Consistency meter: Joe Mauer

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Mauer about to make contact with his compact, level swing (Icon/SMI)

The catcher position is probably the hardest to draft in fantasy leagues. Your choices: Either take an elite specimen in rounds three to four or accept mediocre production from a later pick. A few catchers go in the middle rounds and every few years you will catch lightning in a bottle with a late pick; but primarily you either reach or wait for catchers.

Problem is, in recent years the elite catchers have not been the most consistent bunch. Victor Martinez, Jorge Posada, Kenji Johjima, Ramon Hernandez, Jason Varitek and Michael Barrett are some catchers considered elite in recent years who fell off badly in either 2007 or 2008 due to injuries or simply poor play.

Joe Mauer, however, is one catcher who has lived up to his elite status over the past several years.

+------+-----+-------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM  | AB  | BA    | HR | RBI | R  | SB |
+------+-----+-------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+
| 2005 |  21 | Twins | 489 | 0.294 |  9 |  55 | 61 | 13 |
| 2006 |  22 | Twins | 521 | 0.347 | 13 |  84 | 86 |  8 |
| 2007 |  23 | Twins | 406 | 0.293 |  7 |  60 | 62 |  7 |
| 2008 |  24 | Twins | 536 | 0.328 |  9 |  85 | 98 |  1 |
+------+-----+-------+-----+-------+----+-----+----+----+

Mauer’s biggest asset is his ability to hit for a great average. Ranging from just below .300 to almost .350, his average makes up for his slight shortcoming in home runs. Like his batting average, Mauer’s power totals have varied somewhat in past years, from seven to 13. Surely a Mauer who hits close to 15 home runs is more valuable to one who will hit a little more than five, and may make the difference on whether you should draft him in the fourth round.

You’ll also notice his steady decline in stolen bases in recent years. What’s up with that? We will look at Mauer’s speed stats to see if we can expect a resurgence in stolen base totals from Mauer in 2009. Getting steals from your catcher is like getting a “piece of the game” baseball card from a cheap pack—it rarely happens, but when it does it’s awesome.

Power ability

Keeping in mind that Mauer was just 24 last year, meaning he certainly has the potential to further develop his power skills, let’s look at his True Home Run numbers.

+------+-----+-------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM  | AB  | HR | tHR | HR/FB | tHR/FB | nHR/FB | RAW | OF/FB% |
+------+-----+-------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+
| 2006 |  22 | Twins | 521 | 13 |   9 |    11 |      8 |      6 | 0.8 |     25 |
| 2007 |  23 | Twins | 406 |  7 |   9 |     7 |      9 |      8 | 0.0 |     27 |
| 2008 |  24 | Twins | 536 |  9 |  14 |     7 |     11 |      8 | 0.0 |     27 |
+------+-----+-------+-----+----+-----+-------+--------+--------+-----+--------+

First thing to notice is that according to tHR, Mauer was expected to hit about 10 home runs or more in past years. So I certainly would not expect Mauer to hit closer to his low-end projections of five to seven home runs in 2009. Also promising is the slight rise in tHR/FB percentage, up to league average 11 percent in 2008. I cannot say if that upward trend will continue, but a Mauer hitting home runs at the rate of 11 percent per fly ball would hit 15 home runs in a season, and any owner of Mauer should be satisfied with that total.

The one limiting factor is his low outfield flyball percentage, the result of Mauer’s contact-driven approach. Mauer could start hitting more fly balls in the future, but I highly doubt he will change his approach at the plate considering the success he has enjoyed squaring up and hitting line drives. Either way, Mauer’s low end projection would be a healthy 12 home runs, and his ceiling seems to be about 18.

Contact ability

We know Mauer will have a batting average of at least .300, but we also know he has the potential to hit close to .350. Let’s look at his contact numbers to see which end of the spectrum we can expect Mauer’s batting average to inhabit.

+------+-----+-------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM  | AB  | BA    | tBA   | CT% | BABIP | mBABIP | LD% | BIP/HR | BIP/tHR |
+------+-----+-------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+
| 2006 |  22 | Twins | 521 | 0.347 | 0.327 |  90 | 0.370 |  0.355 |  25 |     36 |      52 |
| 2007 |  23 | Twins | 406 | 0.293 | 0.320 |  87 | 0.322 |  0.348 |  18 |     51 |      39 |
| 2008 |  24 | Twins | 536 | 0.328 | 0.334 |  91 | 0.350 |  0.346 |  23 |     54 |      35 |
+------+-----+-------+-----+-------+-------+-----+-------+--------+-----+--------+---------+

Mauer has a tremendous ability to make solid contact with the baseball. Before I comment further, let’s peek at his plate discipline numbers.

+------+-----+-------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM  | AB  | CT% | JUDGMENT X | A/P  | BAT CONTROL | BAD BALL |
+------+-----+-------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+
| 2006 |  22 | Twins | 521 |  90 |        103 | 0.09 |          94 |       74 |
| 2007 |  23 | Twins | 406 |  87 |        104 | 0.08 |          94 |       74 |
| 2008 |  24 | Twins | 536 |  91 |        114 | 0.06 |          95 |       80 |
+------+-----+-------+-----+-----+------------+------+-------------+----------+

As expected, Mauer has great judgment and the ability to hit balls well both inside and out of the strike zone. In both 2006 and 2007, his discipline numbers were great and then, impressively, in 2008 he improved upon those numbers.

It would not surprise me to see Mauer’s batting average in the .330s next year, pushing .340.

Speed ability

Earlier in his career, Mauer would reach about 10 steals year, and his total peaked in 2005 when he stole 13. Last year he stole just one base.

+------+-----+-------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+-----------+-------------+
| YEAR | AGE | TEAM  | AB  | SB | SBA | SBO%  | SBA% | SB% | FAN SPEED | FAN BALLOTS |
+------+-----+-------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+-----------+-------------+
| 2005 |  21 | Twins | 489 | 13 |  14 | 0.283 |    9 |  93 |        59 |          22 |
| 2006 |  22 | Twins | 521 |  8 |  11 | 0.308 |    6 |  73 |        64 |          39 |
| 2007 |  23 | Twins | 406 |  7 |   8 | 0.280 |    6 |  87 |        56 |          21 |
| 2008 |  24 | Twins | 536 |  1 |   2 | 0.330 |    1 |  50 |        54 |          27 |
+------+-----+-------+-----+----+-----+-------+------+-----+-----------+-------------+

Mauer gets into position to steal often (SBO%). Problem is, in recent years he has not been given the green light (SBA%). I do not believe Mauer’s speed has declined so much, but that this is a manager protecting his player from unnecessary risk of injury.

Mauer most likely has the potential to steal 10 bases, but I doubt the Twins will give him the chance to do that. Expect about three to six steals in 2009 from Mauer.

Concluding thoughts

Overall, Mauer is a really, really good hitter and barring injury he should at least put up the numbers of 2008. He will hit for a high average and should hit around 15 home runs. Just do not expect that meteoric rise in home run totals people once expected from him.

Still, nobody should complaining about a .335 average, 15 home runs, 80 runs, 85 RBI and four stolen bases from their catcher. You may complain, though, about how early you will have to draft Mauer to get him. Last season Mauer was a relative steal at the end of the fifth round. I’d expect his stock to rise slightly with another solid season under his belt and the continued thinning of the catcher position. We will see later in the offseason what it will take to get him on your team.

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