Mauer Power Redux

On May 1st, 2009, Joe Mauer stepped into the Metrodome batter’s box against Kansas City righty Sidney Ponson. Mauer, making his season debut after missing April with a lower back injury, worked a 2-0 count and then smacked a Sir Sidney fastball over the left field wall. The drive set the tone for a season in which the lefty batter, known for lacing line drives, showed unprecedented power.

Mauer, of course, was already among the better hitters in the game. The three previous seasons, he posted a .378 wOBA and a 134 wRC+. But in 2009, Mauer mashed to the tune of a .438 wOBA and a 174 wRC+. Among qualified big league hitters, Mauer’s wOBA placed behind only that Pujols fellow in St. Louis.

The main reason for the offensive uptick was a dramatic increase in Mauer Power. From 2006 to 2008, the first overall pick in the ’01 draft had a .138 Isolated Power. In 2009, Mauer’s ISO spiked to .222. After, as Carson Cistulli would say, jacking a donger on 8.1 percent of his fly balls hit the preceding three years, Mauer hit a round-tripper 20.4 percent of the time that he lofted the ball in 2009.

Heading into 2010, many wondered how much of that extra power Mauer would retain. It would be rash to just expect him to lash extra-base hits and homers at the same rate as in ’09 from now on. At the same time, expecting total regression back to that previous .130-.140 ISO area would be to ignore a power display that holds statistical significance. CHONE projected a .401 wOBA and .178 ISO from Mauer in 2010, while ZiPS had a .415 wOBA and a .189 ISO. The FANS forecast called for a .409 wOBA and a .200 ISO.

So far, Mauer has a .351 wOBA and a 119 wRC+ in 286 plate appearances. Part of that lower-than-expected wOBA can be explained by a .321 BABIP that’s 21 points below his career average, but Mauer’s pop has reverted to his pre-’09 level, and even a bit below it. His ISO is .128, and his HR/FB rate is 4.6 percent.

As Dave Cameron noted over the winter, Mauer has long been a prodigious opposite field hitter. While most batters perform worst when putting the ball in play to the opposite field, hitting lots of weak fly balls and posting mild power numbers, Mauer thrives when he goes the other way. Last season, Mauer’s splits to left field were the stuff of legends:

The above chart is not a typo — Mauer owned a .600 wOBA when hitting to the opposite field, with a .401 ISO. He crushed 16 home runs to left field. This season, Mauer is still a beast when going the opposite way. But his numbers more closely resemble those from 2006 to 2008. He has connected on one home run to left field thus far:

When hitting to center field, Mauer also showed more power than usual and had a higher BABIP in 2009. This season, his ISO and BABIP have come back down:

The 27-year-old has never been a standout hitter when putting the ball in play to the pull side. Most batters post their best numbers when pulling the ball, but Mauer chops the ball into the ground than most — his ground ball rates to the pull side have usually been in the high-seventies, while the average lefty batter hits a grounder when pulling the ball about 59 percent.

In 2010, Mauer has performed even worse than usual when pulling the ball. A low BABIP hasn’t helped, but neither has a sub-.100 ISO. He has yet to go deep when pulling the ball:

On a positive note, considering his backward spray splits, Mauer is pulling the ball less this season — 25.4 percent, compared to 29.3% from 2006-2008 and 32.9% last season.

What should we make of Mauer’s power? I’m not sure, and it’s probably too early to say what effect Target Field has on these figures. My best guess is that he’ll post power numbers somewhere between his ’09 outburst and his current level. Mauer’s rest-of-season ZiPS projects a .164 ISO, and CHONE’s updated projection for June to the end of 2010 had a .174 ISO. Whether he starts hitting the ball more forcefully or merely keeps drawing walks and cracking doubles, Mauer remains one of the most valuable players in the game.




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A recent graduate of Duquesne University, David Golebiewski is a contributing writer for Fangraphs, The Pittsburgh Sports Report and Baseball Analytics. His work for Inside Edge Scouting Services has appeared on ESPN.com and Yahoo.com, and he was a fantasy baseball columnist for Rotoworld from 2009-2010. He recently contributed an article on Mike Stanton's slugging to The Hardball Times Annual 2012. Contact David at david.golebiewski@gmail.com and check out his work at Journalist For Hire.

13 Responses to “Mauer Power Redux”

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  1. Brian K says:

    What about the difference between Target Field & the old Metrodome? Perhaps that should account for some of the power outage…last season he hit 16 HRs at home (12 away), versus 0 so far this season (3 away).

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  2. Mike in MN says:

    The real question for us is, is he going to be worth the price of two good to very good players? Will he hit like a corner player (which he kind of has to at $23MM per year)? If he hits like the best catcher, but doesn’t produce close to a corner player, how much harder will it be for the Twins’ to win? Because right now, he doesn’t look worth $23MM going forward.

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  3. wayne says:

    It’s probably too early to draw conclusions, but one contributing factor might be Target Field. It’s been home run suppressive in general, and although anything game announcers say should be taken with a grain of salt, I believe I heard Dick Bremer say that Jim Thome’s dinger yesterday was the first opposite field HR hit there all season. Given Mauer’s tendency to go the other way, his home ballpark might be detrimental for him.

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    • Bryz says:

      Perhaps opposite field by a lefthanded batter. Early in the season, Michael Cuddyer hit an opposite-field homer to right field.

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      • wayne says:

        Yep, you’re right. There have been three opposite-field homers total, and Thome’s was the first by a lefty.

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  4. Bodhizefa says:

    How awful would it be if after the Twins signed Mauer to the longterm deal, it turns out their newly minted ballpark actually suppresses their star’s power? It’s far too early to say if that’s the case or not, but it sounds like a nightmare scenario to me if there’s any truth to it.

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    • Travis L says:

      If the park suppresses homers evenly, it’s not really that big of a deal. Sure, he’ll create fewer runs, but each of those runs will be more valuable b/c run scoring at home would be way down.

      Even if it suppresses power to LF moreso than right, it’s still not that horrible of a deal. It would affect the RH power hitters the same as Mauer.

      Yes, he would lose some of his relative advantage. But so would the power hitters (RHH) on the other teams. In all, the only bad part is that it’ll suppress Mauer’s end of season numbers, which only matter if you don’t context adjust.

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  5. Matt Defalco says:

    Seems like another Ryan Howard with his monstrous opposite field power.

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  6. Mark says:

    It’s been a combination of not getting as lucky as last season (hit hit a number of 1st or 2nd row shots last year), Target Field (ball does not travel well to the gaps, which is where most of his HR power is), and he’s been pitched differently (getting less fastballs to attack when he’s ahead in the count). That was the main change in his approach last season, and pitchers are adjusting.

    And TF has also supressed Morneau’s HR power significantly, since he tends to be a gap hitter as well. He’s gone from 14 HR in the Dome last year to 2 so far this year at TF.

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  7. There seemed to be this period when i had been bored to death reading through other people’s thoughts as well as mind through their particular blogs. But just after a while when i got here on your articles ., the interest of reading and also smiling on people’s everyday post seem to return, my fascination has peaked once again all thanks to you actually mate. I think you’ll continue doing this a long time. Good job my good friend.

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