Hindsight is 20-20: Joe Mauer

Since Twins catcher Joe Mauer landed on the 7-day disabled list for concussion victims after taking several shots to the mask and helmet recently, there has been a great deal of renewed social media chatter about the Twins star’s future behind the plate.

In a rare moment of idleness Wednesday, I took note of a Tweet by Pioneer-Press Twins beat reporter Mike Berardino and it reminded me of a question I’ve been gnawing on from time to time for at least a couple of years now.

Here’s Berardino’s Tweet:

Twitter contest: Most insightful comment re: Mauer situation/future will be immortalized on next Twinsights blog at http://twincities.com

It took some doing to get my thoughts on the subject reduced to under 140 characters (right now, somewhere, CapitalBabs is laughing at the suggestion I could even get my thoughts trimmed to the 1,400 words my typical blog posts seem to run, much less 140 characters – someone punch her in the arm for me, will ya?). Anyway, my response:

@MikeBerardino Wonder if Mauer is an anomaly ‘cuz most catchers can’t hit or ‘cuz most orgs won’t let their best hitters stay at catcher.

Of course, I knew full well that I never have the most insightful thought or comment concerning any subject, so my chances of winning Berardino’s “contest” and attaining the immortality of being featured in his Twinsights blog were practically nil.

Then I remembered – I have my own blog!

I know I haven’t written much about the Twins the past couple of months, but that doesn’t mean I couldn’t, right?

There’s no doubt that much of the value the Twins placed on Joe Mauer when they agreed to pay him $23 million per year for eight years back in March of 2010 was because he was not only pretty decent with a piece of lumber in his hands, but also played a “premium” position. Frankly, baseball hadn’t seen a catcher as proficient as Mauer at hitting a baseball in almost forever.

Joe Mauer

Sure, he’d be a pretty good hitter if he played any other position, too, but as a catcher, he gave the Twins an edge over every other team in baseball at that position. That’s what made him worth, in the team’s view, such a large pile of money over so many years. (That and the sideburns, of course.)

Speculation about whether Mauer would or should eventually move out from behind the plate began long before he started getting the big bucks. Guys his size simply are not catchers. They’re first basemen, designated hitters and corner outfielders (usually poor fielding ones, at that).

From various reports, Mauer has always prided himself on his defensive abilities behind the dish and perhaps even resisted any attempts from within the organization to suggest he consider a move. That’s admirable. Whether it’s wise is another question, though.

Last season, Mauer began playing a few games at first base. With Justin Morneau’s future in the Twins organization clearly in doubt, there’s plenty of speculation that Mauer will be the Twins’ primary first baseman perhaps as early as 2014.

While I try not to be overly critical of the people running the Twins’ front office, I’m also not so naïve as to think they can do no wrong. In that vein, and with the admission that I’m being guilty of Monday morning quarterbacking to an enormous degree, I have to pose this question:

Should the Twins have pulled Mauer out from behind the plate years ago, probably during the brief time he spent in the lower minor leagues, and taught him to play a position that was… well… safer?

That essentially brings us back to the question I posed in my reply to Mike Berardino.

Does Mauer’s offensive proficiency stand out among the game’s other catchers because he’s so good at hitting a baseball or is it because most other organizations won’t allow their top hitting prospects to catch, regardless of whether that’s what the did in high school or college or wherever they spent their time before arriving at the Twins’ complex in Fort Myers for the first time?

Even the Twins have been known to move a top bat out from behind the plate. After all, wasn’t Justin Morneau a catcher, too?

Catching is dangerous. I figured that out by the time I was nine years old. That’s about the first time I heard my baseball coaching dad refer to catchers’ gear as, “the tools of ignorance.” Sure it’s a cliché, but here’s the thing about clichés: they usually get to be clichés by being true.

In youth leagues and even high school, catchers were often among the best overall athletes on whatever team I happened to play on. Come to think of it, most of the catchers I threw to in those days were also either football players or wrestlers. Tough guys, all of them, and most of them hit pretty well, too. I suppose that’s because good athletes that age who figure out they can’t hit usually stop playing baseball.

