Thursday, May 4, 2017

The Joe Mauer Quagmire

Photo Credit: Bruce Kluckhohn-USA TODAY Sports
Joe Mauer struggled through the worst April of his career. While the Twins have young players populating the majority of their roster, Mauer plays the role of aged veteran. His future playing career is tied to his time in Minnesota. He will be a free agent following the 2018 season and for some Twins fans that day can't come soon enough.

With two seasons of Mauer left on the horizon, the Twins need to decide what the correct direction is with the hometown star and former MVP.

Platoon Plan
During spring training, I wrote about the possibility of a Mauer platoon. During the 2016 campaign, Mauer hit .272/.383/.410 against right-handed pitching. His numbers dipped against southpaws as he hit 48 points lower and got on base 29% of the time. This was a stiff drop-off from his .267/.327/.393 slashline against left-handed pitching in 2015.

Mauer's numbers against lefties have dropped even lower this year. Through the end of April, he had gone 5-for-23 (.217 BA) with one extra-base hit and a .250 OBP. Batting switch-hitters like Robbie Grossman and Kennys Vargas might be better options. When facing lefties, Grossman has an .809 OPS this season while Vargas has a career .816 OPS.

Shifting Focus
With more statistical information available to organizations, baseball is making a literal and figurative shift. Teams have figured out what Mauer wants to do with the ball. "I know his numbers don't show it, but he's swung the bat probably better than anyone has," outfielder Robbie Grossman told the Pioneer Press. "If they weren't shifting him a certain way, or don't catch the ball, he's right there at the top with anyone."

When looking at Mauer's batted ball spray chart, it's easy to see what other team's should do to defend him. If he hits the ball to the outfield, it's likely to go to the opposite field. If he hits the ball on the ground, it's going to be pulled. Teams can shift their center fielder into left-center and move an extra infielder to the right side of second base.

Graphic courtesy of FanGraphs
Patience Is A Virtue 
Mauer suffered through some bad luck in the season's first month. He posted a .241 BAbip which is likely to improve in the months ahead. For his career, Mauer has a .339 BAbip and he posted a .301 BAbip during the 2016 campaign. In fact, he's never ended the season with a BAbip under .300 during his entire 14-year career.

Over the last three seasons, Mauer has averaged over 100 strikeouts which included strikeout rates north of 16.5%. Through 94 plate appearances in 2017, he has only struck out seven times and his strikeout percentage has dipped to 7.4%. That would put him on pace for record numbers in both of those categories for his career.

April was rough for Mauer but there is plenty of baseball left to be played. Some of the numbers show he might be trending in the right direction even after the rough start. What should fans expect from Mauer for the rest of 2017? Leave a COMMENT and start the discussion.

No comments: