• What has happened to Joe Mauer's defense?

    Concerns over Joe Mauer’s defense has grown exponentially as the number of opposing kleptomaniacs have continued to accumulate more and more bases.

    A one-time Florida State quarterback recruit, earlier in his career Mauer had thwarted over 30% of would-be base-stealers but has seen that number drop to league average as injuries and age have taken a toll on him. This year, however, that rate has dropped to a league-worst six percent – stopping just three runners with his own arm. What’s more is that the opposition’s appetite to motor on the basepaths has increased significantly too.

    Prior to yesterday afternoon’s matinee against the Mariners, Associated Press reporter Jon Krawczynski relayed on Twitter that manager Ron Gardenhire said that Mauer’s caught stealing decline had nothing to do with his arm, rather the source of his struggles had to do with his slow slidestep when positioning for a throw down to second.

    Meanwhile 1500ESPN.com’s Phil Mackey provided further details of what the manager was seeing in his All Star catcher:


    "(Mauer) is not having any arm problems at all. A lot of it's on the pitchers," manager Ron Gardenhire said. "I think mechanically... We were saying he's getting caught kind of back a little bit, rather than going and getting the ball. I think he can do that.

    The problem this late in the season is being able to get him out there, when he's playing every day, and do some (practice). It's something Steve (Liddle) is going to talk to him about, because he's kind of sitting there catching it flat-footed. ... That leads to him having to stand straight up and throw the ball, rather than driving through it."
    Reviewing the limited MLB.com archive video clips available of Mauer throwing down to second, there definitely is evidence of what Ron Gardenhire was speaking towards Mauer’s mechanics.

    The first clip is over Mauer attempting to throw out Maicer Izturis of the Angels. Liriano’s fastball is up in the zone and gives Mauer a good chance at nailing the trailing running in the double steal but the throw skips into center field when Alexi Casilla cannot handle the hop.


    The next clip is Mauer throwing out Detroit’s Brennan Boesch – one of three times he has done so in 2012. Now, Boesch is not much of a base-stealing threat so it is possible that Mauer was caught flat-footed because of that but, just like in the clip above, Mauer is on his heels and stands straight up then pivots his feet.


    Now compare Mauer’s current form against a couple of examples from his past. This first clip is from 2010 in which Mauer nails the Royals’ Chris Getz in his attempted thievery. Note how he starts to slide his backside out before receiving the pitch, getting his body into the throwing position.


    Similarly, in this 2008 matchup between the Twins and Padres, Mauer nabs Jody Gerut at second and slides his backfoot/backside into a position while receiving the ball rather than waiting on the ball to come to him before getting into the throwing position.


    Essentially, Mauer’s footwork is costing him valuable nanoseconds and, quite likely, some mustard on his throws down to two as well. And opposing teams and their stopwatches and scouts are clearly picking up on this – which is why they are averaging nearly a stolen base attempt in each of his games behind the plate. That is a huge increase from his younger days.

    With no clear-cut explanation for why he has been tardy with his footwork, it is hard to determine how this affects this Twins. Obviously, the injury to his knee -- which may have played a role in a slow start at the plate this season -- may still be lingering. In that case, it could be a financial disaster for the Twins who are paying him to be an elite up-the-middle defender in addition to his offensive contributions. Then again, it could simply be the rust of having not played catcher as regularly. Either way, as Gardenhire said, it will be almost impossible to get this repaired in-season.
    This article was originally published in blog: What has happened to Joe Mauer's defense? started by Parker Hageman
    Comments 44 Comments
    1. Ultima Ratio's Avatar
      Ultima Ratio -
      Ah, but will he earn another gold glove regardless?
    1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
      Shane Wahl -
      Great analysis, Parker. That is something that can be worked on (and clearly should have already been addressed if the coaching staff and manager were competent).

      The above is harsh, but I have to wonder if the Twins even have this simple video analysis available to them.
    1. COtwin's Avatar
      COtwin -
      Great work Parker. I love analysis like this. A couple questions. Is the data that shows Mauer's decline pitcher irrelevant. It seems like compared to Mauer's prime we have had a lot of guys throwing in high 80s low 90s. As opposed to low to mid 90. Santana, Baker, Garza, etc. That seems like it would play a roll. Also it looks like several of our pitchers are slow to very slow to home. Thoughts?
    1. Brock Beauchamp's Avatar
      Brock Beauchamp -
      Quote Originally Posted by COtwin View Post
      Great work Parker. I love analysis like this. A couple questions. Is the data that shows Mauer's decline pitcher irrelevant. It seems like compared to Mauer's prime we have had a lot of guys throwing in high 80s low 90s. As opposed to low to mid 90. Santana, Baker, Garza, etc. That seems like it would play a roll. Also it looks like several of our pitchers are slow to very slow to home. Thoughts?
      I think it has something to do with it. Last season, Pavano put the hurt on catchers because his delivery is so slow. Liriano was the only guy who threw hard on the 2012 squad and his out pitch was a slider. Butera also caught him most of the time (and even Sweet Drew's SB/CS ratio is down this season).

