• Is Mauer Breaking Down?

    Much has been made of Twins fans booing Joe Mauer at Target Field this year. Personally, I'm not offended by it. It's how some invested fans choose to express their disappointment and frustration. They paid for the tickets that help pay the players' enormous salaries, so those in attendance should be free to voice their displeasure with what's happening. In this case, it's not totally unjustified.

    Not that I myself would ever boo Mauer. There have been ball players in this game's long history who have been deserving of booing – scumbags, entitled pricks and racists among them – but No. 7 is not (at least to my knowledge) any of those things.

    He's a very handsomely paid athlete who is not currently providing the value that the Twins hoped for and expected when they inked him to a $184 million contract extension three years ago. I doubt it's his fault.

    It's not like Mauer isn't trying, which is why the booing strikes me as odd. By all accounts, he worked out like a maniac during the offseason, desperate to distance himself from the nightmare season that was 2011. But I do wonder if it's a little too late, and the years of punishment behind the plate have fundamentally weakened him as a hitter.

    After grounding out three times on Wednesday, Mauer is now hitting .270/.391/.365 on the campaign. That's far from embarrassing, but it's also quite similar to the .287/.360/.368 line he finished with last year, when he admitted he never felt right all season. Last year Mauer totaled three home runs and 15 doubles in 333 plate appearances. This year, at his current pace, he'll have 16 doubles and two homers when he reaches that PA mark. That's a real lack of power, and it stems from an increasingly extreme ground ball rate.

    His approach at the plate has been excellent. He's striking out at a measly 9.3 percent clip (ninth-lowest in the majors) and he's on pace to draw more than 100 walks. Yet when he puts the ball in play, he rarely does so with authority. His 58.7 percent grounder rate eclipses last year's 55.4, which was at the time a career high.

    He's still a great, professional hitter, but when I see him now I just don't see signs of the the dominant player who in 2009 hit .365 with 28 homers. I don't even see the guy who in 2010 hit .327 with 43 doubles. It was some hybrid of those models that the Twins hoped they'd be getting at least in the early years of his contract, but right now Mauer appears headed toward rather quickly becoming a first baseman and No. 2 hitter who takes great at-bats and gets on base a ton but doesn't hit for much power or run well.

    That's not a $23 million franchise centerpiece. It's Doug Mientkiewicz. And that's why the people boo.

    But Mauer is out there on the field every day, trying to get things figured out, so you won't hear me joining the chorus. Catching for many years takes a toll, even on the most pristine of athletes. I wrote an article last year framed around one of my favorite quotes from Johnny Bench: "A catcher and his body are like an outlaw and his horse. He's got to ride that nag till it drops."

    Bench was one of many backstops who have either retired early, switched positions or seen their production wane rapidly with age. I'll name another example – one with parallels to Mauer that cannot be ignored: Jason Kendall.

    Kendall spent the first nine years of his career in Pittsburgh, serving as a full-time catcher and hitting .306/.387/.418 while averaging eight home runs. In 2005, at age 30, he was traded to the Oakland A's, and over the next six years he would hit .260/.333/.318 while hitting eight home runs total.

    Kendall retired at age 36, which will be Mauer's age when his contract with the Twins is up.
    This article was originally published in blog: Is Mauer Breaking Down? started by Nick Nelson
    Comments 29 Comments
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      Quote Originally Posted by Krogher View Post
      I've never understood booing a player who isn't a d-bag. Booing Beckett? Sure, his personality is combative. Booing A-Rod. Ok, he's condescending, and has an oil painting of himself in some hybrid-animal form. (May be a rumor.) Mauer? Why? Because we're paying to see him? No one cares more about his performance than he does. I'm just a fan. I pay the money whether they rock or they suck. Plus, I live in Metro Detroit so seeing them is a treat that only comes 3-4 times a year.
      While I'd never want a player like Alex Rodriguez on my team, I don't watch the Twins because they are nice guys. I watch because I want them to win. This performance we have seen is completely unacceptable and I don't think many people saw it coming. On paper, it definitely looked like the Twins got better during the offseason. They added Doumit, Willingham, and Carroll while only losing Kubes and Cuddy. Not one, but two former MVPs came back in good health. Spring training also went excellent and gave us positive signs coming into the inaugural season. If you would have told me that this team was going to stay healthy and the bullpen would not be an issue at the start of the season, I'd definitely think that they were at least playing competitive and possibly in contention for the AL Central. Instead, they have managed to put together an even worse record than 2011's pathetic team. How?!
    1. raindog's Avatar
      raindog -
      I've booed one player at a baseball game, and it was John Rocker. For being an all-around terrible person. That's the only time it was ever justified. Sure, paying ticket holders have a "right" to boo, but that doesn't make it any more sensical. It's completely idiotic to boo someone who is trying as hard as they can to be the best player they can be. There is no proof that he's done otherwise.

