How Much Power Will Mauer Keep?

Joe Mauer has denied making any sort of deadline on negotiating a contract extension with the Twins, which gives both sides some breathing room. This is an important decision for the Twins. Joe Mauer is a superstar, providing amazing offense from the toughest defensive position, a fan-favorite, a local boy and the “face of the franchise.” In addition, because of the Johan Santana trade the Twins have a reputation of being cheap when it comes to keeping their stars, and they are entering an expensive taxpayer supported ball park. On the other hand what fans really want are wins, not stars, and extending Mauer could hamstring the franchise by forcing them to pay him a huge portion of their payroll to one player for many years.

Mauer is coming off his best year ever, and there is little chance he will repeat these numbers next year, not that he needs to to be a superstar. But that must be considered. The big reason for his career year was his power outburst:
The 2004 numbers were based on just 122 PAs, so seem like a small sample size artifact . Previous to this year he had slightly below average power, which coupled with his excellent K/BB ratio and BABIP, made him a very good offensive player. But the power breakout, while keeping the amazing other numbers, made him the best non-Pujols offensive player in the game.

The question is how much of that power stays. As Dave Cameron noted earlier most of his power is of the opposite field variety, an extreme rarity. Here is a diagram of where the pitches Mauer hit for HRs crossed the plate and where he hit them in 2009. It is similar to the image I created for Adam Lind, but I incorporated some of the suggestions based on that post. The major suggestion was that the angle of line indicate the angle of the ball in play, which is not how I had it in the previous diagram. Sal Paradise incorporated these suggestions into a diagram and what I present here is close to what he did.
Mauer pulls inside pitches, but takes outside pitches the other way. This is very different from how most LHBs do it.
I am not sure if this extreme opposite field power and tendency to take the outside pitches the other way makes his power any more or less likely to stay. The fans, 72 of whom have projected Mauer, seem to think he will keep most of his power, projecting his ISO at .200, closer to his .222 of last year than his .156 career average. The question of how much of the new found power Mauer keeps, along with the unrelated and unaddressed-here question of how long he stays at catcher, are of the utmost importance to the Twins as they think about the extension.

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Dave Allen's other baseball work can be found at Baseball Analysts.

30 Responses to “How Much Power Will Mauer Keep?”

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  1. Matt S says:

    I think Mauer’s tendancy to go the other way makes it less likely that he will keep up this type of power production. As hitter’s age they usually learn to pull inside pitches more and more for power (Johnny Damon comes to mind). Since Mauer went the other for power so often, it would seem that he either develop more strength overall or elevated those hits more often. If so, I would guess that his ISO would drop some next season as thos types of HR’s may wind up doubles. Target Field might the biggest factor of all, though. Citifield didn’t help David Wright his season and he is similar in his ability to hit the other way with power (or at least he was similar)

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    • Dave Allen says:

      Greg Rybarczyk’s THT 2010 Annual article looks at the outfield dimensions of Target Field versus the Metrodome. I don’t have it in front of me so I cannot tell you what he found exactly, but I think the dimensions were pretty close with Target Field maybe being a little smaller in some places. Obviously Target field is not in a dome so the fences will not be the only change influencing HRs. It is a great article (it also looks at HRs in Citifield and new Yankee Stadium) and a great reason to buy the THT Annual.

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      • jbluestone says:

        Actually, the high wall at Target Field extends much further into Right Center field, which would negatively affect power, plus the fact that most of the games will be plyed at colder then typical dome temperatures would cause fly balls to travel less, of course wind dynamics are yet to be known etc.

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      • Dave Allen says:

        Thanks for correcting me. I should not have shot off without having the information in front of me. The Rybarczyk article has the outline of the two outfields drawn over each other, I should have waited to go back home and look at it before commenting.

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    • Jeremiah says:

      If he is hitting outside pitches for power, it seems to me that he might be waiting for the ball to travel deeper into the zone and using above average bat speed to drive the ball. As his bat speed decreases with age, that opposite field power might drop. Of course, I’m sure someone with more time and better resources could check on those things (how far he allows the ball to travel in the zone, and how players with primarily opposite field power perform as they age).

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  2. Tim says:

    My goodness, these are beautiful graphics, and informative to boot.

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    • Bryz says:

      Agreed. I may respectfully steal one of those (with credit given to FanGraphs and Dave Allen, of course!) when I finally get around to projecting Mauer’s power for the future.

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  3. adam says:

    Fascinating diagrams, thanks!

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  4. Michael says:

    As always Dave, these graphs are beautiful. I think this is an excellent improvement over the already good graphs of HR spray that you previously posted. Well done.

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  5. Tom B says:

    I hope referring to the fan analysis won’t become a recurring theme here. It’s a great system and a great idea, but lets let it run the course for a season and see if it’s even relevant in any way before it becomes the staple final paragraph of analysis.

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  6. Bill says:

    The thing is, Mauer is 26 years old. He could improve for the next few years pretty easily.

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  7. Choo says:

    Wind could be a major factor in the new ballpark. A fly ball hit to straight away center at Target Field will travel Southeast from home plate and into the teeth of prevailing winds that typically blow Northwest during night games in Minneapolis. During the day, the wind will usually blow in from the right field foul pole. The contours of the stadium could alter wind direction a bit, but it appears Target Field will suppress power to some degree.

