Has Average Joe Returned?
Image courtesy of John Rieger. USA TodayThrough the first two weeks of the season, Mauer ranks third in the AL with a .372 average. He already has his first home run – a feat he didn't accomplish last year until May 20th. Through 53 plate appearances, he has drawn eight walks with only four strikeouts.
That last piece is the most encouraging. Batting averages can be fluky over short stretches and homers come at random times with him. But Mauer's control of the strike zone suggests that he is seeing the ball better than he has in years. Since his last full strong season in 2012, his walk rate has dropped (from 12.0 percent to 11.6 percent to 10.1 percent) while he has struck out at rates of 17.5 percent, 18.5 percent and 16.8 percent – his previous career rate was 10.4 percent.
Over the first half of April, Mauer has been controlling the strike zone masterfully, signaling a return to his bread and butter. The result has been a phenomenal .472 on-base percentage, and to say that his skills in that department are sorely needed would be a tremendous understatement. The rest of the offense entered play Sunday with a .270 OBP, and all seven of Minnesota's home runs have been solo shots.
The Twins need base-runners. Even when some of the other hitters get on track more, that will continue to be the case. It's an area that Average Joe specializes in, so if these early indicators prove legitimate, it will bode extremely well for the team's chances of continuing to win and dig out of this early hole.
Heck, Mauer might even be on his way to earning a label that many have been reluctant to bestow upon him: Leader. How else can you frame his consistent quality at-bats and outstanding production while the youth-infused lineup has almost roundly struggled?
Mauer factored heavily into Sunday's sweep-clinching victory, reaching base in four of six plate appearances. While Oswaldo Arcia gets the headlines – and Gatorade shower – for his walk-off hit, it was Mauer who sparked the 12th-inning rally with a leadoff walk. Two nights earlier, he made Byung Ho Park's go-ahead double in the eighth possible with a clutch two-out RBI single in the seventh.
Average Joe is back to being the subtle, underrated, beating heart of the Twins offense, at least so far. It's a good look.
- James, MileHighTwinsFan, Mike Frasier Law and 6 others like this