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  • A Closer Look At Joe Mauer's Struggles

    Joe Mauer wonders why everyone is lined up on the left side of the outfield.This Joe Mauer vitriol has gotten out of hand.

    Fans and media members alike are taking shots at him over his lack of production at the conclusion of just the season's second month of play. Sure, his power outage, run production and shortage of key hits has been the source of much consternation -- particularly in the last stretch when the team has dropped six of their last seven games.

    Did you hear that the Twin Cities will have a new Joe Mauer-themed Uber cabs running in celebration of the All-Star Game? For $23 million they will take you wherever you want but they can’t drive you home.

    See? I mean, how sick is that? Even I am not immune from the growing mob madness.

    As a statistically-based individual, I realize that the run batted in stat is contingent on runners being on base in front of a hitter. I also know that batting second in a lineup often means you will be in fewer situations to drive runners in (even more so when your leadoff hitter insists on hitting a bunch of solo dingers). As a scouting-based individual, I appreciate his sweet swing and timeless patience at the plate. Still, Mauer’s production with runners in scoring position this season has been completely out of whack by his standards -- his lowly .189 batting average with runners in scoring position pales in comparison to his .327 average in those same situations from 2009 to 2013.

    If his offensive woes were isolated to just situational hitting, it would be easier to dismiss as a product of small sampling but other issues have been plaguing him -- like his two-strike hitting (.208 average), performance against left-handed pitching (.224) or lack of power (.352 slugging percentage) -- and have increased the concern that there are other factors at play: like lingering concussion effects, lower back pain or something else.

    The Minnesota Twins, meanwhile, think there is less of a physical ailment but rather the masterful placement of the opposition’s defense.

    As Twins broadcaster Dick Bremer told KFAN’s Paul Allen on Wednesday morning, the belief in the organization is that teams have figured out a way to combat Mauer’s opposite field tendencies which is wreaking havoc on his offensive numbers.

    “I think he more than any other Twins hitter has been victimized by the shifts,” Bremer told Allen. “When we talk about the shifts in the booth, we automatically show the infield and they are doing a lot of creative things in the infield but Joe’s really been victimized by the outfield shifts. And I think what we’ve seen -- and Ron Gardenhire confirmed it the other day -- Joe is trying now, and succeeding to some degree, pulling the ball more. Because he’s hit a lot of line drives to left field and he’s probably had eight doubles taken away from him with the left fielder basically playing in the left field corner.”

    Prior to Thursday’s game, Gardenhire shared his thoughts on Mauer’s struggles with the media that echoed Bremer’s take.

    “He’s hitting a lot of balls hard,” the Twins manager told MLB.com’s Rhett Bollinger. “The way they’re playing him and pitching him If he were in Boston, he’d be hitting .400. I mean, how many rockets he’s hit out to left field, deep. He’d be pounding that wall. But he’s not in Boston, and they’re playing him oppo. He’s ripping balls that way, and you just go through it. I don’t know if you start counting all the balls that this guy hits on the button. I can promise you it’s as many as anybody in the league. He hits it on the barrel of the bat.”

    Yes -- alert the media -- a higher percentage of Mauer’s power comes from drilling the ball into left field. Last year, 21 of his 35 doubles were deposited to left. This year his doubles are way down and plenty of that has to do with the outfield shift.

    Mauer’s ability to lift and/or drive the ball in the air the other way has been effectively eliminated by the opposition’s defensive schemes. It is no secret that after numerous years that the face of the Twins has a penchant for going the other way at a high percentage. From 2010 to 2013, if Mauer hit the ball in the sky, 54% of the time it was to left field. It was that direction where he accumulated the lion’s share of his extra base hits. On the other hand, Mauer pulled the ball in the air just 13% of the time, making the right fielder’s job essentially one that fielded the ground ball that slipped through the infield.

    So it would stand to reason that teams who have even a basic understanding of spray charts would shade their outfielders to the left field line, having the left fielder stand on the chalk, the center field move over to a spot between the second base bag and the shortstop position, and have the right fielder camped out in the right-center gap. This would leave real estate the size of the airport unguarded on the right side -- just like the alignment the Tampa Bay Rays deployed on April 23 that the Star Tribune’s LaVelle Neal captured:



    All it would take would be a little flare or dink over the first baseman’s head to net Mauer an inside-the-park home run. Of course, since 2010 Mauer has elevated just 55 pitches (7.2% of his liners/flies) that have gone into the far right quadrant of the field, meaning that land is safer than Canada.

    While the Rays are one of the more forward-thinking teams when it comes to defensive positioning, other teams are following suit more often when facing Mauer. In addition to the shifting, teams have tailored their approach to pitching him away more frequently, almost taunting him to play right into their hands.

