- Jason Bay is actually a good player. Read my latest post at Fire Brand…if you dare!
- Joe Mauer is experiencing lower back problems. Simply put, not good. If Mauer misses a significant amount of time, it could very well be the difference between the division. Sort of like what was going to happen with ARod, except this is probably 80-88 wins, rather than 90-97. Just imagine that Twins lineup with no Mauer. Just, Justin Morneau. Yea. Not scary at all.
- Speaking of that ARod surgery. I was an advocate for the possibility that Rodriguez should postpone surgery. But they found a way for him to miss time and most likely getting through the season without the pain that he would have encountered. This isn’t a bad route, as it is much easier to find a replacement for two months rather than 4.
- Fangraphs touched up on the overabundance of bunting in the WBC. I posted a comment in reference to that. But my feeling was that –as the US players especially– are still timing the baseball, then “waiting around for the three run homer” may not be as relevant as it normally is during the regular season when everyone is ready to swing the bat. My response was that “it may not be logical, but that it is probably “less illogical.” Interested in any thoughts that you all have. And if you love the bunt, then my guess is that you will love it even more in this scenario.
- If anyone is interested, my three favorite sites for analysis are: Fangraphs, Baseball Analysts, and ESPN (Law 1st, and a little Rob Neyer). My go to stat resources are: BP (the current frontrunner), Baseball Reference, and Fangraphs (has everything except a cumulative stat that I have a grasp for). The Hardball Times is right there, too.
- Speaking of ESPN, the current poll question is entitled, “Would you want your current team to sign Pedro Martinez after his WBC performance.” That performance of course was good. Pedro would be a solid addition if he wasn’t penciled into the rotation, if he was simply used as depth. It wouldn’t be a bad idea if he stuck around in the NL too. And of course no more than a one year deal. A team desperate for starting options, or a team wanting to add depth would be most logical. But penciling in Pedro for 60-100 inning is needed (and definitley no more), so they would need to have another starter to replace those remaining 100+ or so innings from that spot in the rotation. Having Pedro shoot for a June or July beginning might even be best scenario, if the team has some real depth.
Evan at “Fire Brand of the AL” wrote a story yesterday about the possibility of Joe Mauer coming to “Beantown”.
The possibility could also extend to New York, and a few other teams in need of a catcher, who also possess deep pockets.
The Red Sox have those “deep pockets,” and the Yankees do even more so.
The Red Sox need a catcher, and the Yankees might this season too. And if not this season then definitely very soon after.
Whether I would want the Red Sox to surrender the prospects needed to require Joe Mauer–even as great as he is– is another story. Mauer is one of the absolute best players in baseball. And even if the Twins cannot afford to keep him (although they may possibly ante-up), I don’t know that trading away multiple prospects AND paying Mauer $20 million is a great idea. Especially with the volatility of the catching position. Although, Mauer would not be locked up until his late 30’s, rather his early 30’s.
So who knows if this would even be an issue. But Mauer has had a few durability questions already, so it isn’t too far out of the realm of possibility that he will need to shift to another position–ultimately decreasing his overall value.
But this is really just about the scenario of a great hitter like Joe Mauer playing “Pepper” with the Green Monster. And how great that would be to watch.
Joe Mauer is a great hitter. A great hitter regardless of position. It isn’t just the batting titles that he has won that makes him great. It is the ability to get on base via the walk PLUS the ability to win a batting title. And Mauer is actually above average in the power department, even though his home run totals might indicate otherwise.
And of course, as I have mentioned before, Mauer is now a catcher, which makes him even greater.
But Mauer goes to the opposite field a lot, something other great hitters have taken advantage of when they called their home Fenway. Wade Boggs being the most obvious comparison, as his hitting ability was pretty close to what Mauer’s style of hitting happens to be. Both have won batting titles, both draw a good number of walks, both can hit the ball well to the opposite field, and neither hit all that many home runs.
So Joe Mauer can hit the ball well to the opposite field. 19.2% of Mauer’s balls that were hit in the air, in 2008, went to left field. 23% went to center. And only 4% of Mauer’s flyballs were pulled to right field.
So you can see how I am giddy just thinking about the possibility. Mauer doesn’t possess an incredible ability to hit the ball out of the ballpark, and that is no different hitting the ball the other way. So Mauer would benefit greatly from the Monster’s kindness. More routine flyballs would turn into doubles, but very few balls would be kept in the yard, that otherwise would have left at an average stadium.
I can think of few scenarios less intriguing within the game of baseball than that of “Mauer and the Monster.” I don’t know that it would be worth 3-4 good prospects, but I know that it would be a privelege to watch.
As statisticians know, summing up what a catcher does is very difficult to do. And separating what they do on a baseball field, aside from hitting, isn’t easy to evaluate from one catcher to the next. For example, calling a game. There really isn’t a way to measure that accurately, therefore it is simply easier to dismiss it in a ranking such as this. Maybe I could do more research and base a lot of it on reputation, but then it will have a “loose” base, so I am better off avoiding it.