MauerST11kBut I have to tell you, if I ran a professional baseball organization and it turned out that a guy I signed really had a knack for putting the sweet spot of a bat on to a baseball on a consistent basis, I’d burn his catcher’s mitt and tell him to shag fly balls or take some infield because his catching days are over.

I’d do that when he was 19 or 21, not when he was 30.

I kind of shake my head a bit when I read fans suggesting Mauer should simply convert to third base, “next year.”

I just don’t think people have any concept of what it takes to be a proficient… or even an adequate… third baseman at the Major League level.

Go to spring training and watch the time players and their coaches put in over on the minor league infields in the back of the Twins complex working on the nuances of fielding. Sneak in to a minor league ballpark three or four hours before game time and watch as managers and coaches teach infielders how to shave a critical split second off the process of fielding a ball, getting it out of the glove and delivering it to first base.

Could Joe Mauer learn to do all that? I’ve seen enough of him to know better than to bet against him in any endeavor involving a ball made of leather, but it’s not a given that he could make a seamless conversion. Yes, I say that fully aware that guys like Johnny Bench pulled off that switch.

My point is simply that I think the time to make that move is years earlier, when the growing pains can take place in places like Elizabethton and Cedar Rapids, not in front of 38,000 people at Target Field.

More importantly, adopting the philosophy of protecting your best hitting prospects would mean you don’t subject them to a decade of unnecessary jarring foul balls off the noggin and you can focus on developing defense-first catchers throughout your organization.

I wouldn’t wish that kind of physical punishment on anyone, but so long as the game is going to need a catcher, I’d rather the guy I’m risking back there hit like Drew Butera than Joe Mauer, especially when the alternative seems to always be seeing a couple of Butera-like hitters elsewhere on the field, anyway.

I think it’s quite possible that catchers may become the running backs of Major League Baseball, in that they’ll be among the best pure athletes in the game, but will have, on average, the shortest careers. Just as there’s almost no way to fully protect the health of running backs in a game where it’s the job of huge men to hit them as hard as possible and take their legs out from under them, it’s also unlikely that there’s any way to make catching safe from blows to the head.

Seeing Morneau and Denard Span, not to mention Corey Koskie before them, go through some difficult times with concussions, it’s clear that there’s no way to completely protect your best ballplayers from the risk of concussion. But it’s pretty evident to me that the risk is far greater for catchers.

I hope Joe Mauer’s days as a catcher are nearing an end.

And I hope the next time the Twins sign a catching prospect who can hit like Mauer, I’m watching him play another position by the time he comes through Cedar Rapids on his way to the Show.

GameChat – Twins @ Angels #2, 9:05pm

The Twins just know how to win. Simple as that folks.  The Twins are just at the beginning of a string of 20 games against teams with records under .500, so they should play pretty competitive baseball for the next few weeks.  It will be fun while it lasts, as they run into the Tigers and Indians for what seems like two straight weeks after this is over.

Should be fun tonight with Kyle Gibson on the mound.

EDIT: Joe Mauer was a late scratch from the lineup and is headed back to Minnesota because his wife’s water broke. The babies were not due for another month, so let’s hope everything is okay for the Mauers.

 Minnesota Twins

@

Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
 Dozier, 2B  Shuck, LF
 Carroll, 3B  Trout, CF
 Morneau, 1B  Pujols, DH
 Doumit, RF
 Kendrick, H, 2B
 Colabello, DH  Callaspo, 3B
 Thomas, C, LF  Trumbo, 1B
 Herrmann, C, C  Conger, C
 Hicks, CF  Cowgill, RF
 Florimon, SS  Aybar, SS
   Gibson, P    Hanson, P

Time to start a winning streak.

1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 R H E
Minnesota 0 0 1 0 0 0 1 1 0 7 10 15 0
LA Angels 0 0 0 2 0 0 0 0 1 0 3 10 0

What a finish!  For the 2nd night in a row the Twins almost give one away in late innings.  Tonight the Twins did give up the lead in the 9th, but stormed back in the 10th, capping things off with a Chris Herrmann grand slam to put the Angels away.

