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Mauer to First: Whats it mean? and how to sort out the nonsense

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Well the move has finally arrived, we all knew it was coming sooner or later. Now itís time for the panic and the uninformed clichťís to fly. However before you curse the contract or start making inaccurate comparisons; stop, take a breath, and look at some facts.

Yes itís true that Mauer is more valuable at catcher then at first base. Itís a simple fact that the catcher position is far more valuable than first base. But with Mauer having a concussion and so little known about what can happen with multiple concussions I would rather have a somewhat diminished valued Mauer then no value at all if another injury happens.

The most common phrase I have heard and no doubt most of you have heard is something along the lines of ďwell now we have a 23 million dollar singles hitting first basemen.Ē I am so tired of this phrase, all it does is show that the people who utter it are focused on HRs and RBIs. I have also seen people comparing Mauer at first to other players, the three most common are Doug Mientkiewicz, John Olerud, and Todd Helton (after the power went). The Mientkiewicz comparison is drawn from him hitting .300 without much power. The problem with this comparison is that Mientkiewicz only hit .300 2 times in his career with a high of .306. Mauer has hit .300 6 times and often hits .320 and higher. Also Mientkiewicz never posted a .400 OBP in a season. The Todd Helton Comparison doesnít really work when you factor in the Coors field effect. As for the Olerud comparison he posted a .400 OBP six times in his career, so has Mauer but Mauer still has several season ahead of him. Also Olerud was a pretty darn good player and Mauer is on pace to pass many of his career marks.

So what can we expect from Mauer at first? First is an offensive first position so how will Mauerís bat play there? Well letís take Mauerís numbers and compare them to the rest of the 1st basemen in the Majors. As far as batting average Mauer would rank 1st. Batting average doesnít tell the whole story though so letís look at on base percentage. Among 1st baseman Mauer is 2nd trailing only Joey Votto. So how bout power? If your rank Mauerís slugging percentage among first baseman this last season he ranks 10th. Now I prefer isolated power (ISO) to SLG% which basically measures extra base hits per at bat, in this Mauer ranks 21st among 1st base this last season. So just looking at those numbers it kind of points to what most fans suspect, a high on base low power hitter. So what is Mauerís overall value with the bat? Probably the best way to gauge this is to use either weighted on base average (wOBA) or weighted runs created plus (wRC+). wOBA takes the idea that not all hits are created equal. Each type of reaching base is assigned a weight with HRs being weighted the highest. Comparing Mauerís wOBA to the first basemen this season he would have ranked 6th. wRC+ is very similar except it is park and league adjusted. 100 is the league average and ever point is a percentage above or below average. Joe Mauerís wRC+ for this last season was 144, so 44% above league average in offensive production. He would have ranked 6thamong first basemen. So overall Mauerís offensive production will work pretty well at first base as long as he can keep up his swing. Also since he should get more plate appearances and not have to deal with the wear and tear of catching there may be a small increase in offensive production. We could be looking at a possibility of reaching base 280-300 times.

Now if your wondering were the RBI comparisons are I refuse to use them. RBIs are the most overrated offensive stat in the game. It is a number of opportunity. Mauer has a career AVG. of .324 with runners in scoring position, granted this year he only hit .239 with runners in scoring position but at the same time he only had 113 plate appearances in such situations and walked in 23 of those. Itís really hard to rack up RBIs when youonly swing the bat 90 times in that situation. If youíre of the frame of mind he just needs to hit the ball over the fence more often that would be nice but you still donít guarantee a larger production of RBIs all you guarantee is 1RBI per HR. If youíre wanting him to change his swing to try to pull and lift the ball more ask yourself this, how many outs are you willing to trade per home run? On base has been proven to be more productive then slugging percentage. I heard a sports talk show host saying now Mauer needs to move into the number 3 spot and drive in runs. I heartily disagree and argue that wouldbe highly counterproductive. First of all who is Mauer going to drive in? After Mauer the highest OBP were Willingham at .342 and then Justin Morneau at .315. Morneau is gone and Willingham is injury prone and aging. Also Neither one of those is a top of the order hitter. Mauer needs to stay in the number 2 spot and get on base ahead of Willingham, Arcia, and eventually Sano. Also adding to his value hitting at the top he averaged 4th most in the majors for pitches seen per PA the ability to wear starting pitchers down is a nice advantage to have.

Mauer will probably lose some value moving from behind the dish but itís not going to be as bad as what many people say. Besides itís starting to become more common in the game. Buster Posey and Carlos Santana play first 20-30 times a season. Rumor is Brian McCaan will sign with an A.L. team and move to DH in 2 or 3 seasons. Yogi Berra eventually played games in the OF and Jonny Bench moved to the corner IF late in his career. We will miss Mauer as a catcher but he will still be highly effective at first so sit back and enjoy the ride.
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  1. Paul Pleiss's Avatar
    I agree with you 100%. People complaining about Mauer's lack of power and his big contract drive me crazy. Mauer had an OPS over .800 this season in a league where offense is down across the board. He is an elite player, arguably top-10 in the league and definitely top 15. His onbase skills are elite. All he does is NOT MAKE OUTS.

    And as far as his contract goes, it's a sunk cost. You can't evaluate him on his contract, he's going to get that money no matter where he plays. He'll take a WAR hit becuase of the position change, but he's also set to play 20+ more games than he would at catcher. There's definitely some added value there. And he profiles to be an excellent defender at first as well.

    The long and the short of it is the more Mauer can play, the better. It's disappointing that he had to move from behind the plate, but it doesn't change his value to this team. Mauer is elite anywhere on the diamond.
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