Monday, August 29, 2011

In Defense of Joe Mauer

Over at Nick's Twins Blog, Nick Nelson already wrote a great article describing the situation Joe Mauer is in.  But, considering the amount of vitriol directed at him by fans and media members a like, he needs all the support he can get.  And he deserves it.

Those people who are attacking Mauer, and labeling him as 'soft', have been incredibly short-sighted and laughably biased.  Many of them cite Michael Cuddyer's decision to play with what was probably a very sore wrist on Thursday, while Mauer sat out with a stiff neck.  Of course, those detractors conveniently ignore the fact that Cuddyer missed nine days earlier this month after suffering a similar injury swinging during batting practice.  They also focus too much on this one season, as Mauer has actually been quite durable for a catcher since his first knee surgery in 2004.

Take a look at these numbers for where he ranks in innings caught, games, and plate appearances among Major League catchers since then:

2010: 951 innings (8th), 137 games (3rd), 584 PA (1st)
2009: 939 innings (11th), 138 games (t-5th), 606 PA (3rd)
2008: 1203 innings (4th), 146 games (4th), 633 PA (2nd)
2007: 777 innings (28th), 109 games (27th), 471 PA (14th)
2006: 1054 innings (8th), 140 games (t-6th), 608 PA (3rd)
2005: 999 innings (14th), 131 games (11th), 554 PA (3rd)

Total (2005-2010): 5930 innings (5th), 801 games (4th), 3456 PA (1st)
Total (2005-2011): 6323 innings (6th), 871 games (3rd), 3741 PA (2nd)

In case you don't feel like scouring those numbers, I'll sum it up: in 5 of the last 6 seasons, Mauer has ranked in the top 3 in plate appearances for a catcher.  From 2005 through 2010, Mauer had the most plate appearances for a catcher and played the fourth-most games and the fifth-most innings.  Even including his current injury-plagued season, he ranks similarly since 2005.  And for those of you that might claim he ranks so high in those categories because he's spent a lot of time at DH, consider that his 2,968 plate appearances specifically as a catcher is the third-most between 2005 and 2010.

I'm not sure how anybody can look at these numbers and call Mauer 'soft'.  There's no way a catcher plays that much without often playing tired, hurt, and generally at much less than 100 percent.  This stiff neck is one incident, and 2011 is just one season--they don't overrule Mauer's whole career, during which he's been way more durable than people realize, especially when compared to one Michael Cuddyer.

I want to start off with a disclaimer, as this is not an attack on Cuddyer.  I like Cuddyer, but those who criticize Mauer often bring up Cuddyer as his antithesis, so it makes sense to compare him to Cuddyer.  From 2005 to 2010, Mauer and Cuddyer played in the exact same number of games, 801.  With 2011 included, Cuddyer has played in about 50 more, but considering the positional difference that's not a very impressive lead over seven seasons.

Oh, and don't forget, Mauer's been really good, too.  In that span, FanGraphs credits him for contributing 33.9 WAR, almost 8 wins ahead of the next-best catcher.  Baseball-Reference's WAR calculator likes him even more, as it gives him 38.7 WAR, 16.2 wins ahead of the second-best catcher!  And if you prefer some other statistics, he's first in average, OBP, OPS, wOBA, wRC, and wRC+ (and 5th in slugging) over that time period.

So please, if you're criticizing Mauer, take a step back.  Look at his career consistency and his league-best performance and cut him some slack.  The Twins have so many players who deserve blame for this season; let's not put it all on Joe Mauer.

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