A Mauer-sized hole in the lineup

The worst offense in baseball.

More than 20% of the way into the 2011 season, and the Minnesota Twins, sporting the biggest payroll in team history, currently have the worst offense in baseball.

Don't worry, I'm not going to provide another gut wrenching look at how bad the Twins offense has been during the first weeks of the season. BeefMaster handled that task on Monday.

And I'm not going to rehash all the reasons for the Twins offensive woes. Everyone here understands how injuries have decimated the lineup, forcing us to lead the league in guys named Rene while finishing dead last in nearly every meaningful offensive category.

I do, however, want to make a pretty simple point: there is nothing hurting this offense more than the absence of a healthy Joe Mauer.

I know that's not a groundbreaking statement. Mauer is the cornerstone of the franchise and the team's highest-paid player. Stats as simple as batting average and as complex as Wins Above Replacement all agree: Joe Mauer is good at baseball.

But I do believe that some fans don't fully comprehend how important a healthy Mauer is to the Twins everyday lineup and what role his bad health and absence has played in our team's inability to score runs this season.

We'll take a closer look after the jump.

The Twins offense has finished in the top five in runs scored among American League teams for each of the past three years.

Runs Scored

AL Rank

2008

829

3

2009

817

4

2010

781

5

Obviously Joe Mauer played a big role in rejuvenating a once-embarrassing Twins offense. How big? Well, here's a chart that shows how many runs Joe created above a replacement-level catcher during the past three seasons (as measured by Baseball-Reference.com's Offensive Runs Above Replacement).

oRAR

2008

76

2009

76

2010

53

Now, using those two data sets, let's revisit the 2008, 2009, and 2010 seasons, replacing Mauer with a replacement-level catcher in the Twins lineup.

Adj. Runs Scored

Adj. AL Rank

2008

753

10

2009

741

T-10

2010

728

8

Even if we take some of these advanced measurements with a grain of salt, Mauer's impact on the lineup is clear. With Mauer, the Twins featured one of the top offenses in the American League. Just taking his bat out of the lineup would have left the team with a decidedly below-average offense, even with players like Justin Morneau, Jason Kubel, and Michael Cuddyer.

We're now seeing this situation play out in the first weeks of the 2011 season. To date, Twins catchers have been eight runs below replacement level, combining to hit .143/.195/.176. For reference, National League pitchers have combined to hit .133/.159/.167 this season.

It's clear that Mauer is the lynchpin of the Twins offense, and his absence is the single biggest (but far from only) reason for the Twins offensive struggles this year. While this would be true even if the Twins had a capable replacement, the dismal lack of production from Drew Butera, Steve Holm, and Rene Rivera simply underscores Mauer's importance to the team.

Thankfully, Mauer reported that he's feeling "a lot better" and is engaging in "baseball activities," although the team has yet to present a timetable for his return. The team seems committed to waiting until he's 100% healthy and able to return to catching before activating him. As fans, all we can do is wait and pray, because it's awfully hard to see how this team turns it around until Joe is back and healthy.

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