Mauer Power

Joe Mauer has been one of the best hitters in the game for years. He owns a career .321 batting average and has walked more than he has struck out each year since 2006. His remarkable bat control has made him one of the game’s most valuable players, but questions about his lack of power have always followed him. Listed at 6’5 and 230 pounds, Mauer has the frame of a guy who should be able to drive the ball, but he’s never hit more than 13 home runs in a season. A compact, level swing and an opposite field approach have led him to develop into a really good singles hitter with gap power – until this year, anyway.

Since returning from the disabled list, Mauer has slugged eight home runs in 86 plate appearances. His next home run will tie his 2008 season total, and he’s 547 plate appearances away from matching his opportunities from last year. When you see a 26-year-old show a huge power spike like this, the natural assumption is that he’s finally learned to turn on the ball, and is starting to tap into his natural pull power.

The problem, however, is that it’s not true. Here’s his home run chart for 2009, via Hit Tracker Online:

mauer_joe_2009_scatter

Of the seven home runs that Hit Tracker has the data for (they’re still working on last night’s shot, I’m sure), five of them have been to the opposite field and two have been to dead center. The grand slam he hit yesterday against the White Sox was to nearly the same spot where he has hit all his other home runs. He has yet to pull the ball over the wall this season.

Now, opposite field home runs are great. Having a guy who can take a pitch on the outer half of the plate and deposit it over the wall drives pitchers nuts, and there’s no good way to pitch to a guy like Mauer. However, if we were looking for evidence that Mauer’s power surge in May has been caused by a significant shift in his abilities, we’d be more apt to give credence to the long ball barrage if it hadn’t been built on series of just enough shots to left center field.

Mauer’s a great hitter, and he’s having a great month. There’s probably some real power growth being displayed as he’s muscling balls over the wall in left field, but if he ever wants to be a 30+ home run guy, he’s going to have to pull the ball with some authority, and he’s not doing that right now.

I love Joe Mauer as a player, but if you were thinking that he’s showing signs of becoming one of the game’s elite sluggers, I don’t think it’s in the cards. He’s a fantastic hitter, but I wouldn’t count on seeing too many more months like this any time soon.




Print This Post



Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


31 Responses to “Mauer Power”

You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.
  1. Bill says:

    I don’t think anyone is expecting Mauer (or anyone else) to have a lot of months like *this*, and I’m not expecting him to hit 40+, but since he’s hit 3 of his 8 to dead center field, and none of his 8 have been “lucky” (and only 3 have been classified “just enough,” by the way), is it crazy to think he’s got legitimate power even though he hasn’t hit any just-enough shots to *right* field yet? Seems to me that a guy who can consistently and legitimately hit it out to the opposite field and to dead center is probably a pretty powerful guy. He’s hit some balls awfully hard to the right side, too–just hasn’t elevated them yet.

    This is good and interesting analysis, and if he’d hit 8 fly balls that all happened to hook around the LF pole, then that would be one thing. But those three moon shots to center field sure seem to me to tell a different story.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mark R says:

      I think that’s right on, Bill. Roberto Clemente hit over half of his homers to the opposite, and his totals were consistently in the mid- to upper-20s. If Mauer can equal that, he’s the best player in the A.L. Bar none.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Kincaid says:

      Only 2 have been to center. Dave meant the 8th HR from last night was near the cluster to left, not the one in center. It’s on HTonline now, and last night’s is the furthest toward the left-field line.

      Mauer has always hit home runs to center. Most of the 400+ foot HR he’s hit in his career (at least as far back as HTonline goes) have been to dead center. He’s also always hit the ball hard, he just tends to drive the ball on a line more than he drives elevated shots. His average HR distance this year is also the shortest of his recorded career (since 2006). It’s not that he’s really hitting the ball farther than he has in the past, he’s just had more go over the wall, mostly to left.

      This could be a real sign that he is developing more power or an ability to elevate drives more consistently, but as Dave points out, his profile hasn’t really changed. He’s still hitting to the same parts of the field, and the balls he’s hitting out now aren’t really going any farther than the ones he’s hit out in the past. If he’s going to be a true HR hitter, the power to hit it out to center is nice, but it’s always been there for Joe; what he really needs to kick up the HR totals is to hit more balls to places where it will carry out more easily, and he hasn’t been doing that so far this year.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Mark R says:

        Good points, Kincaid. To conclude that “he’s (not) really hitting the ball farther,” though, wouldn’t you have to look at all of his fly balls? When trying to account for the extra homers, wouldn’t it make more sense to conclude that he IS hitting the ball slightly further on a consistent basis?