      Also, I have a question. What would the Twins have done with the money saved by not paying Mauer? Signed one ace to a bloated contract? Signed a couple average pitchers? Maybe a couple average position players? Either way the Twins would still be terrible. The problem is the farm system. You can't build your team through free agency unless you're the Yankees, and even they are good at developing their own players. So if you want to boo anyone, boo the front office, the scouts, whatever. If that makes you feel better.
    1. Thrylos's Avatar
      Thrylos -
      Quote Originally Posted by fslbaseball View Post
      The way I see it is the problem is Mauer's strength. The charts show he is hitting pretty much to the same areas but now the grounders arent getting through. Also if you look at the flyball outsm they are much shallower than 3 years ago. The season is only about 1.4th over but this trend has been in the making for years. Following are the charts from pitch f/x site for 2009 and 2012.

      Interesting... in a couple of ways.

      2009 was in the Metrodome and 2012 at Target Field so that might be part of the equation. On the other hand, something is seriously wrong with those charts if the Metrodome and Target Field are shown as the same shape park with the same dimensions....
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by DAM DC Twins Fans View Post
      I dont agree with the booing...I do think Mauer is giving 100%...but I think the years of catching and injuries have caught up.

      It is now past time for Joe to toss away the catchers mask and shin guards.

      Joe should be playing at 3B everyday until Miguel is ready. I think his body can recover that way and he can stay healthier for the next 3 or 4 years. Joe has the arm and athletic ability to play 3B.
      Yup. Mauer should have been a full time 3rd baseman for several years now. There's a good chance we wouldn't be having this conversation, because there's a good chance he'd be healthier and more productive.
    1. rover27's Avatar
      rover27 -
      The move from the Dome to Target Field didn't help Mauer(or most of the Twins' hitters) either. Easier to hit home runs and ground balls that are outs on grass often times made it thru on artificial turf.
    1. twinsfan214's Avatar
      twinsfan214 -
      I've never understood why someone would go to a game to boo their team. However, yes, they can boo if they want to. Mauer's such a good guy he would probably say he understands and accepts it. Hope he turns it around soon. Meanwhile I'm contemplating a long weekend trip to Beloit.
    1. rogrulz30's Avatar
      rogrulz30 -
      Mauer's value at this point belongs in the #2 spot, I have said this for 2 years now, he can't be batting the three hole the way he hits the ball. He isn't going to hit for power, or if he does, then move him back. HE has to learn to hit for power to right field. The Dome set him up for the contract. Span, Mauer, Doumit, Willingham, Morneau, at this point would. I don't blame anybody for booing at any time, since you have paid to come to the game, you have paid for the players salaries, do what you will at the stadium.
    1. BigVin's Avatar
      BigVin -
      Quote Originally Posted by jeffk View Post
      Joe should be playing at 3B everyday until Miguel is ready. I think his body can recover that way and he can stay healthier for the next 3 or 4 years. Joe has the arm and athletic ability to play 3B.
      I've been saying this for 2 years now, and now is the right time to make the shift. Mauer is a natural athlete, and if he can play catcher and first, third base will be a piece of cake!
    1. shs_59's Avatar
      shs_59 -
      To me Mauer is all out of whack at the plate right now.... He looks like opposite side of the plate Jamey Carroll Right now...all leaning over the plate not able to reach the pitch up and away. In Mauer's case he can hitt the pitch, particually off-speed or breaking stuff, down and often down and out of the zone, but he cannot catch up to pitches up in the zone. If Teams start pitching Mauer high in the zone, (and can get strikes called in doing so) They might figure out a way to get Mauer out even MORE consistantly....

      Frightening? Because well yes, because Mauer is getting himself out waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay more than ANYONE is accustomed to seeing. tappers or GB's to 2B.

      Mauer should just take the rest of the season off Come June or July 4th ......Rest Rehabb and more R & R and work work work, come baack strong and with vengence next year, maybe even a chip on his shoulder.

      + the R & R thing is nice with a newly wed. Get some out of him now.
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