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jwestbrock

Comparing Mauer's '12 and '13 and career numbers

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Mauer hitting his 8th home run tonight got me thinking about how this year stacks up against last season and his career. I thought about doing further back, but since '11 was messed up due to the injuries, '10 is starting to get a little far back for my liking for comparative purposes, and '09 is a fluke, I settled on this year, last year and compared them to his career numbers.

So I'm going to start off with the more traditional stats. (Note: stats are from Fangraphs unless otherwise noted, career averages for counting stats (HR, RBI, 2B) will be pre-'13, and these may not be 100% accurate as I am writing this during the game so the numbers are fluid)

Games AVG OBP SLG HR 2B RBI
2012 147 .319 .416 .446 10 31 85
2013 67 (pace:153) .331 .412 .506 8 (pace:18) 23 (pace:53) 25 (pace:57)
Career 1065 (118) .323 .405 .469 102 (10.4) 270 (27.4) 612 (65.2)

Batting average and On-base percentage are right around, albiet a little above, his career marks. Now compared to last year, his average is up 13 points, but OBP is down three, so on the surface it looks like he's getting a few more hits, but losing a few walks. Mauer is one 2-3 home run week from being on pace to double his home run total from last year and his career mark. He's on pace for his second highest home run total of his career and his highest doubles output of his career as well. Since he's on pace to crush both his 2012 and career home run and double totals, it only follows his slugging should be up significantly, as it is.

Despite the increase in slugging, Mauer is on pace to have his second lowest RBI total in a season where he played at least 100 games. Since he has hit in the 2 spot most of the year, everyone should have expected his RBI total to be low, due to a lack of opportunities. This in reinforced by the fact he is on pace to have his third lowest number of batters on base when he is batting. He has only 54 plate appearances with runners in scoring position in which he is hitting .286/.444/.333, so in the small sample size, he is hitting below his career marks with RISP of .340/.460/.492. Because of this we can expect some regression to aid his RBI total through the end of the year.

For much of his career, fans have pleaded for Joe Mauer to "swing for the fences" or "take a chance" more, and the expectation was that he would have to sacrifice some average and OBP to do that, but much like in 2009, he is slugging better this year without the sacrifice, so how is he doing it??

BB% K% BABIP LD% GB% FB%
2012 14.0% 13.7% .364 25.0% 52.6% 22.4%
2013 12.1% 19.0% .399 28.1% 45.7% 26.2%
Career 12.2% 11.0% .346 23.4% 50.1% 26.4%

Mauer has two numbers that really stand out when you look at that table. K% and BABIP are both way up from last year and career, so both should be expected to regress in the coming months, which both have this month. In the month of June his K% is 11.3% and his BABIP is .345 compared to the month of May where he was sitting at 25.6% and .507(!!!!).

(Think about that for a moment, in the month of May, Joe Mauer struck out in a quarter of his at bats, but half of the time, when he did put the ball in play, he got a hit. While obviously unsustainable, that is incredible! You've got to love baseball!)

We may assume that since the K% is regressing that maybe he is turning back into old Joe Mauer, but in the month of May, Mauer hit 3 HR, and 12 doubles in 26 games. In the month of June, he has hit 3 HR and 6 doubles in 18 games. Basically his K% has regressed, but his power numbers have failed to, so that seems to imply that the "taking a big cut" or "swinging for the fences" strategy that would lead to an increase in power and strikeouts at the expense of his batting average is not something that is necessarily required in Joe Mauer. He is capable of hitting for a high average while still hitting for power without striking out a ton.

To me the big key for Mauer sustaining this power, is the line drive percentage (LD%). For his career, Joe Mauer has been a ground ball hitter, but this year he has turned some of those ground balls into line drives without altering his flyball percentage in any meaningful way. Since, his LD% has jumped up a bit from both 2012 and his career, the natural assumption is to argue small sample size, but Fangraphs has discovered that line drive percentage stabilizes after 150 PA, so we seem to have reached the point where we can start thinking he is making an adjustment that is allowing him to square up the ball better. That's not to say he won't regress, he probably will, but we are at the point where it is much less fluky.

So far, we can see that #7 is hitting for more power and the cause of it seems to be a jump in LD%, meaning he is squaring up the ball better than he has in the past. Now his home run per fly ball rate (12.7%) is the third highest of his career behind 2009 (20.4%) and his rookie year (17.1%). In May and June that rate has been around 15%, so are we seeing him get lucky, or are we seeing Joe Mauer just hit the ball harder than generally has? The LD% would seem to support the idea that he is hitting the ball harder.

The question that remains is if this is a product of a change in approach or simply randomness in a 300 plate appearance sample.

O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
2012 22.2% 48.8% 35.2% 79.7% 91.9% 87.9% 48.8%
2013 26.5% 52.4% 39.0% 72.8% 87.5% 82.4% 48.4%
Career 23.6% 50.6% 36.8% 79.9% 92.4% 88.3% 49.1%

(If anybody isn't sure what is going on in the chart above O-Swing% and O-Contact% are out of zone swing and contact percentages, how often he swings and makes contact with pitches out the zone. Z-Swing% and Z-Contact% are in zone swing and contact percentages, how often he swings and makes contact with pitches in the zone. Swing% and Contact% are the total percentage of pitches Mauer has swung and made contact, respectively. Finally, Zone% is the number of pitches that Mauer has seen that have been in the Zone. All of this is based off of Pitchf/x data.)

Now is where we are seeing that there may be a change in approach, he is swinging at the highest percentage of pitches in his career, outside of 2010. Now that would seem to say, maybe he's seeing more pitches in the zone and take a cut more often, but that is not the case based on his Zone%. He is swinging at more pitches out of the zone than ever before, which seems to give credence to the idea that he is taking some more chances (or getting fooled). To me, the piece that demonstrates more of a change in approach is the contact numbers. He is making the least contact of his career by 4 percentage points. That seems to demonstrate that he is taking some more chances, swinging a little harder, and in doing so making more solid contact, though at the expense of making some contact. This would explain the increase in strikeouts, though I cannot find monthly splits to see if it has regressed with the strikeouts.

To me this strategy of sacrificing some contact to square the ball up a little better, which will allow for a few more hits to fall due to how much higher the BABIP is for line drives than groundballs, but will also result in a few more extra base hit. Now is it all sustainable or is it simply a blip, who knows, that is why we watch!
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Comments

  1. AM.'s Avatar
    Great piece. The data you have presented, while barely over the threshold of small sample size, show two things:
    1)Mauer is swinging at more pitches, and
    2)Mauer has shifted where he hits the ball up in the spectrum; more fly balls/line-drives at the expense of ground balls.

    The question is whether he is changing his swing path to more of an uppercut, or swinging at more higher pitches? (Or another explanation?)

    One note...this is the first year he would have had the opportunity to work with Brunansky....maybe he's changed his approach slightly due to that?
  2. JB_Iowa's Avatar
    Thanks for the analysis.

    I hope others will continue to build on this in explaining the change in Mauer's numbers.

    And I'm glad to read that his K rate has normalized in June.

    I suspect that being healthy may play somewhat into his numbers this year but while that may play into his power boost, it doesn't explain the changes in his swing and contact rates.
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