The five best backstops in the game are…(With the 2008 OPS+ included)
- Joe Mauer: OPS+137: Perhaps when I am finished with these positional rankings, I will pursue a top ten players in baseball list, ranking the top ten from any position. And I am interested where I will rank Mauer. I have an idea, but more research always helps in matters like these. How Joe Mauer does not get more MVP love is beyond me. Sure, he finished 4th in 2008 and 6th in 2006, but come on, give the guy more love, he deserves it. Both seasons he was a batting champ, and both seasons he has been on base at clips of .413 and .429. And he is a freakin’ catcher! It sickens me. I would say he is underrated, but the “experts” that I rely on most respect the heck out of the guy. And he IS getting a lot of votes, just not as many as he probably should. Mauer should probably have an MVP by now, that is what I am trying to say.
- Brian McCann: OPS+ 134: McCann has been a great hitter–and not just for a catcher–for two of his three full seasons at this level. His bat is probably most comparable to Mauer’s of any catcher in the game. McCann hits for average, gets on base, and hits for power. When I say comparable to Mauer, I mean overall. Mauer gets on base more, hits for a higher average, but less power. But OBP>Slugging. McCann isn’t as patient as Mauer, but draws enough walks anyway.
- Russell Martin: OPS+ 106: The first two catchers are clearly better at the plate than Martin. But Russell is no slouch either. I still wonder if the Dodgers were interesting in exploring a trade of Martin this off-season. Or if that was just a fabrication. Martin could potentially get better, as he is still only 25. And Martin is incredibly patient at the plate, meaning that he should always get on base a lot. They have a nice asset down in LA, more than one, but this one in particular.
- Victor Martinez: OPS+ 85: Martinez was hurt and played in only 73 games last season. Is it really fair to leave him off the list because of that down year? Before that, in four consecutive seasons, Martinez posted OPS+’s of 121 or greater. Ranging from that 121, all the way up to 130. He was a great hitting catcher, period. Somehow in 2005, Victor finished 18th in the MVP voting. I have a feeling that he was more valuable than that, but the voters have their flaws, evident by the way they vote much of the time. I expect Martinez to bounce back.
- Jorge Posada: OPS+ 103: This may sound ludicrous to some, as Posada will probably be out of this if I rank the players after 2009. But he too was injured in 2008, and that prevented him from playing well (although was still a decent hitter). Granted, there is a distinct difference in age between he and Martinez. So the likelihood that Martinez is great again is higher. But Posada has been a good-great player for much of his career. A catcher in Chicago, or perhaps Pittsburgh will make some noise this season. But I feel that it is unfair to Posada to be left off because of injury, even if injuries may hinder him from performing for the reminder of his career (possible).
Geovany Soto-One great year doesn’t usually transfer into the “Statistican Magician’s” top five.
Ryan Doumit- More playing time, and the same production might get you on the list.
Just for the record, I feel that I have made it clear that projections for upcoming seasons don’t really play a role in these rankings. I mean, Soto will almost definitely be a better player than Posada next season. And I do value the current projection systems in place (Pecota, CHONE, Marcel, Bill James). But my rankings are based on actual numbers that have been established. Not numbers that may or may not be established. If I was to rank the top five for 2009, then the rankings would be different, no doubt.
One cannot assume anything that a catcher brings to the table. One cannot simply ignore it either. We know that a catcher is valued highly for a reason, but what exactly are those reasons? Certain catchers are perceived at being more adept, in regard to their counterparts, in calling a game with more skill. Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, this in respect to the average catcher of course, not just some guy taken off the street. But how do we prove this? How do we prove that a catcher is better at calling the right pitch at the right time. One cannot look at the team ERA when the catcher is behind the plate, because there are too many variables. How talented are the pitchers on the mound? How much experience do those pitchers have? Etc, etc, etc. A pitcher that has been around at least a little while, generally will have more of an idea about what to throw in certain situations, and how to attack a hitter. But then again, a pitcher with dynamic stuff may have an advantage in getting a hitter out because he can simply blow a fastball right by the batter, even though he may be a first or second year pitcher. There are too many variables to come to a conclusion for who the best game caller is. So if we believe that every catcher has an impact on this, while not knowing how much each catcher impacts it individually, then we understand that the catcher itself matters much, but we cannot draw a conclusion as to how much.
The other aspect of a catcher’s job, is to work with the pitchers (coincides with game calling to an extent). Again, cannot be defined through the numbers, yet exists regardless. I don’t exactly like placing value on something that I cannot place value on, but I know that a catcher has to work with whoever the given pitcher on the mound happens to be. Whether it is during a game, or not. A catcher is there to help give the pitcher confidence, to discuss the game plan, and to apply the gameplan during the actual game. But no one can quantify what this means in a teams success. We simply assume it means a lot, and I am sure we all agree that it does.