        It could be, as has been suggested, that the core strengthening from his rehab is giving him some extra distance. Or it could be that he’s uniquely suited to take advantage of a juiced ball (or whatever’s causing the across-the-board HR rate increases). Maybe he hits a lot of warning track flies at home, for instance.

        I don’t know even pretend to know the answers to any of these question, but it seems like an in-depth investigation is in order.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Kincaid says:

        It would be better to have the distances on all fly balls if they were available. You are right that a shorter average distance on more home runs doesn’t tell us he’s lost any power: more balls that just get over can pull down the average distance even if those are the result of the hitter actually hitting his fly balls farther. Just going by what is available at hittracker, though, his profile appears to fit someone who has the same power as always but whose average distance is pulled down a bit by hitting a few more warning track fly balls out of the park. The increase in HR and the decrease in average distance would be expected to accompany each other if his power hasn’t really changed either way, and in such a small sample, this seems like the most likely explanation. It’s tough to tell this early without more in depth data, though.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Bill says:

        I’m about three days late in coming back to this, Kincaid, but you’re just wrong about that May 21 HR (as is HTOnline, if that is indeed what it says). I was watching the game, and it was to just left of dead center. You can find the video online (at least theoretically–I can’t get it to work, but the description of the video even says “left-center”).

        And then of course there was the one last night, well back into the upper deck of RF.

        You can talk about his profile and such all you want, but if you watch him, he really is hitting the ball a lot harder. And *swinging* a lot harder. And the fact that his HR themselves aren’t going much farther (if true) doesn’t mean a lot if he’s hitting it that far four times as often. I’m about the biggest fan of this site and this sort of research that there is, but sometimes it really is as simple as it looks.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Kincaid says:

        HT does have it as pretty far down the line. I just watched the video of it, and it does seem to be further toward the gap, a bit to the right of the big cluster he has on the graph Dave posted. But it was nowhere near dead center either.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

  2. thefume says:

    I took his opposite field home runs the opposite way–that it’s a better thing than if he were pulling them. Pulling for power would probably require a drastic change in his approach, which would probably hurt his ability to hit for average. And I personally feel that it’s a bad idea–why mess with something that might not even make you a more productive hitter?

    The fact that he seems to be increasing his power without changing his approach is ideal. If the power is a fluke….well he’s still pretty good. It’s win-win.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Mark R says:

      I think it’s probably fair to say that the optimal hitting strategy involves pulling balls more than Mauer does. Every great hitter about whom we have sufficient data to make any conclusions (Bonds, Williams, Pujols, etc.) has pulled more balls than Mauer does. That said, it’s pretty silly to criticize an approach that results in consistent .400+ OBPs combined with doubles power. It’s one of those cases where you can’t make the perfect the enemy of the good.

      If Mauer adds a few more homers without changing anything, he’s even better than before. Who knows what might happen to his production if a hitting coach tried to make him into a pull hitter.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

      • JH says:

        I don’t think Dave was criticizing Mauer’s approach. He was just saying Mauer isn’t likely to develop 30hr power with the approach that’s made him so successful. Everyone knows Mauer’s one of the best hitters alive, whether he hits 5, 10, or 25 jacks in a year.

        Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Kincaid says:

      It probably would be a bad idea for him to try to start pulling everything to try to up his HR totals. He is one of the best players in baseball already, he’s just not really a HR hitter. If the new power holds up, then that’s even better. I think the main point is that we should probably have reservations about how much his current power surge means about how much more power he has right now. If it holds up consistently, then his batted ball profile will carry less importance. It’s possible that he really has significantly more power hitting the same way he always has. It’s just too early to say with much confidence that he’s become a HR hitter so quickly without any major changes in his batted ball profile. Which isn’t a bad thing at all, because, as you and Dave both point out, he’s already very good as it is.

      Vote -1 Vote +1

  3. Ryan M says:

    Doesn’t the fact that they were opposite field home runs suggest he has even MORE “dormant” power than if he had pulled the ball?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  4. coreyjro says:

    I find it interesting that Michael Young, Johnny Damon, and Joe Mauer have all seen a significant increase in HRs, as they are widely considered line drive hitters. I recall early in the season there were many people saying the ball may be juiced, it is possible that it is helping line drive hitters more so than fly ball hitters.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  5. dave says:

    I don’t understand threads like this. Nobody will know if Mauer has changed his HR ability until and unless he establishes that he has. All we can do is incorporate his recent stats into his projection, appropriately weighted. These good projection systems already include the players whose ability has truly changed, in proportion to their frequency, plus all the others who have simply been lucky for a while. The best of these systems perhaps give Mauer a very slight boost because he is big.

