Fire Gardy

Mismanaging games since 2002

How long will Mauer last?

The Twins have Mauer under contract now for the next nine years; it’s my opinion that signing this deal was completely necessary for the Twins, despite the much-talked-about downside risks inherent in any long term contract and compounded by Mauer’s position, height, and injury history.

Fangraphs has already pointed out that Mauer’s bat is good enough to play anywhere on the diamond, but the Twins wouldn’t have felt quite as pressed to make this deal for a first baseman as they were for a catcher. The question today, though, is this: how long will Mauer stick at catcher?

Colin Wyers takes a look at this over at ESPN’s TMI blog (insider only), and takes a somewhat interesting tack. He finds that the average catcher stays at the position for 10 years, and has a total career lasting 11 years; they don’t last long in the league once they leave the position. But Wyers acknowledges that Mauer isn’t average, so he narrows it down to just the catchers who had a career after catcher, and finds that they played an average of 7 years at catcher and a total career of 12 years.

Mauer’s already been in the league for six years, and the Twins are banking on his career lasting at least 15 years. According to Wyers’ analysis, this would be so far above the average that you simply can’t expect it to happen.

the odds are that Mauer won’t be able to remain a full-time catcher much more than halfway through this contract, so by then the Twins had better have a contingency plan in place.

I’m going to go ahead and disagree with his conclusion here. This is a very simplistic look at things, and basing it on the average career is a major problem to begin with — Joe Mauer is a singular talent, and what an average player does simply has no bearing on what he might do.

Secondly, he limited the pool of players he looked at pretty strictly. Their careers had to start in 1974 or later, and they must have retired by now. That ignores most of the historical comparisons to Mauer, including Yogi Berra, Johnny Bench, Carlton Fisk, Jorge Posada, Jason Varitek, and others. I’m basically throwing out a list of the greatest catchers ever for a reason — Mauer is one of them.

If you decide to judge Mauer’s potential career against those of other great catchers, as opposed to the average catcher, would you really come to the conclusion that the odds are against him lasting past age 32? Posada is still going strong at age 37; Varitek was never as good as Mauer and stopped being any good at age 35; Bench was still great at 33 but was done by 35; Fisk was still great at age 42 (despite a couple down years at 38-39, from which he rebounded); Berra was good through age 36, and even posted a 138 OPS+ in limited action at 38.

Barring a major injury, there seems to be little reason to believe that Mauer’s catching career will end in his early 30s. In fact, judging by more recent players who, like Mauer, have been able to take advantage in modern advances in nutrition and exercise, he may even be worth a multi-year contract at age 36 when he hits the market again. Posada was.

There are no guarantees in life, or in baseball. But the assumption that Mauer’s career is already on the brink of collapse because he’s pushing up against the limits of the length of the average catcher’s career is naive and unhelpful.

Mauer is on track to be an inner circle hall of famer, and there is almost no reason to think he’ll be anything but one of the best players in the game for at least the next five years; by then, he will have virtually assured himself a plaque in Cooperstown with a TC on his hat.

At the end of the day, no, we don’t know how long Mauer will be crouching behind the plate at Target Field. But it shouldn’t be too much of a task to sit back and enjoy the show, however long it lasts.

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