If Joe Mauer is healthy, it is hard to imagine him having another disappointing year. Joe Mauer has been a model of consistency over his 8 years in a Minnesota Twins uniform. A healthy Joe Mauer is essentially a lock to hit 30 doubles, 9 home runs, post an OPS right around .800 and to walk about 65 times a season. He’s going to hit for average, get on base, show a little power, especially to the gaps, and play about 100 or so games behind the plate. If he does anything more, like 2009, he’s a potential MVP. When he cannot stay healthy, and he is not able to catch games, he loses value, his stats suffer, and his $23 million dollar a year salary becomes unbearable for most fans.
Another typical Joe Mauer season will go a long way with fans and teammates to erase a tough 2011 and ease some concerns as Mauer plays out the remaining 7 years and $161 million dollars on his contract. What can fans expect in 2012?
Bill James projects Mauer to play 124 games, hit 31 doubles, 11 home runs, walk 67 times, and even steal 2 bases while hitting .326/.412/.466. FanGraphs predicts about the same, though they believe Mauer will hit slightly less, leading to an OPS about 50 points lower than the Bill James projection. Bill James projections are usually on the optimistic side, but if Mauer can play 120+ games (catching for a majority of those games will be where Mauer creates his most value) and post an OPS north of .800 then Twins fans will be reasonably satisfied that Bi-Lateral Leg Weakness and the resulting onslaught of injuries are in the past for their franchise player.
I think that Joe Mauer will play more than 120 games, probably 130+, but he will probably be the designated hitter for 16-20 games, and I believe he will play first base just as often. That puts Mauer behind the plate for 90+ games, which still gives Ryan Doumit and Drew Butera ample opportunity to take some of the weight off of Mauer’s knees. More rest for Mauer will allow him to continue to drive the ball with power, and he should hit around 35 doubles and I expect him to reach a double digit home run total for the third time in his career, hitting 12 long balls. I expect he will continue to walk and strike out in range with his career averages and that his batting average on balls in play (BABIP) will be right around .330 (his career BABIP is .342, but age catches up with everyone). If you plug all of that into the simple WAR calculator you wind up with a 5.3 WAR player, valued at $26.3 million dollars.
What a value, Twins fans! If Mauer stays healthy that is another great season.