Tag Archives: catchers

2019 Game 69: Joe Mauer Was Very Good At Baseball

On Joe Mauer's player page, Baseball Reference lists two transactions:

  • June 5, 2001: Drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 1st round (1st pick) of the 2001 amateur draft. Player signed July 17, 2001.
  • October 29, 2018: Granted Free Agency.

This community did not exist before Joe Mauer became a major leaguer. Mauer made his debut on 05 April 2004; SBG started posting at the Old Basement in July 2004. Granted, there were isolated pockets of Twins fans online before Mauer crouched behind the plate, but every one of the well-established communities of Twins fans came into being during Mauer's career. The Mauer Era is the era of critical mass for Twins fans online. The retirement of Joe's number is something of a milestone for all of us.

The seeds of the ongoing revolution in the evaluation of baseball players' performance stretch back to before Joe Mauer was born. By the time Mauer was swinging the bat on St. Paul's sandlots, a few forward-thinking executives had started kicking around these new approaches. By the time Joe Mauer signed with the Twins, those approaches had already jumped from theory to application in the most forward-thinking front office in the game. (That front office was not in Minnesota.)

Joe Mauer's career unfolded in a period in which enlightened baseball executives, baseball bloggers, and a few sportswriters were capable of perceiving how legendarily good Mauer was, but in which traditional executives, old school players, and (especially) sports-writing newspapermen simply lacked the curiosity, imagination, or willingness to appreciate him. The Twins' front office remained so hidebound in its approach that Mauer's own organization was simply not capable of articulating the special abilities of its franchise catcher. In Mauer's own home state, some newspapermen conspired to poison the well, turning a huge percentage of fans against the best pure hitter they might ever see play for their favorite team. Nothing in Joe Mauer's personality suggests he brought this treatment on himself. His "crime" was to be judged a good enough ballplayer to be made a multi-millionaire by the children of a billionaire banker.

Had Mauer's career unfolded exactly as it had, but a decade later, we would know with much greater certainty how amazing he was behind the plate. We know a few things. He threw out 33% of runners attempting to steal against a cumulative league average of 27% during his catching years. Baseball Info Solutions judges him about 17 runs above average in pitch calling. Johan Santana, the best pitcher to toe the rubber for the Twins since Bert Blyleven's heyday and likely the best pitcher in the American League during his own peak, threw more innings to Joe Mauer than any other catcher in his career. The only catcher with whom Johan had a lower OPS+ allowed was Ramon Castro, who caught less than a quarter of the total innings Mauer caught Johan. We can guess other things — Mauer certainly was a very good receiver, and possibly inner-circle great at framing — but we'll simply never know how he compares to the excellent catchers who came after him.

But we do know this: very, very few catchers could hit like Joe Mauer in his prime. Joe Mauer had the fifth-highest peak, judged by rWAR, of any catcher, ever. In ten seasons, from 2004–2013, Joe Mauer hit .323/.405/.468, good for an 135 OPS+. Over that span, which included a debut season derailed by a knee injury, he ripped an average of 28 doubles every year. He got an extra-base hit in 8% of his plate appearances over that stretch, but struck out just 11.2% of the time. He totaled 2051 total bases in a decade of hitting, often banged-up from his duties on the back side of the plate. Of players who caught at least 750 games and had at least 3000 plate appearances, Mauer is 3rd in Batting Runs, 7th in WAR Runs Batting, and 8th in Runs Created.

Joe Mauer was ours. He arrived just as we were gaining the ability to follow baseball with new friends we had never met, who lived far away from the territory reached by the 50,000 watts of WCCO that then still carried Herb's voice. His career was, with the exception of the disappointments his team suffered in the postseason, the career of all of our dreams when we were growing up. Nobody — especially not the cranks at the Star Tribune and their sycophants online — can take Joe Mauer's greatness away from us. We knew it, and we shared it.

Happy Joe Mauer Day, friends.

