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  • Top 13 Stories: #2 - Joe Mauer Moves to First Base

    How many times each game or each week do we watch a catcher take a foul-tip off the chest protector or the shoulder? How often do we see the catcher or umpire get hit in his face mask? Often, the batter, catcher and umpire will get a good chuckle out of it. The announcers will joke about how it’s been a tough game for the catcher, he’s getting dinged up, or something to make it seem comical.

    On August 19, the Minnesota Twins hosted the New York Mets in a make-up game at Target Field. In the game, Twins catcher Joe Mauer took several foul tips off the face mask. The cumulative effects of foul tips finally reached a point where it was no longer funny.

    Mauer was put on the 7-day concussion disabled list after attempting to play the next day. Seven days later, reports came that Mauer was doing better, but that he would not be coming off the DL on the eighth day. Seemingly weekly, fans were told he was continuing to make progress, but he was having good days and bad days.

    Twins fans started to think that this sounded a little too familiar to reports about Justin Morneau in 2010, or Denard Span in 2011. Earlier in the 2013 season, Trevor Plouffe and Ryan Doumit had already spent time on the 7-day concussion DL.

    Twins fans have become skeptical when it comes to reports coming from the Twins medical staff, and often for good reasons. However, in this case, such thoughts were unfair.

    Aaron Gleeman said it over a year ago, and it rings true more and more with each concussion situation: maybe fans, media and others would talk or write about concussion differently if we called it what it is, a brain injury. There is no way to know how any individual’s brain will react and respond to the trauma.

    Finally, on September 23, five weeks after going on the DL, the Twins announced that Mauer would not return to the playing field in 2013. He was being shut down. Nick Nelson wrote the next day that Mauer’s catching days should be behind him.

    After much speculation about what the Twins and Mauer should do, on November 11, the Twins and Mauer announced that he would be moving to first base full time. In fact, he won’t even bring a catcher’s mitt to spring training. By making the decision official very early in the offseason, it allowed the Twins to plan accordingly.

    Of course, we all realize that players can get hurt anywhere. Catchers are not the only ones who get hurt or are affected by concussions. First baseman Justin Morneau suffered his concussion sliding into second base in an attempt to break up a double play. Like Morneau, Trevor Plouffe’s concussion came when he was kneed in the head on the base paths. However, in 2013, many MLB catchers missed time on the concussion DL after being hit by foul tips. Moving to first base eliminates the frequent foul tips.

    Joe Mauer is arguably the best offensive catcher in baseball. He has tremendous value as a catcher as shown by a 5.4 bWAR and a 5.2 fWAR. As a first baseman his WAR will likely drop simply because there are more power-hitting first sackers than catchers. However, even if his numbers stay about the same, he will still be one of the better offensive first baseman in the game.

    photo by Betsy Bissen

    Importantly, playing first base should allow him to play more games. Instead of playing 130 to 140 games primarily at catcher, he should be able to play 150 to 160 games as a first baseman. An extra 20 games means an extra 80 to 100 plate appearances, and I can’t help but think that will help the Twins offense.

    As a 30-year-old catcher in 2013, Mauer hit .324/.404/.476 (.880) with 35 doubles and 11 home runs. Compare that to the numbers he has put up over his ten big league seasons, .323/.405/.468 (.873). Some may argue, but I am of the opinion that Joe Mauer is already a lock for baseball’s Hall of Fame. Certainly if he can put up some quality numbers for just a few more seasons, it would increase his chances of going in on the first ballot.

    Of course, by Mauer moving to first base, the hope is to extend his career and the number of effective years he can have. Very few catchers in baseball history have hit .300. Even the best catchers in baseball history have typically played other positions as they aged beyond 30. Johnny Bench played third base. Yogi Berra played some left field. A catcher with the incredible durability behind the plate like Ivan Rodriguez is very, very rare.

    So, it is likely Mauer would have moved from catcher sometime within the next couple years. Rather than wait for one more foul tip to jar his brain again and force the move, or even end his career, the Twins and Mauer wisely decided to be proactive and make the move now.

    More important than the baseball side of things, Mauer became the father of twin girls during the season. Let’s not forget that finding ways to avoid more concussions (or, brain injuries) will help his quality of life as he grows older which is so important for his family.

    When it comes to major stories of 2013 for the Minnesota Twins, the decision for Joe Mauer to move to first base is certainly one of the biggest. One of baseball’s best players switching position is one thing. Another is that baseball has added the 7-day concussion disabled list and other measures so as to be more cautious with this type of injury. These steps should be positive for the game and its players. Finally, the decision was the first of the Twins offseason moves, the timing of which was important because it allowed them to time to plan for its implementation.

    Soon, you will see the final top story in the Twins Daily Top 13 Twins Stories of 2013 series. If you would like to look back on any of the other stories, they are linked to below. Please feel free to comment on this and any of the previous stories.


