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March 22, 2010

One-Hoppers

How Long Will Mauer Catch?

by Colin Wyers

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Well, the rich get richer and the poor get poorer –- the Minnesota Twins have inked Joe Mauer to a massive eight-year, $184 million contract extension. Wait, what? The Twins aren’t rich? Could’ve fooled me.

What this means is that, more likely than not, Mauer will be playing baseball through at least 2018, when he is 35 years old. Mauer still has one season left on his old contract before the extension kicks in. (Nothing is guaranteed, but at $23 million a season, it would likely take a career-ending injury for him to not be playing baseball in some capacity through the entire contract.) But how much longer will Mauer be wearing the tools of ignorance?

To figure this out, I took a look at all the players who met the following criteria:

  • Made their debut in 1974 or later
  • Have finished their careers
  • Lasted for at least five years in the majors
  • Started out as a primary catcher (more than half their games played at catcher in seasons they were eligible for Rookie of the Year)

 There were 203 players who met all four criteria. On average, they tended to be a full-time catcher for about 10 years. And on average, their careers lasted about 11 years. It turns out that for most catchers, there isn’t much life after catching.

We do know, though, that Mauer isn’t a typical catcher. His bat can play anywhere on the diamond. So let’s examine the players in this group who did have a career after catching (23 of them in all). They played an average of 12 years in the majors, and seven at catcher.

Mauer has already been in the majors for six years, and as we discussed previously, is very likely to play for at least nine more seasons. So we fully expect him to outlast the average as far as total career length. Given that, it wouldn’t be outrageous to see him beat the average as far as career length as a catcher, either. Especially since Mauer is younger than the average player in the sample. He made his debut at age 21, compared to an average age of 23.

And the Twins are probably not in a big hurry to move him. They have Justin Morneau locked up at first base at least through 2013. Since the Twins are probably not excited about the idea of their $200-million man learning to play third base or the outfield at this point in his career, that leaves the only other option as designated hitter.

This research is based on averages, of course, and isn’t destiny by any stretch. But the odds are that Mauer won't be able to remain a full-time catcher much more than halfway through this contract, so by then the Twins better have a contingency plan in place.

Colin Wyers is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Colin's other articles. You can contact Colin by clicking here

8 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

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John Carter

Uh? I don't see how you reached the conclusion that the odds are against Mauer remaining a catcher much beyond the halfway point of his contract. Yet, you concluded earlier in this article that it wouldn't be outrageous if he did exceed the average career length at catcher of this sample. Anyway, it seems to me that you need to compare your sample of catchers to a similar sample of other players - say middle infielders, then compare how catchers of Mauer's skill set and career arc so far (not a easy sample to find - perhaps, you neeed to go back to earlier decades) fared as well as find some similar superstar middle infielders and see how they did against their larger group.

Mar 22, 2010 15:00 PM
rating: 2
 
kasgard

Yawn...yet another BP "article" questioning whether or not Mauer will remain behind the plate. In the past, were told of the injury risk and how catching could impede his offensive development. Not saying back then that is was wrong to speculate but can't we bury this now? This guy could go down as the greatest catcher in history and this is what we talk about. Hey Mike Piazza, give us your take. BTW, I'm happy to see no recent "Jesus Montero will have to switch positions."

Mar 22, 2010 16:23 PM
rating: 0
 
John Carter

I don't mind hearing speculation about position switches - as long as it is not too drawn out and repeated. With Montero's defensive weaknesses and the Yankees having four of their top 10 prospects catchers, there are good reasons to anticipate a position switch for Montero. Though, if a switch is their A plan, you have to wonder why they haven't just gone ahead and done it by now.

However, in the case of Mauer, has anyone speculating his position switch researched any interviews of Mauer on that subject? Or talked to him directly? If his contract signing with Minnesota is any indication, Mauer does not appear to be the type who seeks the glory that a longer career would bring. His self-sacrifice to stick with his home town might extend to self-sacrifice to play the position few superstars would want to play. He obviously loves playing for Minnesota and he appears to love catching. Even professionals do better when they love what they are doing.

Mar 22, 2010 20:35 PM
rating: 2
 
Richard Bergstrom

Personally, I like the idea that the Twins are investing in their players, but I think they overpaid for Mauer. He doesn't have a great injury track record and is coming off a career year. Let's say he gets hurt in the next three years or so. He then becomes a very expensive DH with a bat that, while good at the catcher's position, isn't as elite at first base or DH. After all, he has a career .880 OPS and that looks a lot more mediocre at $23 mil per and if he's moved off of catcher.

Mar 23, 2010 12:32 PM
rating: 2
 
John Carter

Good point, Richard. No one wants to look at the potential downside of this deal, beacause everyone is so happy he will not be a Yankee.

Mar 23, 2010 14:01 PM
rating: -1
 
Richard Bergstrom

From what I understand, the Yankees have prospects at catcher (Montero, etc.) and I doubt that even they would do a deal like this unless Mauer put up another season or two at this level.

Overall, I think the move is good from a PR angle, but as written elsewhere on BP, I don't see much of a hometown discount. This is almost as risky as signing a pitcher long-term.

Mar 23, 2010 15:05 PM
rating: 0
 
asbasb

Let's look at some elite catchers:
Mike Piazza primarily played catcher through his age 37 season. He retired after his age 38 season, during which he played in only 83 games, primarily as a DH. He was a productive hitter

Johnny Bench primarily played catcher through his age 32 season. He played three more years, dividing his time between first base, third base, catcher, and left field. He retired after his age 35 season.

Gary Carter primarily played catcher his entire career, retiring after hist age 38 season. However, his hitting declined rapidly midway through his age 33 season and never recovered.

Jorge Posada has primarily played catcher for his entire career. After an injury filled age 36 season, he had a career year last year at age 37.

Carleton Fisk primarily played catcher for his entire career. He retired at age 45(!), and was a productive player into his forties, with OPS+ of 97 at age 43 and 143 at age 42.

Yogi Berra was primarily a catcher for his entire career. His age 36 season was his last full season, and he posted an OPS+ of 138 in 64 games at age 38.

Bill Dickey played catcher for his entire career. He retired after his age 39 season, although he missed his age 37 and 38 seasons due to WWII. He was a productive hitter for his entire career, although his playing time declined (due to injuries?) following his age 32 season. He did post an OPS+ of 173 in 85 games at age 36.

I think it very likely that Mauer will be able to catch and be a productive hitter through his age 32 season, and quite possible that he will be catching and productive at age 35.

Mar 23, 2010 21:21 PM
rating: 0
 
Richard Bergstrom

But all those players were established power hitters.. Mauer's not an established power hitter. We also don't know how Target field will affect his offensive performance. Four years down the road, he could be an overpaid version of Jason Kendall except Kendall (ankle injury aside) has a better injury history.

Mar 24, 2010 00:31 AM
rating: 0
 
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