• Catching No Longer an Option For Mauer

    Exactly five weeks after he last played in a game, the Minnesota Twins announced on Monday that Joe Mauer would be shut down for the remainder of the season. The decision has seemed obvious and inevitable ever since it was revealed the catcher was still suffering symptoms weeks after sustaining a concussion while behind the plate.

    Ultimately, the incident will end up costing Mauer 39 games, or roughly a quarter of the season. In other words, this is a serious brain injury. The Twins have understandably tried to downplay the severity of the issue by insisting there have been no setbacks and stubbornly maintaining that he'd be back before season's end, but that's the reality we're facing.

    And here's another reality we must face: Mauer's days of catching are done.

    Despite major strides in recent years, we still don't know a whole lot about concussions. But here are a couple things we do know: they can be debilitating -- both professionally and personally -- and they are much more likely to be suffered by those with a history of having them before.

    The risk of Mauer experiencing another blow may not have been quite so worrisome had August's incident proven to be relatively minor, but that's far from the case. Five weeks after his brain was shaken by the fateful foul tip, Mauer still has not engaged in any baseball activities and still reports symptoms such as sensitivity to light and noise.

    Even if the complications clear up completely during the offseason and Mauer reports to spring training at 100 percent, there's still no way that a return to catching duties would be palatable. No position in baseball exposes the head to more frequent potential trauma than catcher, where batted balls to the mask and full-body collisions are part of the job description. Mauer is one of at least six backstops to be diagnosed with a concussion resulting from a foul tip this year, joining Detroit's Alex Avila, Kansas City's Salvador Perez, New York's Austin Romine, Houston's Carlos Corporan and Minnesota's own Ryan Doumit. If he ends up back at catcher, Mauer and Twins fans will live in a constant state of apprehension every time a ball is deflected back into his mask.

    Of course, the risk doesn't disappear if Mauer switches positions. Justin Morneau notably re-triggered his concussion symptoms when he made a diving attempt for a ball at first base more than a year after his July 2010 injury. But clearly the danger is far greater behind the plate at the game's most punishing position, one which has been mostly responsible for Mauer missing an average of 44 games per season in his career.

    Now, in fairness, I've been a proponent of moving Mauer away from catcher for two years, so I might be more predisposed to this conclusion than most. My original concern stemmed more from the condition of his legs than of his head, but these are both areas subjected to significant wear and tear.

    We know all too well how concussions can linger and relapse almost at random. We've seen it up close with Morneau and from afar with Corey Koskie, Jason Bay, Brian Roberts and countless others. Mauer, who will be integral to any return to contention within the next handful of years, is already going to be a sensitive enough case. Even without accounting for the percentage of payroll they dedicate to him, how can the Twins justify putting him back at a position where he's essentially guaranteed to take a jarring hit to the mask every other game, and maybe worse?

    I don't think they can, and with the precedent set by Morneau fresh in their minds, I suspect they know that. Posturing about the organization's intent to fulfill Mauer's wish of continuing to catch full-time is just that. He's too valuable to the franchise -- monetarily and otherwise -- for such an undeniably substantial risk.
    This article was originally published in blog: Catching No Longer an Option For Mauer started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 116 Comments
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      There aren't many sure things. Among the surest things for the Twins is that if he is playing, Joe Mauer will hit. I certainly think that he will hit better and in more games as a first baseman. I also am pretty certain that Mauer will be an asset at first base whether he plays there for 20 or 50 or a 150 games. Will Pinto be the regular catcher immediately and last there for several years? I think so, but it is far from a sure thing. It would be great if he could step in but I think the Twins need to have a contingency plan--one not involving Mauer going back to catcher if Pinto isn't ready or gets hurt.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      By that logic anyone who has a concussion should quit playing baseball because they're putting their family at risk. Baseball is a game that has inherent injury risks. Playing 1B doesn't keep him from getting beaned at the plate or hit by an errant throw during practice.
      True, but how many catchers were disabled this year by things unique to being a catcher (home plate collisions and foul tips)?
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      I am comfortable with a Pinto/Herrmann semi-platoon behind the plate. Semi, because Pinto should be the primary catcher. SSS and everything, I know, but I don't really care. I don't expect Pinto's fall to earth to be that dramatic. And Herrmann will get a bit better after his rookie season. His isolated discipline of about 90 means that if he can hit .240, he is a good backup catcher. I don't expect much of a higher average, but a .240/.330/.370 doesn't seem out of the question. And Pinto's OPS could legitimately be 70-100 points higher than that. Some offensive drop by moving Mauer away from catcher is mitigated by having adequate-good catching options, the arrival of Sano at third, and a jump forward by Arcia (and, ahem, a platoon of Parmelee and Plouffe).
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Also, I am pretty damn sure that Mauer will be a better defensive first baseman than Colabello, Parmelee, Plouffe, Sano, etc. etc. etc. et al, et al, et al--perhaps the best in the entire organization?
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      I'll leave the full context of your first point, but I have to disagree with the second sentence of it. According to Concussion: Risk factors - MayoClinic.com :

      Factors that may increase your risk of a concussion include:

      • Participating in a high risk sport...
      • ..
      • Having had a previous concussion

      Mayo's stats apparently mean his "rate" is no longer what it once was.
      "May increase risk." Not "Increases risk by a factor of 100." If he gets one concussion every 10+ years the odds are really low he gets another next season. Moving him from C to 1B only decreases those odds slightly because his concussion risk does not come just from playing C. He's not going to stop "participating in a high risk sport". Alexi Casilla and Wilkin Ramirez had concussions playing the field this year and they don't play catcher.

