AJ versus Mauer

Patrick Reusse is at it again, claiming that Pierzinski is a more valuable catcher than Joe Mauer. His primary claim to this is Bud Grant's claim--now turned Reusse axiom--that durability is as important as ability.

The argument is, say what you want about Pierzinski, but he is an iron man. And that counts at least as much as his relative lack of ability behind the plate. Don't get me wrong, Pierzinski is a good catcher. He handles a pitching staff pretty well. He's good at blocking balls and very good at the catch-and-tag play. He has his faults on the field also. His throwing is poor. His hitting is average--once a good contact hitter, he's become the all-or-nothing hitter he wanted to be, but wasn't allowed to be, with the Twins. Overall, his ability is middle of the pack for AL catchers. And he's four years older than Mauer. But his durability rivals Jorge Posada among the AL's best.

Mauer's ability is off the charts and indisputable. In my opinion, he's in the top three in calling games, throwing out runners, and blocking pitches. And he's the best I've ever seen at the catch-and-tag play. He's also the first catcher in AL history to win a batting title--at age 24 no less. But he has been hurt a lot in his career. He tore up his knee, ruining his rookie season. He had two healthy seasons. And this year he's missed about half the year so far. Overall, he's missed about a third of his service time to injuries.

Mauer's extended DL stay despite an otherwise stellar career makes a guy like Reusse claim that an average but healthy catcher like Pierzinski is more valuable than a star catcher like Mauer who is not able to stay healthy all the time.

Now Reusse threw in a few gratuitous shots, as is his want. He implied that Mauer's strain or soreness should not keep him out of the line-up. "It's not a tear," he says, implying that Mauer's a wimp about injuries.

He also implied that any evaluation of the Pierzinski trade should be judged solely by Joe Nathan. According to Reusse, Bonser is far from a establishing himself as a quality pitcher. And he thinks Liriano will be a three-month wonder and otherwise a bust. Reusse implied that Liriano's weight gain--90 percent muscle--makes his return unlikely. That's just a bunch of hooey.

These shots were calculated to elicit a response. But there is little truth to them. Mauer just wants to make sure he's 100 percent before he plays, because muscle injuries linger if you come back too soon. In this, he's following the advice of the medical staff. He's too big of a competitor to do otherwise. Bonser is the Twins' number 2 starter, a position he will not relinquish until Liriano comes back next year. And if the Twins are unable to resign Santana, Liriano will become the team's ace, in part because the added muscle will help him endure more innings.

As disingenuous as the shots are, they only add to the lack of credibility about the relative worth of the two catchers. Mauer will be back soon. And when he comes back, he will return to the top of the heap of AL catchers. He will catch more than 100 games for the third year in a row. And, unlike Pierzinski, he will be catching and hitting third for a playoff team.

I hope Reusse eats his words when the season is over.

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