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How Will Joe Mauer's Bat Play at First Base?

The Twins are moving an elite offensive catcher to first base. How does this affect his value?

David Banks

I think there are multiple levels of feelings we all go through when hearing that Joe Mauer is vacating the catcher position and moving to first base. The first thing that comes to mind is what changes this move will have on his health, and that's actually the number one issue when we're addressing his value as well. Reducing risk of injury behind the plate -be it from a brain injury or additional wear and tear on his knees - means having better chances of keeping him on the field.

More Joe Mauer is a good thing, people. That's where we start.

Once we get past that, we start dealing with how the move affects Mauer's value as a hitter. If he was an elite offensive catcher (and he was), then what does that make him at first base?

In his career, Joe Mauer is a .323/.405/.468 hitter, and in 2013 Joe hit a very Mauer-esque .324/.404/.476. By comparison, first baseman across the league this year hit .261/.337/.436. Yes, go ahead and read that again - while I do the math. This season, Mauer was 63 batting average points, 67 on-base percentage points, and even 40 slugging points better than the game's average first baseman. Sure, it means that Mauer's OPS was only 107 points better than the league average compared to the 182 point spread between him and the average league catcher, but it's not like it's only a little bit better.

So the next time that somebody thinks they know what they're talking about and wants to tell you that this move is going to be that detrimental to the Twins, point this out and then ask them how well they think Chris Parmelee was going to hit this season.

Not satisfied? Let's line up Mauer against baseball's best first baseman to see where he would have fit.

Definitions:  wOBA |   wRC+

Player wOBA Player wRC+ Player OBP Player SLG
Chris Davis .421 Chris Davis 167 Joey Votto .435 Chris Davis .634
Paul Goldschmidt .404 Joey Votto 156 Joe Mauer .404 Paul Goldschmidt .551
Joey Votto .400 Paul Goldschmidt 156 Edwin Encarnacion .534
Edwin Encarnacion .388 Freddie Freeman 150 Brandon Moss .522
Freddie Freeman .387 Edwin Encarnacion 145 Freddie Freeman .501
Joe Mauer .383 Joe Mauer 144 Adam Lind .497
Joey Votto .491
Mike Napoli .482
Brandon Belt .482
Joe Mauer .479

Mauer Comparson to First Base, 2013

wOBA: 6th
wRC+: 6th
OBP: 2nd
SLG: 10th

With all of that in mind, of course moving Mauer is going to have an impact. Whether we're talking about an impact on his health, on his numbers, on his legacy as a player, on this year's Twins team or the team three years down the road - there will be ripples. Changes will be necessitated, both in terms of who will be doing the catching in 2014 and in terms of how this move changes the organization's long-term plans. And yes, Joe Mauer as a catcher was, in a vacuum, more valuable than Joe Mauer as a first baseman.

But he's still going to be pretty damned good. And ten out of ten times, I am going to take "pretty damned good" over "elite but a ticking time bomb".

It sounds like Mauer made this call himself, and I applaud him for it. By making the call now he allows the Twins to make plans for 2014 knowing exactly where their superstar will be, and it also allows Mauer the entire off-season to prepare to be a first baseman.

Brandon will be checking in later today, on the topic of how this move shakes things up at catcher, first base, around the Twins roster, and how it could also affect how the team approaches their needs in free agency.