Missing Mauer: The Hidden Costs of Joe Mauer's Absence
Measuring a player's value can be a difficult task. Some people use calculations like VORP or WARP-1 to compare players or monitor one player's improvement overtime. Others prefer to weigh a player's contribution against their salary.
While these calculations have gone a long way towards the goal of determining what a player is worth to their team, each leaves something to be desired. There are some things that certain players do that don't quantify well and thus get left out of these mechanisms.
No matter which calculation you choose, the Twins are going to having the AL batting champ and Gold Glove-winning catcher if Mauer does indeed sit for any serious amount of time. If that isn't the answer that comes out of the calculation, check the formula, something went wrong.
However, losing Joe Mauer has impacts that go far beyond the stat sheet.
Sure, losing Mauer's .407 OBP and stellar defense is a blow, but those things can be mitigated. What cannot be replaced are things like Mauer's knowledge of the pitching staff.
Joe Mauer has been compared to Red Sox's backstop Jason Varitek for his ability to come up with game plans based on who is pitching and what the opposing team's strengths are. Pitchers like Scott Baker have been quoted as saying things like, "I'm just so used to never shaking off Joe [Mauer] and going with what he puts down."
Losing a starting catcher hurts any team, but for one with a staff as young as the Twins' staff is, it could be devastating.
Sure, Mauer doesn't make Francisco Liriano's slider bite like it does, nor does he induce the groundballs that make Nick Blackburn so effective, but knowing when to call that slider or where to put the glove to get the desired swing is the difference between an effective battery and a team which relies solely on their pitchers' talents.
As much as I've pushed up Kevin Slowey over the last few days, he may suffer most from Mauer's absence. Slowey is at his best when he is mixing pitches, so if Mike Redmond, Drew Butera, or Jose Morales isn't paying close attention, Slowey could fall into a rut and become vulnerable.
The other unexpected way Mauer's injury will hurt the Twins comes from Mike Redmond's inability to take over as the starter.
Nothing against Redmond, who is a very good back-up for Mauer, but he simply won't be able to pick up the slack alone. He's 38 years old, on a three-year offensive decline, and has never played more than 88 games in a season.
Because of Redmond's limitations, the Twins will need to carry an extra catcher, either Jose Morales or Drew Butera. Unless Mauer goes on the 60-day DL (Heaven forbid it), that limits the number of pitchers they can carry, since the Twins nearly always load up on pitchers at the expense of position player replacements.
Given how unsettled the bullpen situation is, going down to 12 pitchers (seven relievers) may mean that someone like Philip Humber or R.A. Dickey won't make the team when they should.
Unless someone makes a break over the last two weeks of camp, the Twins are going to take five starters, four set relievers (Nathan, Crain, Breslow, and [regrettably] Guerrier) and then three blank spots. There are three players that seem to have the inside track, but none of them look like they'll be a consistently solid option once the season starts.
Does adding that last pitcher ensure that the Twins will always have the arm they need?
Not a bloody chance.
Does it make it more likely that the pitcher the Twins need will be there?
The big debates left to solve in the Twins' pen are between Philip Humber and R.A. Dickey in long relief and Jose Mijares and Brian Duensing in left-handed short relief. If no one pulls away, the Twins will be faced with what amounts to a coin-flip within each of the pairs.
If Mauer is healthy, the team can use early April as a longer tryout, albeit when the games actually count.
There is still a chance that Mauer will respond well to the new medication and will miss few actual games. However, every day he has to stay away from the field raises the likelihood that not only will he miss time, but miss substantial time.
The Twins can win without Joe Mauer, but if he is gone for more than a few games, the Twins will miss far more than just his statistical contributions.
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