Is Joe Mauer the most valuable player in fantasy?

Two weeks ago, I posted a 2010 fantasy baseball mock draft here. Obviously, it’s a little early to be talking about next season, but one thing that stood out to me is that Joe Mauer went in the third round.

I feel this is much too low for the Twins backstop. In fact, I believe he deserves serious consideration as the top pick overall. After all, he might be this season’s fantasy MVP.

Whether you find this statement ridiculous or not may depend on your view of weighting value according to position. Over the years, positional weights have been measured in various ways (VORP, WARP, Win Shares, etc.) but in terms of fantasy, here’s how I’d describe it: If your catcher outproduces your competitor’s catcher by 10 HR, your competitor has to field a lineup that outproduces your lineup by 10 HRs at the other positions just to stay even.

As of Sunday, here’s Joe Mauer’s line on the season: 25 HR, 79 RBI, 77 R, 3 SB, and a .367 AVG

How extraordinary is this?

Well, let’s compare Joe Mauer to the 11 other most-owned catchers in CBS Sports fantasy leagues: Victor Martinez, AJ Pierzynski, Mike Napoli, Kurt Suzuki, Jorge Posada, Brandon Inge, Miguel Montero, Bengie Molina, Russell Martin, Matt Wieters, and Ryan Doumit.

These 11 players averaged these totals as of last Sunday: 13 HR, 52 RBI, 47 R, 2 SB, and a .271 AVG

Joe Mauer has outproduced the average catcher in a 12-team league by 12 HR, 27 RBI, 30 R, 1 SB, and 96 points in batting average.

Ask most people who is the fantasy MVP in 2009 and undoubtedly the answer is Albert Pujols.

I also compared Pujols’ numbers to these 11 first baseman: Prince Fielder, Miguel Cabrera, Ryan Howard, Mark Teixeira, Kevin Youkilis, Justin Morneau, Adrian Gonzalez, Derrek Lee, Joey Votto, Carlos Pena, and Lance Berkman.

Pujols outproduced his peers on average by 12 HR, 22 RBI, 28 R, 11 SB, and 32 points in batting average.

Close, but Mauer has got a very slight edge.

Consider the fact too that all of Pujols’ peers were owned from day one this season. In contrast, many fantasy teams didn’t get the best from Brandon Inge, Miguel Montero, and Kurt Suzuki. Instead, they suffered through disappointing returns from Geovany Soto, Chris Iannetta, and Ramon Hernandez. Mauer’s edge over the average catcher in a fantasy league grows.

Even more extraordinary is the fact that Mauer didn’t play his first game of the season until May 1. But owners of Joe Mauer probably were playing someone else, and even if that temp produced a modest line in April like 2 HR, 9 R, 9 RBI, these are stats that can be counted towards Mauer’s owner’s ledger.

Many people involved in fantasy baseball tend to dismiss catchers the way that people involved in fantasy football dismiss kickers. But to see a player outperform his positional peers to this degree demands notice.

Joe Mauer may be the most valuable player in baseball this year, and so it raises the forthcoming question—why wouldn’t you take this player entering his Age 27 season with one of the first few picks?

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  1. Dylan said...

    Wondering why Sandoval isn’t on the top catchers list, guess he doesn’t have eligability there.

    I think we may be over stating the effect of Mauer’s BA. Catchers will normally play a significant lower amount of games then the other positions, resulting in less ABs. Thus Mauer’s BA advantage over other catchers wont help your team’s BA as much.

  2. Eriq Gardner said...

    Not overstating the effect of Mauer’s BA.

    What’s the difference between a .367 average at 400 at bats and a .271 average at 400 at bats? About 40 hits.

    What’s the difference between a .320 average at 450 at bats and a .288 average at 450 at bats? About 15 hits.

    (Mauer has 410 at bats to date. Pujols has 456.)

    Better hits differential = better BA outcome in the aggregate.

    You can also look at player raters and sort value by BA. Use ESPN’s, for example.