    #13 – Twins in the WBC
    #12 – Drew Butera Traded to Dodgers
    #11 – Twins Sign Kubel, Trade Doumit
    #10 - Brian Dozier Breaks Through
    #9 - Kyle Gibson Promoted
    #8 - Aaron Hicks' Lost Year
    #7 – Twins Draft Kohl Stewart
    #6 – Justin Morneau Traded to Pirates
    #5 – Twins Dismal Starting Pitching
    #4 – Buxton and Sano Dominate Minors
    #3 – Twins Spend on Free Agents
    #2 – Joe Mauer Moves to First Base
    Comments 23 Comments
    1. wagwan's Avatar
      wagwan -
      I agree that 80 - 100 more at bats for Mauer is a good thing. This is a good move.
      Now ...Number 1 story? Bet its Gardenhire rehire...
    1. Paul's Avatar
      Paul -
      Sad to see Mauer have to move. I agree with you, Seth, I think he's a lock for the HOF too, but I think if he could've caught part-time for a few more years he would be considered the best and most productive catcher of all time by most. On the bright side I think this move will allow him to play with fresher legs, arms and hands and should push his OPS over 900 for a few years, offsetting the normal decline players can suffer in their mid 30's.
    1. thetank's Avatar
      thetank -
      I'm not sure if he is a sure HOF. Voters still expect more HRs and RBIs since he is switching to 1st base. A couple more years of 50 RBIs in his early 30s might not get him into the HOF.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      To call Mauer a HOF-lock is pretty premature at this point. Yes he did have a great 9-10 season career so far and if he continues for a while, he would likely be in the HOF discussion.

      Here is the thing: Hitters of his kind (doubles but not HR power, high OBP, batting champion types) need to be close to the 3000 barrier to cross the barrier. Looks like the writers have that benchmark (unless people's careers are cut short by death or accident sometimes)

      I will give you few comparables:

      Boggs, 3010 hits(IN)
      Gwynn, 3141 hits (IN)
      Alomar 2724 (IN)
      Larkin 2340 (IN)

      Harrold Baines 2866 (OUT)
      Dave Parker 2712 (OUT)
      Don Mattingly 2153 (OUT)

      Craig Biggio 3060 (???)
      Inchiro Suzuki, 2742 (???)
      Pudge Rodriguez 2844 (???)
      Larry Walker 2160 (???)

      Mauer has 1414 hits. 150 a season and he needs 11 seasons to get there... He can do it.

      (FWIW, other Cs in the HOF like Bench and Fisk were close to 400 HRs, a milestone that Mauer likely will not get. Most HOF Cs are power guys. The Piazza situation will be interesting)

      Still I hope that this conversation is about 15 years premature
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Best move of the offseason, IMO. Nothing is more important to this team than Mauer being on the field for 100 more at bats, given their investment in him and his awesomeness.
    1. Wookiee of the Year's Avatar
      Wookiee of the Year -
      Good write-up.

      I'm actually pretty surprised this isn't the #1 story. So far, I basically agree with the stories and their ordering, but I have no idea what would beat this for #1 that hasn't already made an appearance.

      You have me in suspense!
    1. Jdosen's Avatar
      Jdosen -
      In my mind, Mauer is a sure-fire HOF'er but the BBWAA is making such a mockery of the hall right now that I don't even know if I care about who's in and who isn't anymore. I know who I think are the best players of all time and that's good enough for me. Why should I care if a collection of out of touch old school ink-stained wretches don't agree? The fact that Jim Rice is in the HOF and Barry Bonds will not be inducted is reason enough to think the Hall isn't overly legitimate anymore.
    1. SouthDakotaFarmer's Avatar
      SouthDakotaFarmer -
      Mauer is not a lock HOFer. Off the cuff here, but I think Joe has somewhere around 100 career homeruns. Even if he steps it up a bit, which he should playing 1B, there is absolutely no chance that he will get to 300 dingers. With something like 1400 hits, he will be lucky and by lucky I mean he needs to stay healthy, in order to approach the magic 3000 hit mark. If he can get to that figure, the HOF discussion can be broached. As a fan I would be happy to see him belt an average of 25 big-flys a year as a first baseman. That might be asking a little much, considering his best year he hit 27ish. Let's just hope he can stay healthy, the Twins can develop a true #2 hitter and Mauer can move to the part of the lineup where he belongs - #3 hitter.
    1. Physics Guy's Avatar
      Physics Guy -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      Mauer has 1414 hits. 150 a season and he needs 11 seasons to get there... He can do it.
      He has averaged 1.20 hits per game played in his career. If he plays 150 games per year, that puts him at 180 per year. That would take him a little less than nine years to reach 3000. 11 years would put him over forty. I think for him to reach it he has to stay healthy (obviously) and put a few 200 hit seasons in there during the next five years. He has four seasons at 174 hits or better as a catcher, so I think it is doable if he is playing 1B/DH. If he doesn't get close to 3000 that contract may really be hurting the Twins in a few years. Let's hope for the best.
    1. Physics Guy's Avatar
      Physics Guy -
      Quote Originally Posted by Physics Guy View Post
      f he doesn't get close to 3000 that contract may really be hurting the Twins in a few years. Let's hope for the best.
      I take it back. With only five years left on Joe's contract and moving him to 1B, I like our chances of getting decent to good value out of his contract. I would say there is a chance he reaches 2400 hits by the end of the contract. That means he would need 150 a year for his next 4 years (age 36-39 seasons). It is questionable he will be able to accomplish that at those ages, but maybe he makes it in the following year at age 40, hopefully with the Twins.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      As a guy who was primarily a catcher, 3,000 is pretty unlikely... if/when he gets over 2,000, it's a given (if it isn't already). Three batting titles (that catchers haven't won in years), a bunch of All Star appearances, Gold Gloves, a bunch of Silver Sluggers, impeccable image, presumably one team. He's got a .324 career average and is an on-base machine. It's a given.
    1. Zephrin's Avatar
      Zephrin -
      Mauer's current averages leave him in the following positions amongst catchers all time:

