In case you’re not aware, the Minnesota Twins have decided to move Joe Mauer from catcher to first base in 2014. When I first heard the news, I went to the message board in my dynasty league and predictably enough, the person who has Mauer wanted to know if he’d maintain catcher eligibility in 2014.
The answer to that question is yes. In the overwhelming majority of leagues, 10 games at a new position will allow you to pick up eligibility there for the remainder of that season. If you play 20 games, you’ll keep it through the following season. That’s a pretty standard setting for position eligibility.
If you’re still not sure if your league uses that standard, go check your league and see if Mike Napoli and/or Victor Martinez retained catcher eligibility through 2013. If they did, then Mauer will keep catcher eligibility through 2014, even if he doesn’t catch a game, as Martinez caught three games in 2013, which was three more than Napoli caught.
Now that that’s out of the way, let’s move to the next question. Will a move to first base make Joe Mauer a better fantasy player? If so, by how much. There are a few different sections to that question. So, let’s go one-by-one.
1 — 2014 and only 2014
Quite simply, it’s not going to hurt. Think of Mauer like Martinez in 2013. You have someone with catcher eligibility, who doesn’t have to go through the physical strain of actually being a catcher. That means he’s not losing at-bats. Even playing in the American League where you can DH, Mauer’s never played more than 147 games in a regular season. Aside from a freak injury in 2011, Buster Posey has been a bit more durable than Mauer (albeit in the NL with no DH) and has never played more than 148 regular season games.
Of all the people who were really catchers in 2013, nobody had more at-bats than Matt Wieters at 523. A.J. Pierzynski was the only other one to top 500. It’s a hard position to play. You take so many bumps and bruises that even if the catcher is the best hitter on his team, he’ll need to miss somewhere between 10-20 games, and that’s in a good year and probably on a team with a DH or at least a weak hitting or versatile first baseman.
Even when you do play, you’re body is going to be a little tired from sitting in a crouch for nine innings and taking foul balls off of your body all season long. So, at the end of the year, they do find themselves mailing it at-bats. It’s understandable, but your fantasy team is hurt when that happens.
If Mauer’s not going to have that strain in 2014, it’s only going to be a good thing. He’ll play more games and be healthier when in the lineup, which will obviously be good for your fantasy team.
Here’s the question, though. How much better are we talking about. Let’s explore that in the next section.
2 — 2015 and beyond
Without looking it up, do you know what Mauer’s best home run season was? You’d probably guess that it was his MVP season of 2009, and you’d be right. In 2009, Mauer hit 28 homers. Now, do you know what his next two best home run totals were? In 2006 he had 13 and in 2013, he had 11. So, his second and third best home run seasons come 4 short of his best home run year. If I’m really generous and give him a few extra home runs for missed games in those years, we may be able to get to 28 combined homers.
The point is that Mauer’s not a particularly potent hitter when it comes to home runs. He’s a .323 career hitter and has three American League batting titles so he can definitely rake, but he just doesn’t put balls into the seats at a particularly prodigious rate.
So the question becomes this: Will moving to first base help his home run totals?
It certainly won’t hurt, but if we’re looking for some more precise numbers, let’s take a look at V-Mart and Napoli. With Martinez, we’ll go from 2004-2011 and with Napoli, we’ll go from 2009-2012.
AB per HR
Avg HR Per Season
Moving away from catching, you’d expect the power numbers to go up, right? It didn’t exactly work that way in 2013 for either guy.
AB per HR
It’s hard to explain, but in both cases, we’re actually talking about a significant drop in power in their first year away from being a catcher.
There are other factors, of course. Mauer’s a better overall hitter than those guys, so you might say that his power numbers will go up at a greater percentage than either Martinez or Napoli’s did. They were both in pretty good lineups, while the Twins 2014 starting nine doesn’t look like it will be anything spectacular. So, that works against Mauer.
The point is that I’m having a hard time getting Mauer to 20 home runs in 2014 and I’m certainly having a hard time doing it in 2015 and beyond.
In 2014, his fantasy value will be fine if he keeps hitting the way he’s always done. If he’s threatening a batting title and hitting 10 homers with about 70 RBI, you’re looking at one of the best fantasy catcher around, maybe the best.
But once he loses that eligibility, we’re looking at a guy who’s going to be compared with the likes of Chris Davis and Paul Goldschmidt. Even if Mauer’s hitting .350, his relatively anemic power numbers are going to have a hard time stacking up to someone like Goldschmidt, who will probably be well over .300 himself and would likely have a 20+ edge in HR’s. If you’re looking for someone to compare it to, let’s look at Joey Votto in 2013.
He was nowhere near as dangerous in regards to home runs in 2013 as he had been. In turn, he was far more valuable to the Reds than he was to his fantasy owners — which is of course, his job. But Votto was the seventh best fantasy first baseman is ESPN leagues. Mind you, a down power year for Joey Votto still meant 24 homers. Unless Mauer can get to around that total, we’re probably not talking about a Top-10 first baseman, especially as he gets older.
So, will the move make Joe Mauer a better fantasy player? In 2014, the answer is likely yes. It certainly won’t hurt. Beyond 2014, Mauer’s only eligibility will be at a position where power reigns supreme. It’s hard to see his fantasy value not taking a bit hit when that happens.
For more input on the topic, read what Clave and Nash had to say on Mauer’s move earlier in the week.