Minnesota Twins’ Joe Mauer Is Still Very Good

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COMMENTARY | Ever since he first stepped on a baseball field, Joe Mauer has been a unique talent. He's also had some of the highest expectations ever placed on a player and has had undue criticism placed on him.

In high school, Mauer was a unique talent in football and basketball as well as baseball. He was the only player to ever be named "USA Today's" National Player of the Year in two sports: football and baseball. Mauer also was offered a scholarship to play quarterback at Florida State and was a two-time All-State player in Minnesota as a point guard for Cretin-Derham Hall High School in St. Paul.

After all that, he was selected as the first overall pick in the 2001 MLB amateur draft for his hometown Minnesota Twins. He moved quickly through the minor leagues, and the Twins traded away young A.J. Pierzynski to the San Francisco Giants prior to the 2004 season to make room for Mauer despite not having played above Class AA.

All Mauer has done since then is win an MVP, three batting titles, three Gold Gloves, and four Silver Slugger Awards, and he has made five All-Star game appearances. The three batting titles were the first by an American League catcher and the most ever in the major leagues for a catcher. Mauer also has led the AL in on-base percentage twice.

Mauer has always had a great defensive reputation, and a new study done by Max Marchi of Baseball Prospectus backs that up. Marchi looked at the ability of catchers to get called strikes for their pitchers, commonly known as framing. He found that Mauer was the fourth-best catcher at framing over the last 25 years. This was for both total accumulated stats and per 5,000 pitches caught.

Mauer Struggles With Expectations, Unusual Injuries

With all this success comes heightened expectations. That increased exponentially when Mauer was given an eight-year, $184 million contract extension prior to the 2010 season. The deal was by far the largest the franchise had ever given a player.

It didn't help that Mauer suffered through his worst season in the first year of the deal mostly due to injuries. It also didn't help that the Twins had a public relations nightmare by describing Mauer's injury as "bilateral leg weakness" instead of what it truly was -- complications from compensating for a knee that was still hurting due to offseason surgery.

For the first time in his career, Mauer was actually booed by some fans at home as they focused their wrath from a shocking 99-loss 2011 season on his inability to return to the field and his unusually poor play when he was on the field.

This wasn't the first time Mauer had an unusual injury. He had a stress reaction in his leg in 2007 and had surgery for a kidney obstruction after 2008. He ended up missing the first month of the 2009 season with swelling in the sacroiliac joint of his back.

The unusual nature of his injuries has led some critics to call Mauer soft and call him out for not being able to play through "a little pain."

Occasional injuries and routine days off are just a part of the deal when a player's primary position is catcher. However, fans don't want to hear that when a player is making $23 million per year. They just want him to play. And they want him to hit home runs.

Mauer Proving His Worth for Minnesota Twins

Mauer responded to critics in 2012 by appearing in a career-high 147 games and getting a career-high 641 plate appearances while the Twins languished through a 96-loss season. Mauer ended up batting .319/.416/.446 and led the AL in on-base percentage.

In 2013, he's been even better, batting .349/.431/.500 through the first 37 games. He's also on pace to break the record for most doubles in a season with 16 so far. He has started 25 of 37 games at catcher as well -- after playing just 72 games at catcher in 2011 -- as manager Ron Gardenhire tried to protect him from injury. Mauer also is second in the AL in runners caught stealing at 54.5 percent, which would be a career high for a full season.

It's not unusual for players that qualify for free agency and sign long-term deals to be paid more than they are truly worth. This is just the nature of the beast when a player holds all the leverage. However, after an injury-filled 2011, Mauer has given the Twins $31 million in value in 2012-13, according to Fangraphs.com, and has been paid just over $28 million.

In fact, Mauer has given the Twins a little over $170 million in value over his career and has been paid a little over $85 million. Who's overpaid?

Darin McGilvra has been a professional sportswriter since 1997 and has been a Twins follower since Kirby Puckett's breakout season of 1986. He has been published in The Californian, a newspaper covering Riverside County, and numerous other websites.

Follow Darin on Twitter at @SoCalTwinsfan.

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