    What is telling is how many line drive hits this has taken away from Mauer this year. According to ESPN Stats & Info, between 2009 and 2013 Mauer had an .803 average on line drives to the outfield (.744 when going to left field). This year that rate has tumbled to .579 (.450 when going the other way).

    Visually you can see the stark difference in the outs made on his spray chart:



    Notice how the outs on the left (2014) are closer to the left field line? Those hard hit balls would be difficult to catch if a left fielder was playing in a straight-up formation.

    In this last series, the Texas Rangers tried the same positioning. Rather than Yu Darvish on the mound however, the Rangers trotted former Twins pitcher Scott Baker to start. Baker’s stuff is not nearly as good as Darvish’s so when the former teammates squared off, Mauer was able to turn around an 88 mile per hour fastball on the inner-half into that right field corner where no one was home.


    That marked just the 10th hit for Mauer to right field and just the 15th ball he has hit in that direction this season. To Bremer and Gardenhire’s point that Mauer is trying to pull the ball more frequently, there has been a slight uptick in that department but nothing of huge significance. Prior to the beginning of last week’s West Coast road trip, Mauer had pulled 21.7% of the balls he put into play. Since then, he has increased that rate to 34.5%.

    The issue of pulling the ball more will not likely lead to more hits unless the opposition supplies him with pitches on the inner-half. Since 2009, when Mauer has pulled the ball, 78% of the time it has been on the ground. In this case, opponents are peppering him with pitches down-and-away in an effort to get him to play into their outfield shift. When he has tried to pull something on the outer-half of the plate, he is almost assured a grounder to second (on which he is 1-for-23 this year).

    So who knows where the season goes for Joe Mauer from here. He’s as mechanically smooth as they come and, if he is not hiding any cracked vertebrae or whatever, he should be healthy as an ox and able to make the necessary adjustments at the plate -- make sure to turn on pitches on the inner-half, drive the ball up the middle more frequently and capitalize on mistakes in general. Several week of doing that should open up left field for him again.

    Stay tuned.

    (Data from ESPN Stats & Info)
    Comments 55 Comments
    1. blairpaul715's Avatar
      blairpaul715 -
      Well, one of the ways to combat this is to hit mistake pitches, I don't know how many times on the 1st and or 2nd pitch, that the ball is in his wheelhouse and he lets it go by..........that has always been disturbing to me, but he has always hit well , so it was no big deal, now that teams are shifting on him, after strike 1 and or strike 2t hey keep hitting the outside forcing him to roll over a grounder or hit into the shift............I think the best remedy to this is to hit on first or second pitches more...........I think most of the bashing is because he shows no emotion and most people feel that showing emotion, is caring, even if not true.
    1. dannyboy's Avatar
      dannyboy -
      It's a GREAT joke....Touchy,huh ?
    1. SarasotaBill's Avatar
      SarasotaBill -
      Adjustments to adjustments.

      Mauer needs to make adjustments (get closer to the plate, be more aggressive early in the count, ....) or

      Trade him to Boston after the season - (Joe will be tired of the shift if he doesn't adjust).
    1. kblack1011's Avatar
      kblack1011 -
      I think people try to sell his struggles as just a slow start, but you can see these problems last year. His strike out increased and he could hit with RISP. His average began to drop fast last year:
      RISP
      2012 .372
      2013 .239
      2014 .189

      As the lineup expectation of Mauer has increased, his production has decreased. Like most hitters, he may only see 1 good pitch an ABnd if it's early in the count, he's likely to take it. Scott Baker threw him a pitch right down the middle his first AB and he just took it. He did it again the second AB, and he drilled a double to right.

      I do wish we would get over Mauer hitting .400 in Boston. Just for the record, in 182 AB's, he hitting below his career average in Boston.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      I think part of the point is that we have seen an attempt to adjust. Parker showed an increase in the number of times he has pulled the ball the last 2 weeks.

      I also think he has lost a lot of singles up the middle. You're always taught to hit it back up the middle. Unfortunatel, shortstops are playing him there now too.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Jack Goin and his team shouldn't only analyze free agents. I hope that his team is allowed some leeway to approach subjects like this one.

      In a perfect world, he'd have video and spray charts to bring to Mauer and tell him "This is why you're getting killed out there. What are you going to do about it?" Jack can't make the adjustment for Joe but he should be helping him determine the root of the problem and give Joe the information he needs to succeed.
    1. JohnFoley's Avatar
      JohnFoley -
      This is interesting to juxtapose against Jayson Stark's new article at ESPN: http://espn.go.com/mlb/story/_/id/10...-proof-hitters
    1. SDTwinsFan's Avatar
      SDTwinsFan -
      I think he turns this around, but it will take a major adjustment. He needs to start swinging. He is too good to be "this" bad. That said, hasn't it been noted that his LD% is higher than his career this year?

