We see it all too often in fantasy — a former superstar and usual top pick ends up on the decline and still gets drafted or traded for value based solely on name and former reputation. Maybe some people are anticipating and hoping for a return to the glory years. Maybe some people are just fans and can’t let go. Whatever the reason may be, the player’s value is over-inflated on draft day and, more often than not, a complete disappointment by season’s end. With a top five ranking amongst catchers and an overall ADP of 79.64, Joe Mauer seems like a candidate who fits this description.
There’s no denying that, when healthy, Mauer is one of the top catchers in all of baseball. His defensive abilities are well above average and the bat that he swings is mighty. But since fantasy pushes defense aside, let’s just concentrate on and analyze his offensive production.
Again, when healthy, Mauer is one of the top hitters in baseball regardless of position. The guy gets on base at an alarming rate, posting an OBP of more than .400 in four of his last six seasons. His batting average has always been upper tier and his runs scored totals have surpassed every other backstop in three of the last four years. His walk rates are rock solid, he doesn’t strike out very often and he has been a fantastic asset in all fantasy leagues, whether it’s points, head to head or straight roto.
But the fact that “when healthy” is needed to lead off every descriptive paragraph, to me, speaks volumes. Sure, you can say that about plenty of players — “when healthy” they are tremendously productive. But the problem here is that Mauer has been dealing with some injuries that are serious enough that full recovery becomes less and less likely. We all know that catching is the most taxing of defensive duties in baseball, and the fact that Mauer’s problems sit in his back and in his legs makes it even worse. Yes, the Twins will get him more time at first base this season, but he’s still going to be behind the dish multiple times per week and that wear and tear is going to continue to damage him.
Given the fact that he is still roughly the fifth catcher off the board, it doesn’t seem like too many people are concerned with his recovery/health. How many times have we seen a guy drop in drafts because of his propensity to land on the DL multiple times in a year? The only exception that really comes to mind for this is Josh Hamilton, who has slipped somewhat in drafts but still remains a high selection (no pun intended).
However, a huge difference between Hamilton and Mauer here is production upside. When healthy, Hamilton is a 30-100 hitter with roughly a .300 average and hits in ridiculously strong lineup in a hitter-friendly home park. Mauer, on the other hand, can really only boast the batting average these days. He had one year where his power took a massive jump, but returned to his usual single-digit production the following season. People can turn to his runs scored and show how those numbers surpass those of other backstops, but that’s as much a reflection of his surrounding lineup as it is his ability to get on base. Justin Morneau is a shell of the player he once was and after that, the Twins are relying on the rickety bodies of both Josh Willingham and Ryan Doumit. Not to mention the fact that Target Field plays much better to pitchers than it does to hitters.
Yet, throughout all of this, Mauer still remains a top five catcher in most people’s eyes. Injury risk? Pfffft! Who isn’t? For so many, he’s got AL Comeback Player of the Year written all over him. But for me, for my fantasy drafts, I’d rather wait a few rounds and grab some power from J.P. Arencibia or Geovany Soto. And if I really want batting average and runs scored, I’ll just wait the 100 picks more ti grab Yadier Molina.
Now for those about to roast me in the comments section here, allow me to just say this final word — I’m not saying that Joe Mauer is a bum. He was a great player and can still provide a strong contribution to your fantasy team. I just don’t see him being worth a 5th round selection based on the risk involved and the declining production. Take away the name and reputation and he just belongs further down the list.
Howard Bender has been covering fantasy sports for over 10 years on a variety of websites. In addition to his work here, you can also find him at his site, RotobuzzGuy.com, Fantasy Alarm, RotoWire and Mock Draft Central. Follow him on Twitter at @rotobuzzguy or for more direct questions or comments, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org