I was long asleep, but  Herrmann certainly gets BOD for his 3-5 night with RBI after not expecting to start tonight.

Chris Herrmann

 

Don’t Blame “Those Damn Yankees”

The Twins, according to legend, are afraid of the Yankees. And you know what, after some quick post-season exits at the hands of the Yankees, that is a pretty easy narrative to build.  Add in the fact that the Twins have struggled to beat the Yankees in the regular season, despite the Twins having fairly successful regular season teams for most of the 2000’s, and you begin to see how that narrative continues to grow.

Johan Santana

Johan Santana

In the 11 years between 2000 and 2010 the Twins compiled a .537 winning percentage, going 957-826.  During that same span the Twins went 25-57 against the New York Yankees, a .325 winning percentage.  Take out the 77 games against the Yankees and the Twins are 163 games above .500 instead of just 131.  That is a significant bump.  During that same time period the Twins played the Yankees four times in the post-season, managing to win just two games, while losing 12, swept in 2009 and 2010.  That brings the Twins’ 11-year record against the Yankees to 27-69 (.281).  That is bad, almost as bad as the 2003 Detroit Tigers (43-119), the worst team of the last 50 years.

During that same 11-year span the Yankees were 1060-718, only had a losing record against one American League team (Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, 45-54), and won two World Series titles (and losing in the World Series two other times).  So clearly the Yankees were a better team than the Twins over that same time period, but the Yankees’ .596 winning percentage is not so much larger than the Twins’ .537 that you would expect the Twins fail so miserably against the Yankees during the span.

Assuming each team’s regular season winning percentages represented their true talent over those 11 years, the Yankees should have beaten the Twins only about 53% of the time, not the nearly 72% clip they had over that same span.  So what gives?  Why did the Yankees perform so well against the Minnesota Twins, especially in the post season?

For me, it comes down to roster construction, and specifically the postseason pitching rotations, where teams often turn to only their top three or four pitchers.

2003

Game (score, winner) Twins (starting pitcher) Yankees (starting pitcher)
1 (3-1 Twins) Johan Santana Mike Mussina
2 (1-4 Yankees) Brad Radke Andy Pettitte
3 (1-3 Yankees) Kyle Lohse Roger Clemens
4 (1-8 Yankees) Johan Santana David Wells

The Twins, with a lack of depth in their starting rotation chose to go back to their ace on four days of rest, facing elimination in Game 4.  The Yankees, alternatively, felt strong enough to run out David Wells (4.14 ERA, 4.3K/9, essentially a league average pitcher in 2003 despite his 15-7 W/L record) knowing that should they be pushed to a decisive Game 5 they could turn to Mike Mussina, their ace, against Brad Radke (4.49 ERA and a pitch to contact friendly contact rate of 82.2%).

So while you would certainly expect the Twins to score more than 3 runs over their final 3 games in this series, outside of Santana the Twins certainly did not have a rotation that could even dream about keeping up with New York (and remember that the Kyle Lohse of 2003 (4.61 ERA) is a far cry from the pitcher he has been over the past three seasons).

2004 Continue reading

GameChat – Twins @ Indians #3, 12:05pm

Ok, in my defense, this week my schedule has been RIDICULOUS (I hear Dairy Queen commercials in my head when I type this) so I have missed a LOT of baseball and baseball news. And sadly, today isn’t done with that schedule yet so I still don’t get any baseball.

BUT WHEN AND WHY DID PEDRO HERNANDEZ GET BACK UP HERE???

I’m so lost…  I would still hate to see us on the OTHER side of a sweep in the division so can we please hope that he pitches great today?? oh, and boys, hit the ball a lot.

Minnesota

@

Cleveland
Thomas, C, CF Bourn, CF
Mauer, DH Aviles, SS
Doumit, C Kipnis, 2B
Willingham, LF Swisher, 1B
Arcia, RF Reynolds, Ma, 3B
Plouffe, 3B Santana, C, DH
Parmelee, 1B Raburn, LF
Dozier, 2B Gomes, Y, C
Florimon, SS Stubbs, RF
  Hernandez, P, P   Carrasco, P

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Minnesota

1

0

0

0

2

0

1

0

1

5

12

0

Cleveland

0

1

1

0

0

0

1

0

0

3

8

0

Ok, what the heck is up with these super slow games in Cleveland??

