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Updated: October 3rd, 2012 8:55pm
Mackey: Twins found right formula to ensure durability for Joe Mauer

Mackey: Twins found right formula to ensure durability for Joe Mauer

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by Phil Mackey
1500ESPN.com

The Minnesota Twins have lost 95-plus games in back-to-back seasons for the first time since the franchise moved from Washington D.C. in 1961.

But one of the silver linings in a mostly forgettable, lost season is the performance and durability of Joe Mauer, who one year earlier suffered through multiple injuries en route to the worst statistical season of his career.

After going 0-for-2 with two walks in Toronto on Wednesday night, Mauer finishes the year hitting .319 with career highs in games played (147) and plate appearances (641). He also finishes the season atop the on-base percentage leader board (.416) for the second time in his career.

Those 147 games didn't come without sacrifices.

Mauer strapped the catcher's gear on only 74 times, which marks his lowest total in any full season. Mauer also threw out the lowest percentage of base stealers (14%) of his career, although Twins coaches have placed a large chunk of that blame on pitchers taking too long to deliver to home plate.

On Sunday, when asked if he might catch more than 74 times next year -- say, 100-plus -- Mauer said, "I definitely don't rule that out. ... I think this year going over to first (base) was more out of necessity than how it's going to be from here on out. I'm 29 years old, and I still have a lot more games behind the plate. So we'll see what they want to do, but I believe I can go out there and be an everyday catcher."

Despite not catching every day, Mauer has been extremely valuable.

Taking into account all facets of the game -- offense, defense, base running and position scarcity (catcher and shortstop, for instance, are harder positions to play than left field and first base) -- Fangraphs.com determines a dollar value for each player in the major leagues.

Mike Trout's value this season is listed at $46 million, which is $10 million more than the second-most valuable player, Buster Posey ($36 million). Trout and Posey have higher dollar values than Miguel Cabrera ($33 million) mostly because they play much better defense at more difficult positions.

On the opposite end, Casey Kotchman (-$7 million), Jeff Francoeur (-$5.9 million) and Delmon Young (-$3 million) are examples of players who provided negative value.

Joe Mauer, per Fangraphs, has been worth just a shade under $23 million this season, matching the exact salary he is paid by the Twins.

Of course, the Angels are getting a big discount on Trout, who is paid approximately $500,000. Posey makes about $600,000. The Twins received a similar discount on Mauer prior to his new contract kicking in last season.

Had Mauer played more games at catcher this season, his value would have been even higher, assuming he maintained the same level of productivity. But because of Ryan Doumit's presence, the Twins had the luxury of using Mauer at first base and DH. They'll have that same luxury next year as well.

A section of fans will always hold Mauer's injury-plagued, disappointing 2011 season against him. Others will continue to point to his lack of 20-home-run power as a detriment.

In reality, Mauer is a batting-average and on-base-percentage machine who hit .372 with runners in scoring position this season.

Mauer isn't Mike Trout. Nor is he Miguel Cabrera. But he is really, really good.

And in 2012, he was on the field more often than at any point in his nine-year career.

Phil Mackey is a columnist for 1500ESPN.com. He co-hosts "Mackey & Judd" from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. weekdays on 1500 ESPN Twin Cities.
Email Phil | @PhilMackey | Mackey & Judd
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