That notwithstanding, this has been an outstanding rebound season for the Twins catcher.
Considering the slow start by his standards, his .320 average heading into the last day of the season is impressive nonetheless. At the beginning of May, his average was down to .270 before he checked into the Rip City Motel and hit .336 over his last 115 games.
A closer inspection of his numbers reveals something very interesting that you might want to sit down for.
For the first time in his major league career Joe Mauer pulled the ball more often than he went the other away with the pitch.
I’ll let you digest that for a moment because it seems so improbable compared to what we have become accustom to.
Between 2004 and 2011, Mauer accumulated 447 hits going to left field. That was the fifth highest total in that time behind preeminent going-the-other-way hitters in Ichiro, Derek Jeter, Michael Young and Juan Pierre. Still, no one had a higher average when going oppo than Mauer’s .436.
His ability to inside-out a pitch or drive a fastball on the outer half the other way has had its rewards for the Twins catcher. It was that methodology that helped him obtain three batting titles while having five seasons with an average over .300.
Although he still went to left field with a high percentage of his balls in play and had plenty of success on them (a .432 average when going oppo in 2012), it was his improvement when pulling the ball that helped him raise his average from the career-low .287 average he possessed in 2011.
Starting in late 2010, according to Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra, Mauer’s knee ailments were keeping him from “getting off his backside” on his swing. This led to him being “unable to turn on the ball.”
With his health returning, Mauer seemed much better at turning on pitches. At BaseballProspectus.com, this Pitch F/X chart shows just how much better he was when swinging at pitches down-and-in and middle-down:
A year ago, he was 6-for-21 (.286) on pitches in the down-and-in quadrant. This year he has been 21-for-43 (.488).
In 2011, Mauer pulled the ball 25.3% of the time – down from his career average closer to 30% - and he hit just .242 when going to the right side of the field. This year, he turned on the ball 32% of the time and posted a .310 average. Now, he still beat the ball into the ground over 80% of the time in both season but this year, he was having a higher success rate of sneaking those through the infield – likely a direct result of better struck balls because of a strong base.