      Does anyone have actual data on the rate of concussions for catchers versus other positions? It is critical to have data to make a risk-based decision. Humans are notoriously awful at estimating risk.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      By that logic anyone who has a concussion should quit playing baseball because they're putting their family at risk. Baseball is a game that has inherent injury risks. Playing 1B doesn't keep him from getting beaned at the plate or hit by an errant throw during practice.
      Number of times hit in head by foul tip >>>> number of times hit in head by pitch or by errant throws in practice.
    1. IdahoPilgrim's Avatar
      IdahoPilgrim -
      Quote Originally Posted by DJL44 View Post
      By that logic anyone who has a concussion should quit playing baseball because they're putting their family at risk.
      If I was a professional ballplayer, and I already had more money than I needed for the rest of my life, I would have to give serious consideration to exactly this. Morneau made a similar comment a couple of years ago, to the effect that it might get to the point where it's not worth continuing to play, and if that happened he would be OK with that.

      I think it would be very interesting to see the reaction of the fanbase if that actually happened (and note I am not in any way predicting it nor anticipating it - I'm just speculating for the sake of speculation) - how many would respect him for doing right by his family and how many would feel betrayed by his decision?
    1. kab21's Avatar
      kab21 -
      Quote Originally Posted by halfchest View Post
      I don't know Pinto seems like something clicked over the last couple years. He's had a .844 OPS in 2012 and .882 OPS in 2013 along with a really nice start in the majors. Will he be a .850 OPS hitter? Probably not. Could he be around .800 though? I think so. I think he wasn't on prospect lists because a year ago he had had one nice season. Well now he built on that with an even more impressive season this year. Nice K/BB ratio and 15 HR pop. Probably should be a top 100 prospect if he doesn't use up his eligibility. I guess in my plan he would be the primary C and DH maybe 30-50 games.

      I agree with you on Hermann but it is nice that he can at least be a solid emergency option in the outfield, possibly late game defensive replacement type guy.
      Sickels did a September writeup on Pinto and tentatively put him as a B- prospect. Those are borderline top 100 guys at best. Imo people are consistently over optimistic when translating MiLB stats to MLB stats.

      The problem with putting Pinto at DH (same for Doumit) for 30-50 games is that it means that the team doesn't have a real DH that is an actual plus hitter in the lineup. Pinto is in his mid 20's and he shouldn't need rest days other than the standard one per week. His bat also likely won't be that important to the lineup and he should get an actual rest day instead of DH'ing.
    1. DJL44's Avatar
      DJL44 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Shane Wahl View Post
      Number of times hit in head by foul tip >>>> number of times hit in head by pitch or by errant throws in practice.
      How many times does getting hit by a foul tip result in a concussion? How many times does getting hit in the head by an errant throw when you're not wearing a helmet and face mask cause a concussion?

      We're dealing with really small numbers here which is why we need actual data to make a good decision.

      Suppose playing catcher doubles his concussion risk versus playing 1B. That means moving him to 1B decreases his risk he gets a concussion in 2014 from very unlikely to very, very unlikely. I don't see "long term health concerns" as a legitimate reason to move him from C to 1B. If that was a real worry the only way to mitigate it is to quit playing baseball.

      If we're looking at overall injury risk to a C versus 1B I think that is legitimate because you want Mauer on the field instead of on the DL but it has nothing at all to do with concussions.
    1. jm3319's Avatar
      jm3319 -
      Quote Originally Posted by kab21 View Post
      Having an elite hitting catcher is worth it. Buster Posey ripped his knee up catching and he still catches almost full time. Yadi would punch somebody if they tried to move him from catcher.
      This is apples to oranges. Knee injuries aren't a big deal anymore. You have surgery, you miss time rehabbing, and you come back nearly as good as new. (See: Posey, Peterson). Head injuries aren't something you fix with a surgery and rehab, unfortunately. There's no timetable or step-by-step instructions for returning to 100%.

      I don't think Mauer is 100% done catching, but he probably should be, for his sake and the team's.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      The risk of getting another concussion from a pitch, an errant throw during practice, or any other reason is there no matter what position he plays.

      What goes away if he's not catching is the specific risk of foul tips hitting him in the head. Which just happens to be the specific cause of this concussion, and which can be anticipated to happen multiple times again wih near certainty if he stays a catcher.

