• Position Analysis: Catcher

    At my former writing home, I made an annual tradition of running through each position on the Twins' roster in March, sorting out the backup options and projecting the starter's performance. That tradition will continue here at Twins Daily, and today I'll kick off the Position Analysis series with catcher, where Joe Mauer is looking for a big comeback year.

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    Likely Starter: Joe Mauer
    2011 Stats: .287/.360/.368, 3 HR, 30 RBI, 38 R, 0/0 SB



    Potential Backups: Ryan Doumit, Drew Butera, J.R. Towles, Rene Rivera, Chris Herrmann

    One eighty five.

    That was the collective batting average for Twins catchers last year. The position produced a total of 98 hits in 162 games; by comparison, Joe Mauer had 90 hits by the All-Star break in 2009, and that was after missing the entire month of April.

    That transcendent '09 campaign was what earned Mauer his massive $184 million contract, which kicked off with a thud last year. Limited to 42 starts behind the plate due to injury, the former MVP watched as his replacements tested the very limits of ineptitude, posting an astonishingly bad .453 OPS in his absence.

    It was a treacherous experience, but also a reminder as to why, when healthy and able to catch, Mauer is worth the premium price tag. While the Twins carried an especially awful batch of backup catchers last year, finding decent ones is no easy task. In general, this just isn't a position that produces much offense.

    American League backstops collectively hit just .238/.305/.391 last year; that's a rate of production that Mauer easily surpassed even while battling numerous ailments. If his health is vastly improved this season and all early signs are indicating just that his numbers will dwarf an average catcher's production and he'll once again be a tremendous asset, underrated by those who focus solely on home runs and RBI.

    Of course, the money question at this point is whether Mauer can stick at catcher for the majority of the season. For now he's claiming that his knees are feeling just fine, but numerous injuries have taken their toll on his legs over the years and he had a tendency to wear down in September and October even when relatively healthy. Considering the seven remaining years on Mauer's contract and the need for him to produce at the end of the season, which he hasn't been able to do in the past, I believe the Twins would be wise to significantly lighten his load behind the plate regardless of how he's feeling.

    Fortunately, improved depth should enable Ron Gardenhire to do that without once again turning the catcher position into an offensive black hole. Ryan Doumit, signed during the offseason after hitting .303/.353/.477 for the Pirates last year, figures to serve as Mauer's top backup. Though he's considered a weak defender, the switch-hitting Doumit has a legitimate bat.

    Since the plan is for Doumit to frequently serve as the designated hitter, and both he and Mauer have had their share of durability issues, there's little doubt that the Twins will carry a third catcher. For now, Drew Butera would appear to be the front-runner for that spot, but former top prospect J.R. Towles is on hand to provide competition. Eventually, the Twins would love for Chris Herrmann, who posted a .385 OBP between Single-A and Double-A last year, to work his way into the mix.

    Last year Gardenhire had no choice but to cycle between the likes of Butera, Rene Rivera and Steve Holm when Mauer went down, and that can be attributed to some extremely poor planning by the front office. They'll be entering this season much better prepared for such a scenario, with a number of intriguing candidates capable of keeping Butera and Rivera firmly planted on the bench or in Rochester.

    Of course, the hope is that sorting through those candidates will never be an issue, because Mauer stays healthy and combines with Doumit to turn the catcher position back into an offensive asset. Vilified a year ago, Joe seems more determined than ever to make it happen.

    Predicted Hitting Line for Mauer: .310/.370/.460, 10 HR, 75 RBI
    This article was originally published in blog: Position Analysis: Catcher started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 12 Comments
    1. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
      Twins Fan From Afar -
      Good post, Nick. I'd like to give Herrmann one more year of seasoning (Bill Smith mentioned at the Rock Cats Hot Stove thing I went to that Herrmann would likely be starting at AA again), but then hopefully he can step into that back-up role next season.

      Also, thanks for the link on the Star Trib today!
    1. kemics's Avatar
      kemics -
      Gotta agree 100%, the team is much better prepared if anything happens to Joe. I only hope that being able to cycle Joe to 1B and DH helps keep him healthy. I think it will, I think the the past Joe played through more bumps and bruises because there wasn't a decent backup, except for Morales a few years back. I think this caused him to get even more banged up. Joe has said he doesn't like to DH because he can't stay lose on the bench and because he is such a competitor that he wants to be out there.

      Playing him at 1B maybe less at DH with a lot less of a drop off between his offense and Doumit's as compared to the poo poo platter of the past should definitely help.