And just a heads up on the info I didn’t have during pregame: Pedro was up because Pelfrey hurt his back yesterday in warm-ups and is on the DL retro-active to his last start. Thank you to Pedro and his wife for the extraordinary effort in driving 357 miles overnight to be here as the emergency starter today.

I am glad that we got a win though. I was only able to briefly check in on the game at various points and never thought it was very encouraging but it looks like everyone kept firing away and worked hard. I like that they leave on a win and have the day off tomorrow. While there was a lot of contribution from everyone but from the numbers, today belongs to Mr. Joe Mauer.

escobarandmauer

GameChat – Twins @ Brewers

A bit late getting the GameChat up today. Sorry about that.

Looks like the Twins got on the board first and that’s a refreshing change!

TWINS

@

BREWERS
Carroll, 2B Aoki, RF
Dozier, 2B Segura, SS
Mauer, C Gomez, C, CF
Willingham, LF Betancourt, Y, 3B
Morneau, 1B Bianchi, 2B
Doumit, RF Gonzalez, Al, 1B
Hicks, CF Schafer, L, LF
Escobar, E, 3B Maldonado, C
Correia, P Peralta, W, P

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Minnesota

1

0

0

1

2

0

1

1

0

6

9

0

Milwaukee

0

0

0

1

0

2

0

0

0

3

8

1

Woohoooo!!

You know what? Winning baseball games is FUN! I hope the boys remember that. Today was a good day – Correia gave it up a couple times but he showed signs of returning to the workhorse guy we had in April.  It really was a relief to have a starter at least go 6 innings again! Just for not sucking, I decided to grant Correia a beer on the house. It is Miller Park after all.

I’m granting a beer to Ryan Doumit for actually knocking in the winning RBI, Parmelee for the Homerun and an RBI and to Pedro Florimon for going 2 for 4. (Can you tell that I’m trying to encourage them to keep this kind of activity up?)

ALSO getting a beer on the house is the umpiring Crew Chief – for overruling that idiot Angel Hernandez on yet another absolutely ridiculous bad call. Thank heaven that someone can see even if it took a video review.

But after a bit of discussion which I think we only did for the fun of it, today’s BOD went to Joe Mauer – again – for getting 3 Runs (our entire lead) and in general being awesome at the plate with a Homerun and 2 Walks. Keep it up, Big Man. – CB

casilla mauer hug

Talk to Contact – Minnesota Twins Podcast – Episode 39

Episode 39 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

The trifecta of bad "beer"

The trifecta of bad “beer”

Cody and Eric must hate themselves, because there is not other reason they would be watching bad baseball and drinking bad beers.  But alas, here they are, for another week, with another bad team, and more Twins banter.

This week they cover the Twins news, do a lenghty look at the Twins regulars now that the season is 25% of the way over, and they decide that Joe Mauer and the bullpen are the only things going well for the Twins (ummm duh!).

The round out the podcast with FOUR bad beers, their bored, tipsy, silly friend Tricia, and as always, a trip around the league.

Ninety-nine minutes of audio pleasure.

 

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan.  You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.  And of course, you can find me on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read my writing here at Knuckleballs!

– ERolfPleiss

Minnesota Twins Podcast – Talk to Contact – Episode 38

Episode 38 of the Twins baseball podcast,  Talk To Contact (@TalkToContact), is now available for download via iTunes or by clicking here.

Dalton Hicks

Dalton Hicks

This week Cody and Eric dive into the poor pitching management of Ron Gardenhire, Joe Mauer‘s hit-streak amid a season filled with strike-outs, and then we discuss the possibility of seeing Kyle Gibson in a Twins uniform and the outside shot of a 6-man rotation in Minnesota.

We name our Twins hitters and pitchers of the week, and then go Down on the Pond and talk about Low-A Cedar Rapids Kernals first basemen Dalton Hicks.

We finish up the podcast talking about beers from Europe and making a trip Around the League (including a fabulous Korean bat flip).

