A lot of attention this season has been focused on the state of the Minnesota Twins starting rotation and without question it is the team’s biggest area of need. The dearth of reliable options been so acute that it has overshadowed the holes that the team has in other places. Most notably with respect to the lineup and by extension, the team’s bench. In poring over the stats, rankings and performances of the team’s position players, it has become blatantly obvious that Terry Ryan has his work cut out for him this offseason.
To sum it up in one simple statement, Joe Mauer needs help.
At 30 years old, Mauer is in the middle of one of the finest seasons in his already storied career. He has stayed healthy and on the field playing in 88 of 92 games so far and as the best catcher in the American League he has been worth every penny of the $23 million he will earn this season (as much as anyone can be worth $23 milllion).
He’s producing, provides value in all phases of the game, is the face of a franchise and is the most recognizable Twins player on the national stage. Of course that doesn’t stop fans of the team from pointlessly bitching about Mauer in a variety of ways. It’s a byproduct of being the best and highest paid player on a team that has slipped from good to mediocre to bad in recent years.
The St. Paul native’s 0.320/.402/.473 slash stats in 2013 are right in line with his impressive career averages but as I’ve noted many times on this site and on our Facebook page, he’s on his way to set a new franchise single season record in doubles. With 30 two-base hits through the team’s 92 games, he’s on pace to finish with 53 and in so doing would break Mickey Vernon‘s record of 51 set back in 1946. Even if he falls short of the franchise record, he should easily set a new career high eclipsing his 2010 total of 43. In addition to the doubles he’s on pace to have his second best season in home runs. Defensively Mauer has gunned down 46% (13/28) would be basestealers which is his best percentage since 2007 when he threw out 53%.
He’s been worth 3.9 WAR (wins above replacement) so far in 2013 which ranks him 15th among all position players in baseball. Projected out Mauer would finish at 6.9 WAR if he can keep it up which would also be the second best mark of his career and not far off his 2009 season. A year that you may recall he walked away with ton of hardware including the AL MVP Award, Silver Slugger and Gold Glove.
Joe Mauer is a fantastic player, one of baseball’s best and he’s well on his way to a Hall of Fame induction. His career 0.405 OBP would rank 42nd all-time in the annals of baseball history (minimum 1,000 career games) if he retired right now. Mickey Cochrane is the only other catcher in MLB history to play 1,000 games and wind up with a career OBP north of 0.400.
Mauer leads the Twins in WAR and it’s not even close, but can you guess who is second on the team in that category?
If you guessed Pedro Florimon (26), give yourself a hearty pat on the back. With 1.7 WAR so far this season, Florimon is the only other Twin to crack MLB’s position player Top-100. He’s 87th in the rankings and nearly all his value is tied to his glove and his baserunning. With the bat in his hands, he’s produced a meager 0.235/.295/.342 slash line in 77 games which puts him well below average in wRC+ (74) and OPS+ (74).*
*100 is right around league average in both categories.
Within his SS peer group, Florimon is 10th and tied with Andrelton Simmons (ATL), Alexei Ramirez (CWS) and Didi Gregorious (ARZ). He’s just ahead of former Twin and current Orioles SS J.J. Hardy(1.6 WAR).
Third on Minnesota’s roster is 2B Brian Dozier (26). His 1.5 WAR in 81 games slots him at 109th in baseball and tied for 11th among his 2B peer group with Neil Walker (PIT). He’s already achieved more in the major leagues than I expected and has shown a great deal of progress at the plate this season. He’s improved his OPS 93 points from 0.603 to 0.696 and in doing so is nearly league average in OPS+ (90) and wRC+ (92). In addition to increasing his production at the plate, he’s been a slightly above average player in the field and on the bases making him one of the most complete 2B in the game despite his 0.235 batting average.
After Dozier there is a huge drop off and only four other Minnesota Twins have produced at an above replacement level so far in 2013.
1B Justin Morneau (32) has 0.6 WAR in 86 games while providing the team with league average production at the plate (101 OPS+) and average defense in the field. He’s hit 0.273/.331/.406 with 23 2B and 7 HR but numbers aside the most important development for Morneau this season is that he’s be able to stay on the field. During the month of June he slugged 0.476 which is a very positive sign whether or not the Twins decide to keep him or trade him in the coming weeks.
C/OF Chris Herrmann (25) is fifth on the team with 0.5 WAR which is amazing because he’s contributed that half win in just seven games played. The small sample size alarms should be ringing in your head cause we all know he’s not going to hit 0.462 but he definitely deserves to have more than 14 games of major league service time on his resume.
3B Trevor Plouffe (27) is just behind Herrmann with 0.4 WAR in 66 games played. He’s second on the team with an OPS+ of 108 and his 110 wRC+ ranks third. He’s an asset at the plate but his overall value takes a hit because the metrics have him below average on the bases and in the field.
LF Josh Willingham (34) also has 0.4 WAR on the year (in his case through 70 games). Like Plouffe he’s above average at the plate – 107 OPS+ and 112 wRC+ – but gets dinged due to subpar glovework and baserunning.
Every other position player to take the field for the Twins this season has been at or below replacement level. The two youngest Twins bats, CF Aaron Hicks (23) and RF/LF Oswaldo Arcia (22) have been worth 0.0 and -0.4 in 68 and 59 games respectively. Arcia’s bat, despite the terrible slump that recently got him assigned to Rochester, has produced at a league average level. Like Plouffe and Willingham, however, his value is hindered by his fielding and baserunning. Chris Parmelee‘s (25) WAR stands at -0.1 through 83 games.
There’s an argument to be made that in addition to Mauer, each of the players listed above (especially those players 27 and younger) deserves a spot on the 2014 roster. The problem is that they team can’t carry forward with all of them. Upgrades need to be made for the offensive production to truly improve. Joe Mauer needs help and they need to do something beyond simply waiting for Sano, Rosario and Buxton to reach the majors.