Twins aren't going to be any good, and they aren't, Mauer should be catching about 60-65% of the time. His catching doesn't really help when you only have a couple of major league hitters in the lineup.
    1. Kwak's Avatar
      Kwak -
      He should catch as often as he can, with an expectation similar to that of other bona fide #1 catchers in baseball (more than 110 games). There is a logjam at 1B and DH (the only other plausible spots for him). Doumit at catcher and Mauer elsewhere is inferior, and to be as limited as possible. DH could be Doumit, Willingham, Parmalee, Morneau, or any of the reserves, serving as a rotating position for people. Plus, Mauer will need some actual "off days". If at a later date he becomes a DH with being a #2 catcher--so be it--but delay that for as long as possible, and capture as much value from him as possible.
    1. Physics Guy's Avatar
      Physics Guy -
      I think Mauer is slated for 110-115 at catcher this year (at least I hope he is). I'm not sure Gardy will want to go through more than 50 with Doumit behind the dish.
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