      That being said, if Herrmann is a year away from being a backup, who's to say he's not three away from starting? Would this allow for Joe to move to 1st on a more permanent basis? I just don't have faith in Morneau's concussions staying away. What about Parmelee? can hey play anywhere else than 1st? What about 3rd? I think this is a make or Break year for Valencia, if he doesn't improve defensively I think we're going to see Gardy kick him out. Sano is a few years away, so someone would have to step up there.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      I think that I left this comment in the wrong place so I am reposting it here:

      I am trying to do a bit of math, looking at Mauer's slash line, career tendencies and 2011 line:
      Career average isoD (OBP-BA) is .080, 2011 isoD was .073
      Career average isoP (SLG-BA) is .148, 2011 isoP was .081

      with a .310 BA, using career averages OBP would be .390 and SLG .458; and 2011 (worse case) numbers OBP would be .383 and SLG .391

      so that .310/.370./.460 assumes a career isoP and a well below career isoD, which may result if he becomes more of a free swinger, but I highly doubt that. I really think that .310/.385/.450 might probably be more realistic; however, I really think that that .310 will be closer to .325 this season
    1. rk83071's Avatar
      rk83071 -
      Assuming Twins can find a consistant/serviceable catcher to replace Joe. I personally feel if Mauer was at 1st base on a regular basis he flirts with a .400 batting avg. easily. Then you make Morneau your regular DH and you see what kind of deal you can make (that might include Parmalee) for a starting pitcher.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      As I posted on the STrib....why not have the AAA catchers in AAA, and if there is an injury, use an airplane to get them to wherever the Twins are? Why waste a roster spot, game after game, on the chance there is an injury? Aren't they better off with more contributing players?
    1. oprahchapelle's Avatar
      oprahchapelle -
      A lot of hope going into 2 of the most injury prone catchers in the game
    1. oprahchapelle's Avatar
      oprahchapelle -
      Quote Originally Posted by thrylos98 View Post
      I think that I left this comment in the wrong place so I am reposting it here:

      I am trying to do a bit of math, looking at Mauer's slash line, career tendencies and 2011 line:
      Career average isoD (OBP-BA) is .080, 2011 isoD was .073
      Career average isoP (SLG-BA) is .148, 2011 isoP was .081

      with a .310 BA, using career averages OBP would be .390 and SLG .458; and 2011 (worse case) numbers OBP would be .383 and SLG .391

      so that .310/.370./.460 assumes a career isoP and a well below career isoD, which may result if he becomes more of a free swinger, but I highly doubt that. I really think that .310/.385/.450 might probably be more realistic; however, I really think that that .310 will be closer to .325 this season
      The problem with the statistical breakdown is Mauer's health. He has only been healthy half of his career, and when he is he hits great, when he plays injured he hits 290
    1. jmlease1's Avatar
      jmlease1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      As I posted on the STrib....why not have the AAA catchers in AAA, and if there is an injury, use an airplane to get them to wherever the Twins are? Why waste a roster spot, game after game, on the chance there is an injury? Aren't they better off with more contributing players?
      short answer: yes.

      slightly longer answer: yes, but Gardenhire seems to be extremely risk-adverse when it comes to the prospect of "losing" the DH, so that's probably the real reason we "need" a 3rd catcher on the 25 man roster. Hopefully Towles can out-hit Butera enough to get the job so there's a possibility out 3rd catcher won't be a complete offensive black hole.
    1. ltwedt's Avatar
      ltwedt -
      I posted this yesterday - but it fits here so:

      Geez - relax people - it's Spring Training!

      OK - So here is my problem with Drew Butera as the 3rd catcher-

      Traditionally you get your power numbers from the outfield corners, the infield corners and the catcher.

      Consider this:

      Late in the game, Twins down and need a boost - you look down the bench for a hitter, and who is there? Luke Hughes - maybe a 12-15 homer per season guy, Tsuyoshi Nishioka - maybe a 1-2 homer per season guy, and Drew Butera!!!!! Maybe a 0 homer, .177 BA, .190 OBP guy! We just have to stop giving up the power positions for Gardy's irrational fear of being withpout a DH. Or, at least carry someone who can hit their weight!

      BTW - Love your podcasts!
    1. Steer's Avatar
      Steer -
      I agree with Itwedt, there needs to be more power on the bench, send Butera elsewhere.
    1. jimbo92107's Avatar
      jimbo92107 -
      Likely Starter: Joe Mauer.

      A brave and bold prediction!
    1. Neinstein's Avatar
      Neinstein -
      At the moment it doesn't really matters who the third catcher is. There should only be two Catchers to start out the season. Save the spot for another OF/IF bat that could provide off the bench past the 7th inning.
      Until Mauer or Doumit go down, there isn't much to talk about. Sure, you could plan ahead but save the seat for someone who can hit the ball.
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