Joe Mauer is a bit of an enigma for the purposes of projection. PECOTA is very pessimistic, with an OPS below 800. Many on this blog say that's overly pessimistic. In his best year, he had an OPS of 917 as a 23 year old catcher.
Last year, when he played through left leg injuries for most of the year, his OPS was a respectable 806. Why PECOTA has him regressing into his 25-year-old year can be summed up as follows: There just has not been a catcher with a career anywhere like Mauer. And the closest comparable regressed. Thus PECOTA has him regressing.
So how do we project him? It's fair to say Twins fans hope for a big bounce from last year. But hoping and being realistic are two different things. So I'm going to take a stab at it. And don't worry, I'm not as optimistic about Mauer as I am about Young.
The key to Joe Mauer's career is staying healthy. Aside from his rookie year, when he tore his knee in the second game, last year was the least healthy year of his career.
It all started in the offseason. Fresh off a year when he was hitting .400 in July only to fade down the stretch, Mauer was determined to work harder than anyone has ever worked in the offseason. He logged more miles on the track than a marathoner. He stayed in Fort Myers all winter to work out at the Twins facility, where you could find him doing agility drills with Jason Bartlett and others in January. He lifted more weights than anyone on the team.
He found out last year that it's possible to work too hard in the offseason. He was worn out by the time he had to report with pitchers and catchers to spring training. And shortly after camp opened, he found out that he developed a condition typically only found in distance runners: A stress reaction in his lower left fibula. This ailment led to others: a quad pull later in the year and a hamstring pull at the end of the year. We didn't know the depth of his injuries until he revealed recently that he was not 100% all year.
This offseason, he took it much easier, reverting to the level of activity he had before his breakout year while tweaking the routine some. He reported to camp "feeling better than he's ever felt" coming into spring training. And he's looking good.
Obviously, it's tough predicting a catcher's health. But I think it's fair to say he will be healthier this year. And with his back leg strong for the first time since 2007, I predict we will start seeing more of that power we have been hearing people predict for years. At 6-6 235, he ought to hit for more power. Most of his power is to the left center gap, which means more doubles than homers. But both totals will go up this year, in my opinion, just based on better health.
Other than that, I don't think we can expect a repeat of 2007 in terms of average or OBP. Rumor has it, Gardenhire will hit Mauer second, which is the best place in the batting order for him, IMO. He is the best situational hitter on the team, in addition to being the best OBP guy, so he fits that spot to a T. But situational hitting means giving yourself up a lot. For example, say Gomez gets on with a bunt single and steals second. Mauer will be asked to hit the ball to the second baseman to advance Gomez to third, which does not count as a sacrifice hit. Though these situations might only come up every few games, they will serve as a drag on his numbers.
Without further ado, here are my projections:
Update I miscalculated on his SLG. His new line should read: G:130 PA:540 AB:462 H:148 2B:32 3B:3 HR:18 BB:64 SO:65 .320/.392/.519/911 I guess I'm optimistic after all.