Joe Mauer Hour: If You Read Slowly

On the surface, Joe Mauer’s 2013 season looks like business as usual. In fact, compare the lines:

.324/.404/.476 in 2013
.323/.405/.468 career mark

But it would be foolhardy to think it’ll be business as usual with Mauer going forward, and there are a few reasons why.

The biggest elephant in the room is the concussion Mauer sustained in mid-August against the Mets. Mauer remained out for the rest of the season, and questions still linger about how much, if at all, he can catch moving forward.

And since we’re addressing/assessing catcher value here, well, that’s sort of a big elephant.

If Mauer moves to first base, he becomes sort of a rich man’s version of John Olerud. And certainly YOU aren’t a man rich enough to pay him his catcher price at first base, right? But in all seriousness, it isn’t entirely clear what type of production he’d have at first base. In terms of real-life production, he could probably be a +3.0-win or better first sacker, but with limited power and not many teammates to drive in, is there a ton of value there?

It’s hard to say.

Another potential issue with Mauer was that he struck out at a much higher frequency in 2013 than he had at any other point in his career. It wasn’t close, either, as Mauer whiffed in 17.5% of his plate appearances this season (previous career high: 13.7%). In fact, that marks the fourth-straight campaign in which the otherwise pesky Mauer saw an increase in his strikeout rate.

The largely-believed reason for Mauer’s spike in strikeout rates has been that he’s altered his approach to be more aggressive deep in counts to attempt to have higher-yield plate appearances (OPS, strikeout percentage).

Check out the results (2013 | Career):
0-2 counts: .458, 43.8% | .559, 29.9%
After 0-2: .672, 37.9% | .593, 26.7%
After 1-2: .719, 33.8% | .627, 23.9%
After 2-2: .923, 22.4% | .721, 20.8%
Full Count: .983, 17.1% | .958, 13.7%

So unless I’m totally wrong here, Mauer has forsaken his otherwise conservative approach for an increased yield, and outside of 0-2 counts, it’s working.

So to that end, it seems as though Mauer — long lauded for being a disciple to his own approach — has artificially inflated his strikeout rate a bit, though it’s still unclear to what extent, and perhaps a bit worrisome that’s it’s still (ostensibly) moving in the wrong direction.

Keep an eye on Mauer news this offseason. Hey, I might even break some of it as part of my other job on twitter @Brandon_Warne.

Sorry for the shameless plug, but if Mauer sticks at catcher, there could be a little buy-low potential. Don’t go overboard however, because he may be tethered to first base, not only because of his health woes, but also because the Twins don’t have any in-house options to play first, and have Josmil Pinto coming up in the pipeline to displace Mauer.

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In addition to Rotographs, Warne writes about the Minnesota Twins for The Athletic and is a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

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Mario Mendoza
Mario Mendoza

Wait, what? I didn’t know about this change in approach. I think it deserves more analysis.

First: is it true? What is the swing% on those splits?

Second: Why did you show only pitcher’s counts? Is he not also more aggressive with deep hitter’s counts? Or is he just throwing caution to the wind when he falls behind, in hopes of making something happen?