      But looking at those clips, it's not hard to see Mauer throwing flat-footed. It's probably a combination of things. Slow deliveries, slow pitches, bad pitch control (Deduno), and bad throwing form from Mauer.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      Can't figure out why he overthru the other Monday. That was so uncharacteristic Mauer. Part of it ahs to be lack of consistent playing time behind the plate. The other, working with nearly a dozen different starters who, on the whole, are pitching from behind and not setting the pace of a game.
    1. JB_Iowa's Avatar
      JB_Iowa -
      The pitching has to be a factor -- Mackey also gave numbers showing that Butera's caught stealing rate was down (about 25% if I remember right) as is Doumits (about 10% I think). But neither of those approach Mauer's astronomical decline.

      I'm sure there are things he can work on. I'm also sure that in a losing season he probably doesn't want to overwork his knees. But I also have to think that his knees/legs are simply never going to be the same.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      Over at baseball reference they show Mauer (63) at 49/6, Doumit (48) at 23/6 and Butera (33) at 18/6 for (games played) attempts/caught. The team as a whole has thrown out 17% of base stealers.

      Starters are: Blackburn 5/1, Deduno 5/1, DeVries 2/1, Diamond 13/3, Duensing 4/1, Hendriks 5/2, Liriano 13/2, Marquis 2/1, Pavano 7/1, Walters 4/0, Swarzak 0/1.

      Relievers have been awful: Burnett 7/0, Burton 5/0, Capps 3/0, Fein 2/0, Gray 5/1, Maloney 2/0, Manship 1/0, Perdumo 1/0, Perkins 2/2, Robertson 2/1.
    1. wavedog's Avatar
      wavedog -
      Rosterman, thanks for providing the stats on Doumit and Butera. That appears to indicate Mauer is our worst catcher and throwing out runners and the oppostion has picked up on this as there are more attempts against him if you normalize for the number of games caught. Someone can weigh in on if this is a large enough sample of data to make that assumption. Next we can look at catcher ERA's to see if there is a marked difference in calling games.
    1. Parker Hageman's Avatar
      Parker Hageman -
      Rosterman, what those numbers from B-R.com are missing is that those all runners caught stealing INCLUDING pick offs (those are marked in the catchers numbers too). If you dig a bit further, you will find that Mauer actually only "caught" 3 of those runners himself, Doumit caught 5 of 6 and Butera caught 4 of 6.

      http://www.baseball-reference.com/le...fielding.shtml
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      Mauer pitchers have a 5.21 ERA, Butera 3.61 and Doumit 4.92
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      I'm unsure the wording of those extra three...an assist with the pitcher...were those pitch-outs? Noticed that Mauer is the only catcher with a bonafide pick-off of a runner on base.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      Baseball is a game of inches. Stolen bases are razor thin from many different factors and they all add up.

      The Runner's Jump... The Runner's speed... The Attention paid to the runner by the pitcher. The Quickness of the delivery to the plate. The Catcher's Footwork and the Catcher's accuracy. The SS or 2B catch and tag.

      I look at the footwork shown in the video example's and you do see a slight delay in Joe's movement from crouch to throwing position.

      The Footwork is consistent and correct. It's a slower start and it could be the body that causes the slow start but I contend it's probably the mind.

      Complacency is the #1 enemy of the ball player. Pitch after Pitch... Inning after Inning... Game After Game... Year after Year. It's a slow game... Mental focus comes and goes.

      If the case... It's disapointing that it happens at the catcher position. Of all positions... The Catcher and Pitcher are the most involved and should be easily more engaged.

      I wish I could have seen his release point on example #1.

      From the defensive side... If you want to catch a thief... It's starts with the pitcher perfecting his pickup move to hold runners close... make them second guess... and a quick delivery to the plate once committed. The outcome of the majority of stolen bases are decided right there. It's a game of inches and each inch matters.

      Tack on a slow reacting catcher and you got a problem. The runners are getting faster... It's a game of inches. It makes baseball beautiful.
    1. Rosterman's Avatar
      Rosterman -
      And sometimes you just want the pitcher to quit throwing over and let the guy steal if he wants...getting the batter out is more important. Yes, you like to keep a "possible" double-play in order. But, how many of those 90 stolen bases resulted in a run scored is the next question in play.
    1. StormJH1's Avatar
      StormJH1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by Rosterman View Post
      And sometimes you just want the pitcher to quit throwing over and let the guy steal if he wants...getting the batter out is more important. Yes, you like to keep a "possible" double-play in order. But, how many of those 90 stolen bases resulted in a run scored is the next question in play.
      First, let's get something clear about stolen bases - they're overrated. The primary commodity in offensive baseball is the out. You get 3 of them per inning and just like it makes little sense to bunt early in a game and trade one of those three outs out to advance a single runner one base, it's usually not a good idea to send a risk a 25 to 40% chance of being thrown out in exchange for one out. So while it's easy to beat up on Mauer, let's keep in mind that as bad as the numbers are, we're still only talking about a handful of additional runners that he should have thrown out over the course of a season.

