Friday, December 9, 2016

Molitor Needs To Be Better For Mauer In 2017

As the Minnesota Twins enter the 2017 Major League Baseball season, the focus will undoubtedly be on getting better pitching performances than those that saw the club post league worst numbers. It's fairly realistic to expect a rebound from an offense that was expected to carry the club, and we shouldn't be shocked if that happens. What Paul Molitor must do is utilize hometown hero Joe Mauer in the most sensible way possible.

Once a surefire Hall of Famer, Mauer has watched his career be sapped due to the severe concussion he suffered years ago. He hasn't set foot behind the dish since the 2013 season and never will do so again. What he has done since is become an average hitter with an exceptional glove at first base. Unfortunately, the best version of Mauer is the one that doesn't play as often.

Going into the year, Minnesota has at least two other first base options in Byungho Park and Kennys Vargas. You could make the argument that Miguel Sano will need to transition that way at some point as well. Regardless of what the other options are, even a Gold Glove caliber defender in Mauer shouldn't be run out there anything close to every day.

In 2016, Mauer was relegated to playing just 134 games, a significant step back from the 158 he played in during 2015. When catching, Mauer routinely played somewhere around 140 games a season. Now for a different reason, to stave off his decline, I'd be looking at utilizing him for something like 120 games in the year ahead.

Through the first 25 games a season ago, Mauer slashed .337/.459/.461. For 23 games from May through June, he slashed .326/.402/.517; and for 19 games at the end of July into August he slashed .418/.513/.687. Cherry picking bits of production here really isn't the point, other than to show Mauer is still very capable of hot streaks. What his final .261/.363/.389 slash line tells us is that he's not capable of sustaining it over the course of a full year anymore.

Getting regular rest generally seems to benefit Mauer. Rather the incorporating off days, Molitor seemed to continually turn to Joe a year ago. At points, it was as if Mauer would be run out then until he ran himself into the ground. On top of being over-utilized, Molitor asked Mauer to bat either 2nd or 3rd in 117 of the games he started. The reality is that he's just not that player anymore.

In an ideal scenario, Mauer bats lower in the lineup, maybe the six hole makes sense. He also displayed some pretty drastic splits a season ago. Posting just a .610 OPS against left handed pitchers, he hit to the tune of a .793 OPS against righties. Platooning players isn't something the Twins have traditionally done, but with Mauer, it might be a really good opportunity.

At the end of the day, Joe Mauer still holds value for the Minnesota Twins. There's no arguing that he's not the player he once was, but he's still a productive asset reliable for right around 1.0 fWAR. Getting the best out of him requires regular rest, lest lineup responsibility, and being put in more advantageous situations at the plate. There's a blueprint here, it's up to the Twins as to whether or not they want to use it.