2011 Game 33: Red Sox 2, Twins 1 (11)

Weather: 60°F, cloudy
Wind: 16 mph, in from CF
Attendance: 37,276
Time: 3:55

Twins record: 12-21 (tied for last in AL Central, 10.0 GB)
Fangraphs boxscore | MLB Game Wrap

Highlights:

  • Highest WPA, hitter: Span .150 (2-4, R, BB) | Highest WPA, pitcher: Mijares .299 (2.0 IP, H, BB)
  • Outfield defense - Revere's diving catch and Span's sliding catch

Lowlights:

  • Lowest WPA, hitter: Tolbert, -.346 (0-5, 1 SO) | Lowest WPA, pitcher: Hoey, -.350 (0.1 IP, H, BB, ER)
  • Tolbert: still batting second
  • MLB's continued employment of Angel Hernandez and Joe West

BOSTON -- The latest rumblings out of the Twins' clubhouse are something else indeed. General Manager Bill Smith accidentally ran his iPhone through the visitor's clubhouse washing machine in Chicago last week after spilling a Chicago-style hot dog on his pants. Smith immediately put the device in a box of rice, to no avail, and had to reluctantly borrow infielder Matt Tolbert's phone so he could make some calls and find a new catcher. Steve Holm wasn't quite Corky Miller bad in his brief appearance, but Bill Smith eventually figured out he wasn't an answer to any question worth asking. Tolbert reportedly told Smith he doesn't make enough for the Twins' GM to call 411 and ask for the Rangers' front office (more on this in a moment), but could swing a call to AAA Rochester as long as it happened on his plan's nights & weekends minutes.

Red Wings infielder Toby Gardenhire is apparently #3 on Tolbert's speed dial, right behind Voicemail (#1) and former teammate Nick Punto (#2). Smith accordingly placed his call to Gardenhire the Younger, who relayed the request for a catcher to Red Wings manager Tom Nieto. Nieto, himself a former Twin, initially volunteered his own services, but apparently requested a few days to iron the fungoes out of his swing, time that Smith just wasn't willing to waste.

In his first season with the Twins, Nieto briefly served as Tim Laudner's backup and outhit regular backup Sal Butera late in the season (.071/.188/.143 for Nieto vs. .063/.118/.125 for Butera in Sept/Oct) before being inexplicably left off the playoff roster. Nieto actually paced Twins catchers in hitting and on-base percentage that year, posting a .200/.276/.314 line to Laudner's .191/.252/.389 and Sal Butera's .171/.217/.243 mark. Overall, Nieto posted an OPS+ of 17 in his Twins career, which spanned 183 plate appearances between 1987-88. When reached for comment, Nieto said, "I out-hit Sal Butera in 1987, and I believe in the depths of my soul I can out-hit his son in 2011." Drew Butera currently owns a positively Buterian .172/.213/.251 line. "But the Twins value defense behind the plate," Nieto continued, "and I accumulated -0.2 dWAR in my Twins career, so Bill Smith elected to pursue other options."

So, that's why Rene Rivera is now with the Twins. But why Rivera instead of, say, Rangers catcher/first baseman Mike Napoli, who has only 63 at bats (but 6 HR) this season despite a career 119 OPS+ and a .238 ISO? Napoli, only 29, is likely still in his hitting prime, and despite whatever Mike Scioscia - Napoli's former manager - thinks, he appears to be a serviceable catcher. Unfortunately, Smith laundered his iPhone and apparently hasn't yet worked up the nerve to tell Jim Pohlad, Dave St. Peter, or Wade Navratil, the Twins' Senior Director of Technology. Of course, Smith could always look up Rangers GM Jon Daniels' number in his laptop's address book, or drop Daniels an email for that matter, but an unnamed source in the Twins' front office divulged that Smith has forgotten how to turn his laptop on. According to another source in the Twins' front office, former Twins GM Terry Ryan and former Twins manager Tom Kelly have offered to call former Twins GM Andy MacPhail, currently the Orioles' President of Baseball Operations, about the availability of Matt "Mauer with Power" Wieters, but Smith has repeatedly expressed the desire to put his own stamp on the club.

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This week's View from the Ballpark:

photo by Flickr user LugoLounge
I know at least 5 6 7 10 Hall of Famers played here. | photo by Flickr user LugoLounge

Remember, no embiggening.