    You’ll see that Joe Mauer has been the 3rd most valuable player in BA overall this season. (Behind Hanley and Ichiro.)

    If you’re comparing Mauer to other catchers in BA and comparing Pujols to other 1B in BA, it’s a big difference.

    I also wrote something earlier this year on the effect of lower amount of at-bats on BA value. My conclusion was this: “Even with limited playing time, big averages translate to great value in this category.”

    Full article:

  3. Beau said...

    Nora—A fluke perhaps not, but certainly a peak from which I would expect a regression.  I dont have a hard time believing he’ll easily eclipse his power numbers from years prior, but i dont suspect he’ll do so to the extent he has this year.

  4. Andrew said...

    It’s all about reliability in the first round. There’s a very nice clear top 3 next year in Pujols, Hanley, and Utley. (I can see the case for Braun, but I personally would prefer to target a player at a more scarce position if given the choice.) All have stable skill sets and consistent track records.

    Taking Mauer over any one of these players would taking on an unnecessary amount of risk. Don’t get me wrong; I can see the case for Mauer at the back end of the first round. I’m a believer in his power to a certain extent, but Mauer’s underlying skills only suggest an AVG around .320.

  5. Derek Ambrosino said...

    I think Mauer is significantly OVERvalued at 23. You can’t just consider his production over his peers, you have to also consider when those alternates are drafted.

    At the very simplest, you have to consider three players/rounds in any analysis of Mauers draft position.

    1. The player taken by team B in the round team A takes Mauer.

    2. Team A’s counterpart for the above player.

    3. The player taken by team A in the round in which Team B takes its catcher.

    I go into this a bit further, and consider a random hypothetical in the comments section to Playing for keeps vol. 2

    Much of C-debate centers on the dynamics of the league itself.

    In a shallow league with considerable roster depth (CI, MI, extra OFs, etc.), it absolutely makes a lot of sense to treat a catcher like a kicker.

    In a short roster league where teams have stars at every position it makes more sense to spend a premium pick on Mauer because that dynamic maximizally emphasizes replacement value.

    Whatever strategy you are going to use, play toward the extreme. Either be one of the first teams to select a catcher or be one of the last.

  6. Tom B said...

    I think you misuse the term fantasy MVP. Most productive? Value over Replacement? Sure. MVP? I think not. If you are only looking for pure positional value, which you seem to be then sure, Mauer takes the cake.

    But Mauer was already an over-valued player because of his catcher position, so you had to draft him earlier than any other catcher, and there was expectation of him putting up great numbers. Same thing applies with Pujols. He was gone in the first 3 picks of every draft this season, so he has expectations to meet before value is acquired. Have both of these players exceeded their supposed value? Sure, but you had to pay for it to get it.

    In terms of overall value, and “fantasy MVP” you can look no further than April Free-Agent pickup Mark Reynolds(assuming 5×5). As a largely undrafted player(I’d wager somewhere around 85% of all drafts) he has outproduced all but a handful of fantasy studs this season. As an undrafted player his value is off the charts compared to guys that you pay a hefty premium for, regardless of positional breakdown.

  7. Beau said...

    I agree with you that Mauer is likely the fantasy MVP for this season, but I think you’d be hard pressed to convince many peoeple that he is likely to duplicate his performance next year.  Many things about his season (I won’t go into a lengthy discussion of peripheral stats) seem to tell us that next year will be more like 2008 than 2009.  This would clearly make him one of, if not the, most valuable player at his position, but hardly the most valuable fantasy player of all.  What sets Pujols and Hanley apart is the consistency with which they over-perform everyone else at their position, and the confidence we can have they will do it again next year.

  8. Adam said...

    Mauer’s value is hurt some by the injury risk inherent with the catcher position. I’d peg him as a top-10 guy but not a top-5 guy.

  9. Andrew said...

    Yeah, the main problem with your theory is that catchers get hurt. A lot. More than any other position (except maybe pitchers). And Mauer hasn’t been impervious to that. Way too much risk there for a first-rounder.

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