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    • Luke in MN says:

      I think the 1b foul line goes SE and straightaway center will be something like straight E. Target Field is also nestled on the west side of downtown Minneapolis, so the bulk of office buildings might be blocking prevailing winds traveling west.

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      • Choo says:

        According to this ***link***, the right field foul pole is dead South, which makes the left field foul pole dead east. The skyline could block some of the wind. However, the open concourse in right field could create a jet stream blowing straight at home plate, or possibly some swirling.

        Who knows . . . although somebody who worked at the site all summer should have a pretty good idea of how the wind will play.

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  8. Choo says:

    ^ Cllick “prevailing winds” in the above post to follow the link to wind info for Minneapolis.

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  9. Mowses says:

    If you take a look at the hottracker data available for Joe Mauer’s 09 season it shows that all of his opposite field homeruns were about 50 shorter than the ones he pulled or hit straight away. I expect regression

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  10. MDS says:

    joe has developed his man power. hes still young, let him mature
    i wouldnt expect the HR/AB to continue but 15-20 HRs should be expected
    and please, no more references to fan projections.

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  11. Rob in CT says:

    1. If he hit a bunch of “just enough” HRs in 2009, I’d expect him to hit fewer next year.
    2. Nobody really knows what Target Field will do. My gut says less HRs due to an outdoor park, but my gut says all sorts of silly things.

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  12. Josh in DC says:

    My goodness, can you imagine what he could do in Fenway with that power/spray chart.

    The Red Sox are going to offer him a billion dollars to be their catcher.

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    • Choo says:

      One of my (1,877) favorite things about visiting Fenway was hearing those desperate pleas for “Tratt-ah!” and “No-mah!” and “Mill-ah!”

      Joe “Maw-ah!” could make things right again from that perspective, so I’m all for it.

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  13. Travis L says:

    I don’t have any evidence to support this theory, but had some experience playing highly competitive baseball a few years back.

    Typically, the skill to drive the ball opposite field with extreme prejudice is seen as a net positive in baseball coaching circles (in my experience). It’s easier to pull an inside pitch with power than it is to drive an outside pitch the opposite way. I think anecdotal evidence will back this up — why do you think pitchers generally live on the outside part of the plate? Also, more homers are generally pulled as opposed to being driven.

    My coaches always tried to get players to work on opposite field power, telling us that on inside pitches you can drop your hands down quickly and yank the ball out. In short, you can mis-evaluate an inside pitch and still strike it violently. There is less margin for error on ourside stuff.

    So maybe it’s a good thing that Mauer’s power is coming this way. It’s possible that he’s going to focus on being more aggressive on inside pitches this year, and will further get power, especially on inside pitches. He doesn’t really inside-out the ball like Jeter does — most of his oppo-field homers were on outer half pitches. I suspect his opposite field power regresses some (to around a 175 ISO level, or so), but he starts yanking inside pitches down the line a little more. I bet he puts up about 25-30 homers, with a slightly lower ISO overall next year.

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  14. Jonas says:

    I think Mauer will keep most of his power, at least the homeruns. He made a pretty clear change in his swing between last year and this year. He used to work more down towards the ball at a 45 degree angle to contact, a standard line-drive hitters swing that results in many singles up the middle. This year however, he has adapted an uppercut into his swing, and is working a bit more underneath the ball at the opposite 45 degree angle, getting more of a powerful “lifting” effect to his contact. I think this year was just an evolution of his swing, he made a concerted effect to become more of a power hitter, and a proper uppercut is the explanation.

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  15. bookbook says:

    On the one hand, I suspect we’ve just seen Mauer’s career year. There are many players who have their career year at age 26. Ain’t nothing wrong with that.

    On the other hand, hitters’ power can peak later (I think I read somewhere the median is 31 or so.)

    I think he’ll hold onto enough of this improvement – and his position – to be in serious contention for greatest catcher of all time a decade hence.

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  16. Scott says:

    That chart for Target field is interesting. I’d love to see how much lift he got on the balls he pulled for HR. That 328 down the right field line is nice, but the 23′ wall could knock a few line-drive variety HR back down to doubles.

    The 8′ wall is left is much better, but 377 in the alley could be problematic as well.

    I don’t know what I expect, but I’d say it’s pretty sure that we’ll see a bit of regression in the power department.

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  17. jason says:

    I think they should keep Mauer and the twins should pay him what wants to be paid. Theres not to many pros like Mauer that gets an MVP award 3 batting titles etc.

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  18. AdamOnFirst says:

    Things to consider on Mauer’s power:

    1. Many of Mauer’s home runs were wall scrapers that barely snuck out in the exact same spot in left-center field. He used to hit it there all the time, they just bounced in front of the wall for doubles. It could be he’s a little stronger now entering his physical prime, and his ball is just carrying slightly farther, which is making a big difference.

    2. That spot in left-center field is notably shallow in the Twins new stadium. It’s almost a little Mauer home-run porch out there to the opposite field.

    3. Mauer did show a new propensity to turn on pitches occasionally last year, something he never ever used to try to do. he hit a few huge home runs this way.

    Ultimately, I’d expect his power to come back to earth somewhat, but 20 HR for the next several years is pretty likely, I think.

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  19. Justin B. says:

    Hey! This post could not be written any better! Reading through this post reminds me of my previous room mate! He always kept talking about this. I will forward this article to him. Fairly certain he will have a good read. Thank you for sharing!

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