Joe Mauer vs. Alex Avila: Who is the Top Catcher in Baseball?
Saturday February 11th, 2012
Sam Evans: Joe Mauer and Alex Avila have become two of the best catchers in the American League. Both players are at a crossroads in their respective careers heading into 2012. For Avila, can he build on his breakout season last year and lead the Tigers to the playoffs again? Mauer needs to find out whether he can stay at catcher without injury, and if he can return to the level of his previous offensive years.
Alex Avila had an amazing year in 2012. After 104 mediocre at best games in 2010, Avila posted a 5.4 WAR in 2011. The fifth-rounder from Alabama was never a highly considered prospect, but the Tigers organization promoted him quickly through the minors. His 2010 was far from impressive, and he appeared to be struggling on offense and defense.
In 2011, Avila became an All-Star who hit .295 with 19 homers. In terms of WAR, Avila was the second highest-producing catcher in all of baseball. Without Avila, there’s no chance the Tigers would have made the playoffs last year. He was an all-around player, with no enormous flaws in any area of his game. For 2012, Avila doesn’t necessarily need to improve his game, he just needs to keep doing what he’s been doing. With another 5+ WAR year from Avila, I’d be shocked if the Tigers didn’t win 90 games.
Being honest though, I’m not fully sold on Avila yet. He allowed fifty-six wild pitches, from a consistently steady Tigers pitching staff. Also, his average was boosted by a .366 BABIP, and he was a much better hitter at home, than he was on the road. He might have had a great year in 2011, but we have to remember that at one point Jeff Francouer looked like the best, young player in baseball. If Avila turns in another All-Star year in 2012, then maybe my thoughts on him will change.
On the other side, from the second he was drafted, Joe Mauer has always been the future of the Twins. Mauer lost his power in 2010, but he still managed to hit .327 during the regular season. 2011 was a forgettable year for Mauer and the Twins. He only played 82 games, and he hit three homers with a .287 average.
Mauer was signed to a 8 year, $184 million deal, so he is really going to have to produce in the coming years. $184 million is way too much money for a DH, which makes me think that the Twins will play Mauer at least fifty games a year at catcher. If Mauer plays like he did in 2009, then the Twins will have a chance at contention in the next four years. However, if Mauer’s knees prevent him from returning to his former glory, then the future of the Twins organization won’t look very bright.
Joe Mauer could possibly be a Hall-of-Famer when his career is over. His ability to consistently hit for average in the majors is unmatched by any other catcher in the history of the game. If Mauer can turn in another five seasons of All-Star hitting ability, he’s headed to Cooperstown, no matter what position he plays.
When comparing these two players, the biggest difference is the body of work. Mauer is 28 and has played 8 seasons in the majors; while Avila is only 25 and has played three seasons. If Avila can keep performing at the level he did last year, then he might be one of the best catchers in baseball, but he still probably won’t be as good as Joe Mauer. Mauer is a once in a generation type of player, who if he can stay healthy, has the chance to go down as the one of the best offensive catchers of all-time. Overall, these two players have the chance to be the best catchers in the American League for years to come. 2012 should tell more of the story if that will happen.
**Today’s feature was prepared by our Baseball Writer, Sam Evans. We highly encourage you to leave your comments and feedback at the bottom of the page and share in the discussion with our readers. You can also follow Sam on Twitter***
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