      Combined with the other short and long term physical risks of catching make this decision really easy IMO.
    1. Teflon's Avatar
      Teflon -
      Arguments in the vein of "Mauer provides more value relative to the competition at catcher than he would at another position" only make sense if you're playing fantasy baseball. Since the Twins currently have a batting order featuring crap, crud, and flotsam Mauer's position change does nothing to weaken this team. It only weakens his chances of making future All-Star games.
    1. Steve Penz's Avatar
      Steve Penz -
      This could also be an opportunity to maximize value in Willingham. If the Twins go to a more traditional catching situation like they had with Mauer/Redmond they they no longer will have the 1B/DH/Catcher rotation. You get Willingham out of left field and put him at DH were he can hit.
    1. lightfoot789's Avatar
      lightfoot789 -
      We could always put Adam Brett Walker II at Catcher. I read or heard he was a Catcher his entire life until he went to college. College coaches didn't want to waste his athleticism behind the plate. He could be another big Catcher (ala Joe). When is the last time we could say we had a Catcher who hit 30+ HRs either? A new direction (average for power)? Might have some swing and miss but HRs and RBIs don't grow on trees. I am kidding but..............
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by Teflon View Post
      Arguments in the vein of "Mauer provides more value relative to the competition at catcher than he would at another position" only make sense if you're playing fantasy baseball. Since the Twins currently have a batting order featuring crap, crud, and flotsam Mauer's position change does nothing to weaken this team. It only weakens his chances of making future All-Star games.
      I was always of the mind that Mauer moving to 1B would hurt the team offensively but this is a true point. Mauer moving to 1B means more AB for Pinto and less for Parmelee or Colabello. Hard to argue that that is going to hurt the team at this point.
    1. Brandon's Avatar
      Brandon -
      Next season or 3 Mauer can platoon at First and C with Plouffe or Colabello being the Right Handed 1B and Pinto at C. Mauer can Catch 60-100 games and play 1B 50-90 games depending on health and how the complimentary parts are playing/ hitting. I think Mauer has a few seasons left behind the plate. I do think thats where his value is greatest and as long as he isnt worn out he'll be able to hit.
    1. Sconnie's Avatar
      Sconnie -
      I have been an opponent of moving Mauer away from catcher, and stick by it, unless he can't do it anymore. 5 weeks does not a lifetime make. I agree with DJL44, that playing baseball puts every player at risk of getting a concussion.
    1. StormJH1's Avatar
      StormJH1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      The Mauer to 3B thing never made sense, and it was never something given and credence by the Twins or by Mauer...
      Yeah, the idea that Mauer should go learn 3rd base in his Age 31 season is something out of fantasy baseball, video games, or whatever...but it isn't set in reality. Most 3rd baseman who have been doing it for a decade or longer are starting to wind down by age 31. Reflexes slow, athleticism diminishes, and many of them wind up out of the league by their mid-30's unless they can really hit or if they have a background as a middle infielder and can play other positions.

      An aging Joe Mauer could hit well enough to play 3rd, but there's no long term value to throwing him out at a completely unfamiliar position that takes entirely different skills than catcher or even 1st base.

      Couple all that with the fact that one of the top hitting prospects in baseball already plays that position (how well remains to be seen), and this just makes no sense.

      I think Mauer spends significant time at 1st base next year (if healthy enough to play, of course). He also DH'es some, perhaps against lefties with Colabello playing 1st for those games.
    1. StormJH1's Avatar
      StormJH1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Teflon View Post
      Arguments in the vein of "Mauer provides more value relative to the competition at catcher than he would at another position" only make sense if you're playing fantasy baseball. Since the Twins currently have a batting order featuring crap, crud, and flotsam Mauer's position change does nothing to weaken this team. It only weakens his chances of making future All-Star games.
      THANK YOU. Even the SABR guys tend to disagree with this, but position scarcity has little or no value unless all 9 (or perhaps at least 6 or 7) of your positional guys are above-replacement hitters for their positions. No matter how good Mauer is playing catcher - the fact that he happens to play catcher is irrelevant to the overall offensive strength of the team...UNLESS you are overflowing with good options at other positions.

      If Parmelee and Colabello are the 1st base options, and they both stink next year, then you haven't gained anything at all by "opening up" 1st base for somebody else to play (by having Mauer at catcher). Positional scarcity has some validity, but what people miss is that it has as much or more to do with the quality of the other 8 guys than it does with the quality of the guy overperforming at a "scarce" position.
    1. mlhouse's Avatar
      mlhouse -
      Although this does not have to do specifically with Mauer's concussion, baseball needs to outlaw the collision with the catcher at home plate. Since Pete Rose ruined Ray Fosse's career in a meaningless game, for some reason it is considered cool to run over the catcher at the plate. This causes injuries, and has been pushed down to lower and lower levels of baseball. Watching my 15 year old nephew get run over routinely at home plate is disgusting and not baseball.

      The same needs to be done with the reckless slides at second on double play balls. A legitimate slide is disruptive to the double play pivot enough. Any further contact needs to automatically cause the runner's at a force out base to be out.
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