Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Joe Mauer and Increasing Strikeouts

Members of the Minnesota Twins struck out 1,430 times last season. In the history of the Twins organization, no team had struck out more than 1,121 times (1997 team). That was the only year since the team moved to Minnesota that the club recorded more than 1,100 times.

Over the last three seasons, Minnesota strikeout totals have increased every year. It has been a rough couple of seasons and there have been some inexperienced players trying to make their mark at the big league level. Players like Brian Dozier, Trevor Plouffe, and Oswaldo Arcia all struck out more than 100 times last season and the Twins know this is an area that needs improvement.

One player consistently praised for his approach at the plate is Joe Mauer. His ability to work counts and get on base at a high rate has been one of his trademarks. Over his 10 year big league career, he has a .405 OPS and he averages 78 strikeouts per 162 games played. These are impressive totals but his strikeout totals have been rising along with the team's increase over the last couple of seasons.

Mauer didn't play a game in September last year after suffering from a concussion near the end of August. Even missing the end of the season, he still set a career high with 89 strikeouts. This came a year after he struck out 88 times. Prior to 2012, Mauer had never struck out more than 64 times and that happened back in 2005, his first full season in the big leagues.

Last season, Red Sox pitcher John Lackey owned Joe Mauer. Over seven at-bats, Mauer managed one hit, a single, and he struck out five times. Cleveland Indians relief pitcher Rich Hill did surprisingly well against Mauer with three strikeouts over five plate appearances. Anibal Sanchez was the only other pitcher to strikeout Mauer more than twice and those three strikeouts happened over eight at-bats.

Mauer's Most Strikeouts vs. Pitchers
1. CC Sabathia 19 SO (52 Plate Appearances)
2. Justin Verlander 10 SO (74 Plate Appearances)
3. John Danks 8 SO (60 Plate Appearances)
4. Ryan Dempster 7 SO (13 Plate Appearances)
5. CJ Wilson 7 SO (24 Plate Appearances)

In Twins team history, the most strikeouts in a season occurred in 1972 when Bobby Darwin struck out 145 times in 145 games. The only other men to strikeout more than 140 times for the club are Carlos Gomez (142 in 2008), Harmon Killebrew (142 in 1962), and Josh Willingham (141 in 2012). Mauer might not be on his way to the 140 strikeout plateau but he was on pace for 100 strikeouts just a season ago.

Former Hall of Fame players for the Twins, Kirby Puckett and Paul Molitor, never struck out more than 100 times in one season. Puckett cracked 90 in four different seasons with 99 strikeouts in 1986. Molitor's highest total was 93 and that came when he was a member of the Brewers organization.

Young pitchers are getting better and there isn't as much of a stigma around striking out on a consistent basis. Mauer will most likely be on the field on a more regular basis with his switch to first base and this could mean a continued increase in his strikeout totals. If it's up to his new coach Paul Molitor things might change for the Twins next year. He said, "We need to try and find a way to minimize strikeouts before the epidemic gets any worse."

After last season in Twins Territory, that sounds like a good philosophy to follow.

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