      That being said, I haven't really thought of Mauer as a "good" defensive catcher since at least mid-2010. There were times from 2006 to 2010 I felt he was an above average catcher. I think what's particularly alarming for a guy like Mauer, however, is that you look at 6'5" guy who is GIANT for a catcher, and you assume that his problems would be with blocking balls, moving around, etc. You wouldn't expect a former HS quarterback of that size to have trouble throwing out runners, but it's clear that he does.

      And when you factor in the part time playing time, and recognize that it's September and Mauer's defense has resulted in only THREE caught runners all year, I think we can put to bed the argument that Mauer's offense has "added value" because of his defense.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by Rosterman View Post
      And sometimes you just want the pitcher to quit throwing over and let the guy steal if he wants...getting the batter out is more important. Yes, you like to keep a "possible" double-play in order. But, how many of those 90 stolen bases resulted in a run scored is the next question in play.
      Considering the lack of strikeout ability from the staff, more probably scored than we'd like to know.

      That was great analysis, clearly he is not moving to get into position to make a throw before he recieves the pitch like he did in the past. As someone mentioned above, this should be easily fixable and I don't know why it hasn't been taken care of by now.
    1. stringer bell's Avatar
      stringer bell -
      I haven't noticed anything major with Mauer's throwing, but I have seen more throws that don't have a lot of zip on them. As was pointed out above, stolen bases are a proposition with small margins all around. The Twins, as a staff, aren't very good at either checking baserunners or getting the ball to the plate quickly, so most of the blame needs to fall there.
    1. Riverbrian's Avatar
      Riverbrian -
      Quote Originally Posted by StormJH1 View Post
      Quote Originally Posted by Rosterman View Post
      And sometimes you just want the pitcher to quit throwing over and let the guy steal if he wants...getting the batter out is more important. Yes, you like to keep a "possible" double-play in order. But, how many of those 90 stolen bases resulted in a run scored is the next question in play.
      First, let's get something clear about stolen bases - they're overrated. The primary commodity in offensive baseball is the out. You get 3 of them per inning and just like it makes little sense to bunt early in a game and trade one of those three outs out to advance a single runner one base, it's usually not a good idea to send a risk a 25 to 40% chance of being thrown out in exchange for one out. So while it's easy to beat up on Mauer, let's keep in mind that as bad as the numbers are, we're still only talking about a handful of additional runners that he should have thrown out over the course of a season.

      That being said, I haven't really thought of Mauer as a "good" defensive catcher since at least mid-2010. There were times from 2006 to 2010 I felt he was an above average catcher. I think what's particularly alarming for a guy like Mauer, however, is that you look at 6'5" guy who is GIANT for a catcher, and you assume that his problems would be with blocking balls, moving around, etc. You wouldn't expect a former HS quarterback of that size to have trouble throwing out runners, but it's clear that he does.

      And when you factor in the part time playing time, and recognize that it's September and Mauer's defense has resulted in only THREE caught runners all year, I think we can put to bed the argument that Mauer's offense has "added value" because of his defense.
      That's why they have stopwatches... No one wants to give up that out. They go when the stopwatch says go. All teams are a running on the same people. Guys Like Ben Revere can beat the stop watch... Everyone else waits for the stopwatch light to turn green.

      From a defense side of things.... The Pitcher and Catcher have to beat the stopwatch. If you do that... Very few will go.

      Make no mistake... High stolen bases is on the defense.

      A more telling stat is not the percentage of throw outs... It would be the amount of attempts.
    1. powrwrap's Avatar
      powrwrap -
      I really want to comment on this because I love analysis like this, but really, the relevant thing here is how long does it take from the time the ball is in Joe's mitt to the time he throws the ball. The footwork analysis is interesting but ultimately what matters is how long the exchange takes.

      You have the video. If you have a video editing program it would be an easy matter to get the elapsed times from catch to release point. Can you post those elapsed times? If you don't have one, MS Moviemaker is a free download.
    1. powrwrap's Avatar
      powrwrap -
      Quote Originally Posted by Rosterman View Post
      First, let's get something clear about stolen bases - they're overrated. The primary commodity in offensive baseball is the out. You get 3 of them per inning and just like it makes little sense to bunt early in a game and trade one of those three outs out to advance a single runner one base, it's usually not a good idea to send a risk a 25 to 40% chance of being thrown out in exchange for one out. So while it's easy to beat up on Mauer, let's keep in mind that as bad as the numbers are, we're still only talking about a handful of additional runners that he should have thrown out over the course of a season.
      Spoken like a true stat-head. Each situation is different. Each player has different skill sets. In most circumstances, unless you have a big lead, if you've got a guy that is a great base stealer it would be stupid not to have them attempt to steal.
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      What exactly is a "true stat-head?" Or should it simply be construed as a form of insult?
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