    Other than that, I don’t see where looking at where his homers are landing, in a quite small sample size, really means anything.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  6. Sean says:

    I wish I had the time to look this up, but I’m rushing this piece of conjecture, so here it goes: As someone who watches too many Twins games, the greatest different I’ve noticed with Mauer recently is not simply the home runs, but the amount of warning track flies, and even more, the lack of ground balls. Again, this could simply be a product of a small number of at bats, and my eyes could simply be deceiving me, but he seems to have really lowered the number of ground balls his hits to the left side of the infield and replaced them with a higher number of flies to left field. I don’t know if the power has really increased, but I think he’s hitting more balls into the air, and because of this, more are getting out.

    Maybe. I’m no analyst.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  7. Wally says:

    Just looking the individual HRs. The 400+ center shots where in Yankee stadium, which so far has been a launching pad. So, I’m not sure just how worked up we should get about just those 2 HRs, even regardless of park its just 2 HRs.

    As for the approach, I’d guess that Mauer, while a great hitter, just doesn’t have the bat speed of Bonds, Williams, Pujols. Thus, he waits on pitch to identify it as a ball or strike, but can’t get around as fast to pull the ball as the truly great powers hitters. But he can hit to the opposite field with authority, so waiting this long, doesn’t hurt him in anyway, and it allows for a better pitch recognition than if he tried to pull everything.

    Then of course, there is that level swing vs. the upper cut. Maybe if he increased his upper cut some a few more LD or FB would go over the fence, and maybe a few GB turn into FB. But that would certainly also increase his K total. As its harder to make contact when the bat is traveling on a diagonal through the hitting zone than if it is more or less level.

    So, trying to change either of these two things to increase his HR rate would almost certainly increase his Ks and lower his BBs. And given Mauer’s success as a hitter, I’d be more worried about keeping everything the same than fucking with it on an attempt to make it better.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  8. Eric/OR says:

    Speaking for Twins fans and fantasy owners everywhere: we’ll take it.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  9. Quintero says:

    Great piece. This is the perfect case why we need this site!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  10. Joe says:

    It seems like he has had many balls hit in the area of the wall or off the wall in the past. So maybe things are just evening out. But I agree about the fact that he probably needs to pull the ball to develop 30 home run power. However, 20-25 with what he does makes him just about as good as anyone in baseball, right? And actually, he’s top five for me anyway…

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  11. Jeff says:

    Joe Mauer is one of the best hitters in baseball. This year he is showing why he should be considered to be in all the MVP talk. He hits to the opposite field because he always has. Some of those opposite field homeruns have been screaming line drives as well. If he keeps this up he may hit over 40 for the year. Imagine if he played in Fenway with that swing. He would hit 60 homeruns and set the MLB record for doubles!! It is a pleasure to watch that guy hit but he is also a gold glove winning catcher and that is the reason he is one of the best in the game!!

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  12. tom says:

    Strikes me that Mauer is blessed with “late bat” effectiveness, which means his bat speed and hand-eye coordination give him that extra hundredth of a second or so to take his cut. Since the opposite field shots are > 350′, I can harken back to the old Yankee Stadium [which was considered cavernous until you got over to right of right center [344′] and the line dropped off to 296′.

    LF, down the line was a “cheapie” too, at 301′; but the dimensions balooned to 357′ and on to 461′; so the shots Mauer has hit [year-to-date, as visually recorded] would have made it out of the old Stadium or been certain triples off the wall.

    Mauer’s BA and OB% will benefit far more from late-bat speed than he will lose not having pull power.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  13. Dobaksa says:

    Did you see his shot tonight?

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  14. twinsfan says:

    And he does it again, solid shot to right-center.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  15. :Yanks says:

    This is the most idiotic take i have read in some time. Has he gained power?……….duh!. Eveyone knows its much harder to go deep to opposite field??? BTW he crunched one upper deck a couple of times. Its not even worth discusiing. The guy has the best swing in baseball and although that kind of pace is crazy, I dont think he will just lose it.. he is doing the same things but now the ball is going over the fence. Enjoy the best hitter in the game.

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  16. Scotty says:

    Add another one to right-center on the chart. DEEP to right-center. You think Mauer read this article and said, “So, you want me to pull the ball? Okay!”

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  17. James says:

    Hmmmm…. two months and 15 hr later…… Dave Cameron still sucks

    Vote -1 Vote +1

  18. Has anyone seen the Mauer Power shirt design offered by Juiced Apparel. I think it looks awesome!

    http://www.juicedapparel.com/collections/frontpage/products/mauer-power

    Vote -1 Vote +1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>