Only an hour of fun this week, but we’ll be back next week with a special patriotic Talk to Contact in honor of Memorial Day.

You can follow Cody on Twitter (@NoDakTwinsFan) or read his writing at NoDakTwinsFan.  You can follow Paul on Twitter (@BaseballPirate) or read his writing at  Puckett’s Pond.  And of course, you can find me on Twitter (@ERolfPleiss) and read my writing here at Knuckleballs!

– ERolfPleiss

GameChat – Orioles @ Twins #2, 6:10pm

So JC & I had an entertaining lunch today before going our separate ways – me off to more family stops & more shopping (sheesh) and he, off to the game. Let’s hope that since the weather is not nearly as nice as yesterday, hopefully the baseball will actually be better. It’s still sunny but significantly cooler and a LOT windier. I’m curious as to whether that will effect the game. Let’s hope Worley has great stuff tonight since I think our bullpen could use the break – but I’m not holding my breath.

I’ll be in and out (honestly still trying to take advantage of what outside weather we have to try to catch up to the months of  backlog on yard work) but don’t leave if I don’t answer right away – I’ll be back!

Baltimore

@

Minnesota
McLouth, LF Dozier, 2B
Machado, M, 3B Mauer, C
Markakis, RF Doumit, DH
Jones, Ad, CF Morneau, 1B
Davis, C, 1B Plouffe, 3B
Wieters, C Parmelee, RF
Hardy, SS Arcia, LF
Flaherty, 2B Ramirez, W, CF
Reimold, DH Escobar, E, SS
  Johnson, S, P   Worley, P

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

Baltimore

3

0

0

1

0

1

0

0

0

5

12

0

Minnesota

0

0

2

4

0

2

0

0

x

8

10

1

YAY! They certainly did a better job at giving JC a reason to want to come back to MN later on this season. And the game was entertaining enough that I didn’t fall asleep in the 7th inning! This is also a good measure of a baseball game for me lately.

At any rate, it’s amazing the kind of win you can get when the top – heart of the order is getting on base or clearing a base with every AB. Mauer, Morneau, Doumit and Dozier all seemed to come through at the right moment tonight. And then Burton came in for a ground-breaking appearance in his recover/rehab/return but had told Gardy he felt good and could give him an inning – given our bullpen right now, that was VERY GOOD and he nailed down the save at the end. It was a good game with some great effort all around.

And just because in our discussions, we couldn’t really decide which was better: Mauer’s 3 Runs (+some) or Morneau’s 3 RBI but eventually we decided to give the BOD to Mauer just because he was really making it work tonight and that IBB just went to prove that the Orioles pitching really didn’t want to give him yet another opportunity. So Mauer is BOD!

JOEMAUER

GameChat – Angels @ Twins #2, 7:10pm

I’m finally posting my first GameChat of the season, and I’ll be around for at least part of the game! The MLB At Bat app told me the Twins won last night, so here’s hoping for more of the same this evening. CapitalBabs and her other half will be in attendance at the game, and while it’s not especially warm, it is sunny, so perhaps it won’t be bitterly cold?

LA Angels

@

Minnesota
Bourjos, CF Dozier, 2B
Trout, LF Mauer, C
Pujols, DH Morneau, 1B
Hamilton, RF Plouffe, 3B
Trumbo, 1B Doumit, DH
Kendrick, 2B Parmelee, RF
Iannetta, C Ramirez, W, LF
Jimenez, 3B Hicks, CF
Romine, SS Florimon, SS
  Vargas, P   Pelfrey, P

 

 

1

2

3

4

5

6

7

8

9

R

H

E

LA Angels

0

0

3

1

0

0

0

0

2

6

10

0

Minnesota

0

3

1

1

2

0

1

0

x

8

15

1

Babs here – yay for seeing live baseball!! Yes, it was chilly at the ballpark tonight AND we were on the first base side which always seems to be about 5 degrees cooler than the 3rd base side. At any rate, Andrew and I both dressed appropriately so we were just fine to sit and enjoy some baseball without losing any major or minor appendages.. I’m hoping that I was able to grab some decent pictures of all the new guys to add to our gallery since there are so many we don’t have yet! I sure had plenty of time since the pace of the pitching tonight resembled a Yankees game.

