One of the reasons the Twins have been terrible in recent years is Joe Mauer‘s move from catcher to 1B/DH. He went from being one of the best catchers in baseball to an aging 1Bman who no longer hits .300 and hits for no power. He hasn’t had a .400 slugging percentage since 2013, and that just kills you from 1B/DH position, even if Mauer still gets on base like a starting IB/DH.
The Twins’ demise (and I well remember when the Twinkies were the-small-market-team-that-could) is hardly entirely Joe’s fault. He was still performing at a Hall of Fame caliber in 2012 when the team lost 96 games anyway.
Most players of Mauer’s talents add power as they age. Even if you see the 28 HRs Joe hit in his best season (2009) as a fluke, since he’s never hit more than 13 in any other major league season, Mauer had more than 50 extra base hits in two other seasons during his prime. Usually, a lot of those doubles and triples turn into home runs as the number of lines on the back of the baseball card gets longer.
For years I advocated that playing a guy of Mauer’s size (6’5″ and 225 lbs) who could hit like a young Joe Mauer at catcher for years and years was going to ruin a perfectly good Hall of Fame career. I turned out to be right, but not for the reasons (injuries) I expected.
Traditionally, big catchers who hit so well that they play too much burn out right quick, usually because of leg and back problems. However, Mauer still runs surprisingly well for a man his size who has played more than 900 MLB games at catcher.
Mauer’s hit eight triples and stolen seven bases in eight attempts over the last three seasons. He isn’t going to win any team footraces, but he’s certainly not among ten, or probably even 20, slowest IB/DH types in MLB. I initially thought that perhaps all that catching had ruined his legs, but it doesn’t match with the speed stats above, or the fact that he still plays pretty regularly for a player with knee and back problems.
Instead, Mauer’s ruin seems to have been the concussion he suffered in August 2013, as the result of foul balls off his mask, something no catcher can avoid. (espn.com’s recap doesn’t even mention it, since Mauer probably toughed it out and finished the game.) Here’s a source who almost certainly knows more about the Twins than I do from mid-season 2015, which attribute the drop in batting average, and, inferencially, his failure to add power, to his 2013 brain injury. That off season, Mauer admitted to vision problems as a result of the concussion which lingered through the 2015 season.
I still think that Mauer may yet be an 18-20 HR a year player, at least for one season. He isn’t that old for a player of his proven ability, he still runs well, and he may eventually get over the concussion that occurred more than three and a half years ago, particularly since he’s never played catcher again. It’s hard for me to believe that a player of Mauer’s proven offensive ability can’t show a little pop and potentially have one last great offensive season (or at least an OPS over .850) in the two years before his contract expires.
As for Joe Mauer’s long-term contract, what are you gonna do? The Twins had to sign Mauer to the long-term enormous deal because he was the local boy who made good. Mauer had earned that contract, because how could the fan base not love him? It’s just an unfortunate, even if somewhat predictable, bummer, because how could a team not overplay a big catcher of Mauer’s ability?