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  • 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. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Who was that crazy ol' guy who, for a couple years now, has gone on and on at BYTO about how the Twins were risking Mauer's long and short term health by keeping him at catcher?
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      I dunno. Some weirdo.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Off topic....but you guys picked a hell of a year to launch this Twins Daily thing, huh?
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Eh... No shortage of things to talk about. Just wish they weren't so depressing.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      It seems clear that Mauer needs a few more real days off--the current C/1B/DH ratio seems pretty good, but another slash for days off altogether might be helpful. If only, if only, they would have started that C/1B/DH ratio a few years ago. And, ironically, not starting Mauer a few more games here and there actually decreases the need for Drew Butera.
    1. frightwig's Avatar
      frightwig -
      Most catchers, even the great ones like Bench, tend to suffer a steep decline by age 32. As I recall, Posada and Fisk are rare exceptions; and Posada didn't become a regular starter until his late 20's, and even Fisk was pretty erratic from year to year after he turned 30. Given Mauer's history of leg and back injuries (including the injury in his rookie year that resulted in the meniscus cartilage being removed from one knee, which seems to have been collectively forgotten at some point), the Twins certainly were taking a huge leap of blind faith in betting on Mauer to maintain superstar value into his mid-30s. But whether he's already close to being washed-up, who knows.

      I wish he could boost that slg pct above .400, at least, but even if his current line is the new reality for Mauer, his OPS+ and wOBA are closely comparable to his production in 2005 and 2007, when he was worth 3.4 and 3.1 fWAR, respectively. That's not a $23M value, but that's still a very good player, perhaps even an All-Star, or just a cut below. It's a shame that fans are so quick to boo someone who is not only a very good player, still, but seems humble and hard-working, and rates as the best catcher and among the very best players in frickin' Twins history, just because injuries apparently have caught up to him, so he's not worth $23M of the Pohlad family's money. (If fans need to find a way to be philosophical about the money, try thinking of half his salary as back pay for all the free bonus value he provided from 2004-10.)
    1. frightwig's Avatar
      frightwig -
      Btw, Mauer's wOBA and wRC+ currently are 3rd best among AL catchers. If you were choosing an All-Star team today, Wieters and Napoli would be your top 2 catchers. But if you had room to take a third catcher, I think Mauer or possibly Carlos Santana would be next. BOO?
    1. Krogher's Avatar
      Krogher -
      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.
    1. twinswon1991's Avatar
      twinswon1991 -
      Mauer needs to get back on the juice like he was when he had his one big power season which duped the Twins into signing him to a contract only a true power hitter can earn.

      Now we have 8 more years watching a Casey Kotchman clone play 1B/DH making 20 million more than he is worth.

      Who hits more HR's at Target field this year Carroll or the 23 million dollar man?????
    1. MauerHOF's Avatar
      MauerHOF -
      The really sad part is the Twins have no chance of winning until they get out from under the contract of the most over-rated player in MLB history. The Twins can't spend 25% of their salary on a player who hits less than 5 HR's and drives in 70 RBI a year. Mauer apologist keep saying he is playing hurt and that is why he is not performing at a high level. They talk about previous trends of his hitting. But, then the trend is Mauer is soft and always is hurt. The apologists can't have it both ways. In reality, if Mauer had played football at FSU, he probably would have been injured on the first snap, breaking his fingernail on the center exchange.

      I am a season ticket holder but will not be renewing my tickets next year mainly due to not wanting to watch Mauer hit for the cycle in ground outs.

      I understand that Mauer has a no trade clause, but there is not a team in MLB that would want a slap hitting singles utility player that makes $23 million a year. The Twins would be lucky to get a used jock for Mauer.

      I completely agree with "twinswon1991", Mauer is Casey Kotchman making $23 million a year. PATHETIC.

      As a season ticket holder, I will be booing Mauer everytime he gets to the plate.
    1. fslbaseball's Avatar
      fslbaseball -
      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.

    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      It's good to see the level of discourse devolving toward that on the local papers. Oh wait...it's not good at all.

      I have to guess that if I were to accuse another poster of criminal activity without a shred of evidence, that the post would be removed and that I would have my account temporarily banned if not deleted permanantly. I'll wonder here why the same wouldn't be done simply because the accusations are being leveled at a non-poster.
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      Quote Originally Posted by MauerHOF View Post
      The really sad part is ...

      I completely agree ..., Mauer is Casey Kotchman...
      I would say the really sad part is a person being unable to understand the rank-ordering of the standard numbering system. But that's just me.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Some of these comments make me think we are on the Star Tribune's site . . . irrational nonsense.
    1. nokomismod's Avatar
      nokomismod -
      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.
      Well said. I think fans here are just kind of shocked and depressed and unfortunately Joe's taking the brunt of it.
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Quote Originally Posted by CDog View Post
      It's good to see the level of discourse devolving toward that on the local papers. Oh wait...it's not good at all.

      I have to guess that if I were to accuse another poster of criminal activity without a shred of evidence, that the post would be removed and that I would have my account temporarily banned if not deleted permanantly. I'll wonder here why the same wouldn't be done simply because the accusations are being leveled at a non-poster.
      You beat me to it!
    1. YourHouseIsMyHouse's Avatar
      YourHouseIsMyHouse -
      Because he makes nearly twice as much as any other catcher, I would at least hope that he could be #1 in production at his position. What time will they shut him down this year?
    1. DAM DC Twins Fans's Avatar
      DAM DC Twins Fans -
      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.
    1. jeffk's Avatar
      jeffk -
      If fans need to find a way to be philosophical about the money, try thinking of half his salary as back pay for all the free bonus value he provided from 2004-10.
      I think the key to winning as a small-market (or even a mid-market) team is quitting while you're ahead and getting the Yankees to pay that free bonus value.
    1. Boom Boom's Avatar
      Boom Boom -
      Fans can boo whomever they want to boo. In a year when the Twins slashed a payroll that they admitted was more than they wanted to spend, his contract is obviously hurting the team. Mauer should be held to higher standards than anyone else in that Twins dugout. In most other markets the fans wouldn't have waited so long to boo him so aggressively.
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