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Keeper League Would You Rather?: Joe Mauer or Alex Avila

Posted By Howard Bender On September 22, 2011 @ 11:15 am In Catchers,Keeper Strategy | 5 Comments

Today’s suggested Would You Rather comes via email from someone named SuicideKing and I couldn’t be happier about posting it here.  Talk about throwing something right in your wheelhouse!  If you’ve been reading all season, you’ll know I’ve never been shy about my dislike for drafting Joe Mauer as high as he usually goes and that I’ve been a huge Alex Avila fan all year.  But this is business here, so let’s do an objective comparison and then I’ll turn it over to the rest of you for further discussion.

Would you rather keep Joe Mauer or Alex Avila?

Well let’s start off with that will likely be the biggest factor — cost.  Considering that so many people went reaching for Mauer as early as the third round and that just his name alone drives the price up in an auction, you have to assume that it’s going to cost you substantially more to keep him than Avila.  The Tigers young backstop had a less than desirable 2010 which, in all likelihood, kept his draft position or auction cost fairly low.  You’re probably looking at single digit bucks or a draft position somewhere in the 14th round or below.

Advantage:  Avila

So then let’s talk about age and health.  Another one that probably tips the scales towards Motown’s finest.  Mauer may be just 28 years old, but he’s certainly an old 28.  He made his first appearance in the bigs back in 2004 and has been a staple in the Twins lineup since 2005.  In the six years before this season, Mauer has had more than his fair share of bumps and bruises.  He had offseason surgery after the 2008 season to fix a kidney obstruction, he missed the beginning of 2009 due to problems in the joints in his hip and pelvis which led to severe lower back issues, knee surgery after the 2010 season, and, of course, the array of back and leg problems that led to him playing in just 82 games this season.  The team experimented with Mauer at first base to give his body a rest and it sounds like they’re going to continue down that path more in the future.  Avila, on the other hand, is just 23 years old with little or no notable injury history of which to speak.

Advantage:  Avila

So that brings us to talent level and production moving forward.  There’s no denying Mauer’s talents.  For years, he was a high-average hitter with solid RBI totals and fantastic runs scored.  His power potential was constantly talked about and finally in 2009 is manifested into 28 home runs and just four RBI short of the century mark.  However, that was the peak, and he followed it up with just 9 home runs the following year.  Mauer, overall, is a fantastic hitter with great plate discipline.  When healthy, he is fully capable of producing decent, not phenomenal but decent, totals in a full season.  You won’t see any major power displays anymore, but the average will always be there for you.  The runs scored, however, something readers have pointed out as a stat that Mauer doesn’t get enough credit for, may not be as high in the future, especially with Justin Morneau fading as fast as he is.

As for Avila, we still probably need another season before really seeing what he can offer on a year to year basis.  He struggled mightily during his first full season in 2010 and hit just .228 with 7 home runs and 31 RBI over 333 plate appearances.  This season, the complete turnaround has seen him hit .298 with 19 HR and 77 RBI, totals that have had his owners drooling all season.  But it’s important to point out that he’s benefited from a .370 BABIP, a mark he hasn’t seen since since his Single-A days, and one that may be very difficult to repeat in the future.  The .219 ISO mark is high as well, but while he is capable of knocking close to 20 out each year, the average may not stay the same.  Especially not if he’s striking out at a 24.1% rate.  It’s quite possible that he stays in the 15-20 HR range with an average hovering in the mid .270′s.

Advantage:  Mostly even but with a tilt towards Mauer

So just based on the above criteria, it looks like Avila is easily the winner here.  He’s a young catcher on the rise and all signs are pointing towards a solid career.  Mauer, on the other hand, is seemingly on the decline due to severe wear and tear and his future playing time could hinge on whether or not the Twins find him a new position.  If both these players continue on their current paths, then it’s probably a no-brainer decision, which then begs the question…will these paths continue?


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