Monday, January 28, 2013

My first ever roto draft and Joe Mauer

Thanks to my colleagues over at MLB Dirt, I participated last night in my first ever mock draft. I had no strategy since I had no clue what I was doing and I never anticipated it would last three hours. But it was fun and it was a good exercise for a baseball writer because it forces you to think about players at different positions and make value judgements as to their relative worth. I picked Verlander first and Sabathia second. That meant that most of the great hitters were unavailable. So I picked the best of what was left in each of the next ten rounds or so. By the end, I was pretty happy with my team. The bonus of the whole thing is that I now have twenty-four stories I can write, one for each of my players. Today's inaugural entry is on Joe Mauer.

I was able to pick Mauer very late in the draft. I think I got him in the sixth round or thereabouts. This just goes to show how far his stock with people has fallen since his MVP season in 2009. It is perhaps also a verdict at how low the Twins have fallen and nobody seems to pay any attention. But after looking at Joe Mauer's 2012 season with fresh eyes, what am I missing?

After all, the triple slash line is pretty darned impressive: .319/.416/.446. That was good for a 141 OPS+ in what has become a pitching era. His on-base percentage led the American League. We are not talking peanuts here.

Another part of the fall in perceptions is that he doesn't just catch anymore. He caught 74 games, DHed 42 games and played first base another 30. And most people think his value lies only because he is a catcher. As if. The guy, no matter where he was playing, got on base 41.6 percent of the time! valued his season at 4.1 rWAR. came in higher at 5.0. That is hardly invaluable. Others say his salary, which is huge, is only valid if he is a catcher. Well, maybe. But Fangraphs pegs his value last season at $22.5 million, just a slight hair under his $23 million salary.

I do not have any quibble with that though because of all the value he gave the Twins in those years before he was making big money. I know that's not the way the world works, but the way I think, if a player's overall career value is way above what he has made in his career, he has been worth every penny.

I have already mentioned his triple slash line for his 2012 season. His career line is now: .323/.405/.468. What we see in Joe Mauer is one of the best hitters of his generation. His season in 2009 was obviously an outlier. But it was in the same way that Wade Boggs' was in 1987. Few would not call Wade Boggs a Hall of Fame player. And right now, Mauer's career stats are very similar to Boggs. Oh Boggs will probably have a higher peak and Mauer still has to go through his regression years, but still. Joe Mauer has been fantastic.

Consider a couple of things. In today's strikeout happy baseball, Joe Mauer's career strikeout percentage at 10.4 is lower than his walk percentage of 12.3. And as far as the walk percentage, he is only getting better as his 14% in 2012 was the best of his career. For his career, Mauer has only swung at 20.3 percent of pitches out of the strike zone. For his career, he has swung and missed only 4.1 percent of the time. This is a remarkable hitter.

He is not going to hit 28 homers. So what? Put him on the Yankees and he is sung praises around the world. Put him on the Red Sox and he would be their best player and Nick Carfardo would have a good attitude.

Joe Mauer fell to me in a late round because he is an undervalued player. Because he plays for the Twins and because he doesn't wallop a bunch of homers, he isn't sexy? Because his hair always looks so nice, he has become a joke? Oh please. Just mark him down in 2013 for .320/.400/.450 because you know it is going to happen. He is one of the players of this generation people will talk about for a long time.

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