Startribune.com digital sports editor Howard Sinker used to cover the Twins and now shares season tickets with friends in Section 219 of Target Field. He blogs about baseball from the perspective of a long-time fan who loves the game, doesn’t always believe the hype and likes hearing what others think. Howard sometimes talks about sports with Cathy Wurzer on MPR's Morning Edition.
I have no interest in piling on in the cyberbloodsport of ridiculing Joe Mauer.
But if the Mauer contract was a government deal -- and in a small way it is given the sales tax that helped build Target Field -- policy wonks would find ways to quantify was what expected versus what's being delivered.
Here's a quick attempt to do that, which assumes that Mauer's contract was negotiated based on the two excellent seasons (2006 and 2008) and the one extraordinary season (2009) he put together prior to signing the eight-year extension prior to the 2010 season.
The incredible Mauer: When Mauer returned from his injuries after missing the first month of the 2009 season, he had 11 home runs and 31 RBI in his first 23 games. He averaged one home run every 9.1 plate appearances. Call it Joe's Barry Bonds month. When Bonds hit 73 home runs in 2001, he averaged one homer per 9.1 PA.
The typical Mauer: For the rest of the 2009 season, Mauer hit 17 homers in 506 plate appearances -- one per 29.7 PA. In other words, if Mauer were to keep that rate over a full season, with 600 plate appearances, it would be reasonable to expect him to hit 20 home runs. I would argue that 20 homers along with the .327 batting average and .407 on-base percentage that Mauer brought into this season would be a reasonable return on $23 million for a Gold Glove-winning catcher, even if that catcher began to transition to another position during the second half of that contract.
The historical Mauer: In his career, Mauer has 82 homers in 3,855 PA -- one for every 47 times to the plate. That's about a homer per week when he plays ever day. Another quick comparison: Delmon Young has one homer per 43 career plate appearances.
The 2011 Mauer (You choose the adjective): One home run in 277 plate appearances. I remember exactly where I was when Mauer hit it: Park Tavern, waiting for a friend, drinking a Leinie's. Mauer's on-base percentage and slugging percentage (.350 and .352) are almost identical -- status typically reserved for the Nick Puntos of the world.
Maybe you think I'm being unfair by talking about home runs. Let's talk extra-base hits. In 2004, when Mauer injured his knee during the first week of his rookie season and was limited to 122 plate appearances, he had 15 extra-base hits. This season, in 277 plate appearances, he has 14. In his career, prior to 2011, Mauer had an extra-base hit every 12 plate appearances. This season, it's one in every 20.
I trust these things to be true:
*Mauer is not playing at 100 percent. If 2011 is the new "100 percent," the Twins are in deep trouble.
*Gardy is frustrated at having a team strength turn into a glaring weakness.
*Bill Smith is hoping the Mauer contract doesn't become the lead weight that sinks the front office.
*The Pohlads are wondering what it will get from the $168 million investment over the remaining seven seasons of Mauer's contract.
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