      It certainly seems that a lot of balls have been hit really hard, only to find a glove.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by SDTwinsFan View Post
      That said, hasn't it been noted that his LD% is higher than his career this year?
      Yep. Looking over the stat line, Joe looks just fine from a health perspective. After a rough start, he stopped striking out (8 Ks in past 28 days over 77 PAs). He's lining balls all over the field, posting a LD% of 28.7, a career best.

      They're not falling in. That leads me to believe he's getting killed by shifts. Or at the very least, that's a significant part of his problem. He could also being going through an incredible streak of bad luck, though I can't chalk all his struggles off as bad luck.
    1. Kirby_Waved_At_Me's Avatar
      Kirby_Waved_At_Me -
      I found this interesting (from July 2013):
      http://blogs.thescore.com/mlb/2013/0...ach-joe-mauer/

      Do you do a lot of video work between games? Joe Mauer - Yeah. I use video daily, usually to go over the opposition starting pitcher just to see some previous at bats I’ve had against him and to see what he’s done lately.

      You mention staying true to what got you here. What kind of adjustments are required as you learn the league etc. JM – You’re constantly making adjustments. One of the biggest things is body of work, rather than the amount of work. Used to be able to get into the cage and swing swing swing but now it’s making sure I feel good and head out there, saving some for the game.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      In addition, his strikeout rate is up, and his walk rate is down. This is not just about shifts, this is also on Mauer.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      In addition, his strikeout rate is up, and his walk rate is down. This is not just about shifts, this is also on Mauer.
      His K % is just over 10% in the past month. The strikeouts were certainly concerning in the early going but he has dropped that number considerably in the past few weeks.

      Joe appears to be making adjustments, they're simply not working yet.
    1. SDTwinsFan's Avatar
      SDTwinsFan -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      In addition, his strikeout rate is up, and his walk rate is down. This is not just about shifts, this is also on Mauer.
      True, but it seems--from me watching games--he is getting strikes called where it could be a ball. Again, I have nothing to back this up, but it seems he should have a few more walks, less Ks, strictly from better zone awareness of a few umps.
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Sorry, I see this whole effort as a way to excuse him from not producing, blaming the opposition and not taking accountability. That rubs me the wrong way.
    1. SDTwinsFan's Avatar
      SDTwinsFan -
      I also think that Joe is swinging at worse pitches now later in counts to avoid the squeeze he has been given by some umps. Those bad pitches turn into weak grounders frequently.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Sorry, I see this whole effort as a way to excuse him from not producing, blaming the opposition and not taking accountability. That rubs me the wrong way.
      It's not excuse-making, it's analysis of the situation. No one is saying Mauer's current production level is acceptable but a nuanced breakdown of why this is happening is far more enlightening than "Joe Mauer sucks" or "chicks dig the long ball, Joe".
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      Except we left off the whole discussion of ISO, strikeouts, and walks, and only talked about shifts......I know not most will agree, but to me, this is just another example of the Twins and their accountability problems, it is always something oustide their control that causes bad things to happen.
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by mike wants wins View Post
      Except we left off the whole discussion of ISO, strikeouts, and walks, and only talked about shifts......I know not most will agree, but to me, this is just another example of the Twins and their accountability problems, it is always something oustide their control that causes bad things to happen.
      Well, the shifts *might* be directly linked to that ISO, as evidenced by Joe's career high line drive percentage.

      The strikeouts were a huge concern. Thankfully, he's shown recent ability to make better contact (11% K rate over past 28 days).

      The base on balls, eh... Hard to say. His ISO D is still decent but he hasn't been taking walks lately. A concern, a change in approach, or both? Hard to say.

      This isn't an easy situation to figure out and the answer doesn't appear to be "Joe is cooked" or "swing harder".
    1. mike wants wins's Avatar
      mike wants wins -
      I agree, obviously, that it is not a simple thing to fix or figure out. I don't agree, as the Twins and media seem to be implying, that this is all about other people, and not about the Twins most highly paid, most tenured, player. He needs to adjust, and fix things, or he's pretty much a drain on this roster. He needs to adjust.
    1. Seth Stohs's Avatar
      Seth Stohs -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brock Beauchamp View Post
      The base on balls, eh... Hard to say. His ISO D is still decent but he hasn't been taking walks lately. A concern, a change in approach, or both? Hard to say.

      That's the thing. That might be part of the adjustments he's working through. Maybe he is being a little more aggressive. I don't know. Didn't I read somewhere that he is swinging at like twice as many first pitches this year as he had previously (someone else can look that up)?
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