Basically, the catcher does a lot for their respective team, and our perception of how much that impacts a team may differ, but no one thinks little of their job. Catcher is the one spot on the field that we cannot measure accurately, yet we know it matters the most. They have some impact, ever so slightly at times, on every single pitch that comes their way. No one else has this kind of impact, outside of the pitcher who happens to reside on the mound, at any given moment.
So all of that leads me to this…
My “Most Valuable Player” in the American League is Joe Mauer.
When a catcher wins a batting title in this day and age, it probably seems a little less a big deal then if it had happened in earlier decades. One point being because at least some of us value “Batting Average” a little less than in past years. And the second point being that it at least seems that catchers have become better with the bat these days. I have no definitive proof of this, nor have I looked. But it seems so with the Piazza’s,etc, that have come around in the past 15 years. Whether it is because of unspecified variations to one’s body or not, the perception that a catcher doesn’t have to hit, or more accurately can’t hit, to have value, has changed. In this day and age they need to hit a little if they want to stick around, in most cases.
Back to the batting title part…There is actually still a game, so it is conceivable that Mauer could struggle in the one game playoff and concede the title to Dustin Pedroia. That matters little to me, and the odds are against it happening anyway. Because if he finishes with a .330 average, or a .325 average, it makes little difference to me. The most important thing about his batting average is that he isn’t up there at the plate hacking at everything and having some flukey season. First, he already won one batting title. And second, he is one of the more patient hitters in the game. Mauer sees 4.05 pitches per plate appearance. That is 15th among all American League hitters who qualify for the batting title. And it translates into a .415 OBP, second in the AL. And remember getting on base is what it is all about these days, after the statisticians have studied a 100+ years of data to come as close as possible to proving it. But just imagine a catcher, outside of Mike Piazza posting these kinds of numbers, and more importantly getting on base as much as he does. Yes, Joe Mauer is that good.
The one “flaw’ that Mauer has, is his inability to hit for power when compared to other MVP candidates. Mauer fell in at 33rd with a .454 Slugging %. Not terrible, and actually 34 percentage points better than the American League average in 2008. But a player with 9 home runs doesn’t exactly strike intrigue into the minds of the voters. The minds that will find the most value in Joe Mauer, are the ones that understand how important the catcher position is. And of course the sabermetric following (OBP). Hitting for power is not evading Joe Mauer, it is just evading him when compared to the A’rod’s and Hamilton’s of the world.
Onto the other more complex offensive metrics which lend help to my case for Joe Mauer as MVP. Mauer tied for second in “Win Shares” with 27, behind only his teammate Justin Morneau. Mauer was 15th in “Runs Created,” which is definitely an indication that he was not the best hitter, but that doesn’t mean that he was not the best player. Mauer batted .362 with runners in scoring position, fifth in the league. He hit .321 with a ridiculous .992 OPS in “Late and Close” situations. OPS+ of 135 (35% better than the average hitter), and fell in at 8th in the league in this department. Mauer was seventh in the league in “VORP” with a number of 56.4. Well, we all get the point, right? All of these numbers indicate that he was good at the plate, even if he was not the absolute best.
As for defensive prowess? Mauer is regarded as being one of, if not THE best defensive catcher in the game. To play the most demanding position in all of baseball, and to be regarded as being the best at it, is a pretty good accomplishment. So “no small feat” as some would say. But I cannot solely base it on reputation, although I will not ignore it either. I will include the one stat that we can use with meaning from behind the plate. Mauer was 3rd this season in CS% (caught stealing). He struck down 36% of basestealers attempting to get a little greed on their hands. Well the thing was, Mauer never let them reach, so they went back empty-handed.
…Just for the heck of it by the way, the Twins ERA when Mauer was behind the plate was fourth in the AL, and the pitchers he worked with weren’t exactly a bunch of wily veterans with Cy Young awards on their mantle.
And if one wants to bring the teams success into the equation, then Mauer has a pretty strong case on that regard. The Twins have two star players in that lineup: Justin Morneau and of course Joe Mauer. There are some other nice pieces, but it isn’t like the stars the Mets lineup consists of. Mauer did something that not only can influence the Carlos Gomez’s and Delmon Young’s of the world in how much patience he has shown at the plate, but he also actually applied it to winning ballgames. That is what a .415 OBP does, it helps win games. Mauer was the most important piece in helping the Twins achieve the status of playing in a one game playoff with the White Sox. No one, including myself, believed the Twins would be in the mix, that they would be one win away from the playoffs. Does that matter to me much in the MVP discussion? Not really, for if Mauer were on the Pirates they would still be sitting outside the playoffs, yet Mauer would be impacting the team the exact same way he is now. But having a team on the verge of the playoffs only helps Mauer’s case. And in my opinion, Joe Mauer has the strongest case of anyone.