      BA .323 - 1st
      OBP .405 - 2nd
      SLG .468 - 9th
      OPS .873 - 3rd

      Also of note, assuming Piazza gets in, every catcher with any longevity at catcher with a .300 BA is in the HoF. Every. Single. One. I see very little reason he doesn't get into Cooperstown, whether it is 6 or 16 years from now.
    1. Zephrin's Avatar
      Zephrin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Thrylos View Post
      FWIW, other Cs in the HOF like Bench and Fisk were close to 400 HRs, a milestone that Mauer likely will not get. Most HOF Cs are power guys. The Piazza situation will be interesting.
      Of the 13 Cs in the HoF, 9 of them did not hit 250 HRs. (and Mickey Cochrane, whom Mauer's game is most similar to, only hit 119.) I agree that Mauer is not a big power guy and will be unlikely to get over 250, but I don't see that as much of a prerequisite for a HoF catcher historically.
    1. Zephrin's Avatar
      Zephrin -
      Quote Originally Posted by Seth Stohs View Post
      As a guy who was primarily a catcher, 3,000 is pretty unlikely... if/when he gets over 2,000, it's a given (if it isn't already).
      1,700 would actually put him right in the midst of the current HoF catchers. Pudge's 2,844 is the all time leader for Cs, and only a handful have ever broken 2,000. The fact that we can even come up with scenarios where Mauer gets to 3,000 is remarkable.
    1. Physics Guy's Avatar
      Physics Guy -
      Quote Originally Posted by Zephrin View Post
      1,700 would actually put him right in the midst of the current HoF catchers. Pudge's 2,844 is the all time leader for Cs, and only a handful have ever broken 2,000. The fact that we can even come up with scenarios where Mauer gets to 3,000 is remarkable.
      I agree completely. Getting to 3,000 is a long shot. 2500 is well within the realm of possibility. I have a hard time seeing him not in the HOF.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Hits don't matter as a negative. Getting 3,000 hits garners a player more consideration for the hall but not achieving 3,000 is not a negative, particularly for catchers.

      If a BBWA voter can't acknowledge that it's harder to accumulate hits when a player walks 8-10% of the time, they deserve to lose their status as a voting member.
    1. Physics Guy's Avatar
      Physics Guy -
      Unfortunately there are probably more than a few voters who fit that category.
    1. D. Hocking's Avatar
      D. Hocking -
      I am not sure if you can post links here (although I suspect this article by Randball's Stu will at some point be linked on the front page) - but there is more to the story of why Mauer was switched positions. I wish Mauer would be more about baseball and less about going out of his way to make controversial statements about hot topic issues such as dairy products.

      We are lucky to have such great local journalists as by Randball's Stu to uncover the uglier side of the game, even when it involves difficult, tempermental players such as Mauer. I bet Mauer goes after him the next time he sees him.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by D. Hocking View Post
      I am not sure if you can post links here
      Normally it should not be a problem. To save a step, are you referring to this hard hitting piece (of satire)?

      http://www.twinkietown.com/2014/1/3/...stance-on-milk
    1. D. Hocking's Avatar
      D. Hocking -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      Normally it should not be a problem. To save a step, are you referring to this hard hitting piece (of satire)?

      http://www.twinkietown.com/2014/1/3/...stance-on-milk
      Thanks, It is. I was afraid it might be too edgy for the board - esp. when Mauer got heated and started lacing his quotes with profanities such as "G&^z L23$#e" and "b&%^*h of h#$%y".

      I hope he does not talk like that in front of the twins (the ones living at his house, not the team).
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