But what a game! I’m not sure who this team is with all the offense but it does make it a lot more fun to watch. Lineup switched around a bit tonight and Dozier was leading off – guess what, that worked out WELL. He had a good night and I like seeing the effort. The switch to 2nd base has been good for him and I see a very positive future for that.

Also looking good tonight – most of the time – was Florimon. That boy has some incredible throws across the diamond tonight and if he can work on the butterfingers thing he has going a bit, I’m excited to see him improve.

Pelfrey looked good but slow – I have a hard time with slow. But any game where pitching isn’t a major weakness, I’ll call good. Swarzak looked really good – wish he could have gotten the 4 inning save but not today.

However, once again, the offensive show was really ignited and sustained by Joe Mauer. A  second consecutive 4 hit game, this one with 3 RBI. It’s great to have fans cheering him when he comes up to bat again. Tonight, he’s our BOD!

JOEMAUER

Twins’ Glass Half Empty or Half Full?

With one bad first inning on Tuesday night, the Twins fell from a first place tie atop the AL Central Division in to sole possession of next-to-last place.

Such is life in the second week of a six-month-long Major League Baseball season.

The Twins sit at .500 with a 4-4 record after winning their first two series of the season from Detroit and Baltimore, both of which were postseason participants a year ago. The latter series was also on the road. That ain’t bad.

The losses the past two games in Kansas City have been a bit hard to stomach, of course. Blowing a one-run lead and wasting a pretty fair performance by pitcher Kevin Correia (at least through his first seven innings) was galling on Monday and the five-run bottom of the first that the Twins coughed up to the Royals Tuesday night was way too reminiscent of the kind of starts the Twins endured last year from their rotation.

But, on balance, things could be a lot worse, right?

After all, the Twins have put together this .500 start while most of their best hitters have gotten off to what you’d have to be generous to call mediocre starts.

The Twins have three hitters with batting averages above .300 at this point and you’d have to add all of those three players’ plate appearances together to match the number of times the team’s regular position players have come to the plate. When Eduardo Escobar, Pedro Florimon and Wilkin Ramirez are leading your team’s offense, you know you aren’t hitting (in this case, literally) on all cylinders yet.

Josh Willingham

Josh Willingham

Josh Willingham is off to a productive start, however. He’s hitting .280 with a couple of doubles and a couple of dingers. We’ll take that from the Hammer all year long. Chris Parmelee and Trevor Plouffe haven’t been great, but haven’t been awful either. Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer have not gotten off to great starts, so you have to figure the offense will improve as those two begin to warm up.

So things could be worse, offensively. Don’t believe me? Just imagine if Manager Ron Gardenhire had decided to plug Brian Dozier and his .174 On-base percentage in to the #2 spot of the order.

Then there’s the pitching. We’ve known all along that this team is going to live or die based on what kind of pitching they get.

Glen Perkins

Glen Perkins

Most of the good news is in the bullpen. Glen Perkins, Jared Burton, Ryan Pressly and Josh Roenicke, as a group, have not yet surrendered a run, earned or otherwise. They have 14 strikeouts (and seven walks) in 15 innings of combined work. Anthony Swarzak and Brian Duensing have also contributed positively out of the pen.

The results from the rotation members have been mixed. But, as with most things in life, it’s all relative. Compared to what we grew accustomed to seeing a year ago, maybe it hasn’t been all that bad.

Kevin Correia isn’t striking anyone out, but nobody really thought he would. What he has done is induce 23 ground outs and taken his team through the first seven innings of each of his starts. I think we’d take that all year long if we could get it.

There have been some encouraging innings out of some of the other rotation members, as well, but we need to see improvement there. That improvement could potentially start when Scott Diamond comes off the Disabled List in a couple of days.

Still, considering that the Twins pitchers are sixth in the American League in team ERA and their hitters are 12th in both batting average and OPS, you’d almost have to say it’s the team’s pitching that has them even as high as .500 at this point. Who would have expected that?

– JC