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Go Bold or Go Home: Joe Mauer, First-Round Value

Sometimes we focus so much on the flaws of a player that we lose sight of his accomplishments. I'll admit I was surprised to find that Joe Mauer has been roughly as valuable as Robinson Cano and David Wright over the course of their careers according to bWAR. If there were ever a player with a grade-80 hit tool in the past decade, Mauer would be the one. After all, his .323 career AVG ranks first among active players with at least 3,000 plater appearances. Moreover, he ranks behind only Joey Votto and Albert Pujols among active players in OBP. 

The most remarkable part of all is that Mauer has done this while primarily playing catcher. From a real baseball perspective, that's simply astouding. From a fantasy viewpoint, that's insanely valuable given the replacement level at catcher, especially in standard two-catcher leagues. That, of course, will change this season, as Mauer makes the transition to first base. Even so, in most fantasy leagues he'll still retain catcher eligibility for one final year.

Why does that matter? Well, Mauer has developed a perception as a relatively injury-prone player. In reality, however, he's played at least 130 games six of the past nine years, a perfectly reasonable expectation for a catcher given the daily demands. With the move to first base, though, Mauer would seem to face less stress on his body. In addition, he can continue to DH if necessary. Accordingly, the plan is for Mauer to be in the lineup on an everyday basis. Granted, a move to first base certainly doesn't ensure that Mauer will make it through the season fully healthy.

But make no mistake: the fantasy ramifactions of this are potentially huge. If we can safely pencil in Mauer for 650 plate appearances, he's clearly ahead of Buster Posey as the top catcher for me. What's more, given that level of playing time, he'd rank as a top-12 hitter overall just purely based on crunching the numbers. With 650 plate appearances, Mauer would be a good bet to post a Roto line as follows: 80 / 15 / 80 / 0 / .320.

On the surface, that still may not look like much; however, it's important to keep in mind the sheer volume of contribution that he'd offer in the AVG category. After all, not all batting averages are created equally. When one compares the categorical contribution of a player hitting .320 over 400 plate appearances as opposed to hitting .320 over 650 plate appearances, the difference is significant. In fact, one can make the case that the only player who would project to be more impactful in any category than Mauer would in AVG is Billy Hamilton in SB, and we all know the risks in drafting him.

The stars have aligned for one last year of fantasy greatness for Joe Mauer. In most cases, a player must significantly outperform his previous level of skills to turn a profit for a fantasy owner. On the contrary, Mauer simply has to continue to hit like he always has in the past. With everyday playing time, any dollar value generator that takes into account replacement level at catcher would rank Mauer as a third-round pick at worst in a two-catcher league. And yet, Mauer continues to last on draft boards until at the end of the sixth round.

I fully recommend you mimic my colleague Mark Polishuk, who wisely drafted Mauer in the fifth round of Friday night's RotoAuthority Mock Draft. More on that mock draft tomorrow...

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