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Anatomy Of A Mauer Boo

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I’m not particularly fond of how Minnesota treats its sports stars. The Puckett-like love affair is rare. More often, we pick nits. Kevin Garnett doesn’t score enough, or isn’t clutch enough. Joe Mauer doesn’t hit for enough power or doesn’t show enough leadership. Fran Tarkenton can’t win the big one, Harmon Killebrew is too quiet, Rod Carew is self-absorbed … the list goes on and on.

(There are forces at work here that are slicker and far more powerful than subjective analysis. It feels like it has to do with the human need for entertainment, or drama, or our self-identity forcing us from one side to the other to find our niche. I have to believe some bright person has studied this – the ebbs and flows of fame in a celebrity culture. If anyone knows of any books on this, I’d love to hear about them.)

I’ve defended Mauer consistently throughout his career. Most recently, it was an ongoing topic on the Gleeman and the Geek podcast for most of this offseason. The last time I wrote extensively about fan reaction to Mauer was just before his breakout 2009 season, in a story titled “I Was Promised Superstar.” If you have a minute, I think it’s worth the click. It recaptures the Mauer debate four years ago, and it’s funny how it has changed and how it hasn’t.

What hasn’t changed is the “health” debate. That was a concern eight years ago, and it’s a concern now, though the early returns this year appear positive. Whatever preparation or medical treatments Mauer has undergone are paying off, but I wonder if the important change wasn’t one of philosophy. Prior to this year, there was a “Iron Horse” stubbornness about how often Mauer should play catcher, certainly fromh Mauer and possibly with the organization. Catching wears down a player. (In fact, we studied how that hurt Mauer’s performance a couple of years ago.) This year, he’s playing every day, but “resting” at first base and designated hitter. And the overall results have been good.

The other debate that might benefit from a change in philosophy is the “power” debate. It seemingly went away in 2009 when Mauer hit 28 home runs on his way to the AL MVP award. It came back in 2010 when the Twins moved to Target Field and opposite field home runs became the stuff of fairy tales. In 2009, most of Mauer’s power was opposite field home runs. He’s hit just 14 home runs since the move to Target Field, and only two within its confines. To change that trend would require pulling the ball, a change that the uber-patient Mauer seems reluctant to even attempt.

It’s also worth noting that while it’s fun to cite “Games Played” statistics and what he’s batting with runners in scoring position, the overall impact numbers like WPA show that the fans know better than stats. Mauer hasn’t had a particularly positive impact on games this year. Friday night’s game (in which he demonstrated some power with a double and triple) was what finally lifted him to an impact above “historically mediocre.”

If you’re wondering why fans have booed Mauer, that might be explanation enough. He generated enormous expectations, cashed in on those enormous expectations, and in what should be his prime years he isn’t living up to them. Add to that a reluctance to change his philosophy, whether it be pulling the ball or swinging at a first strike. Finally, he’s also the face of a franchise – another role which he signed up for and for which he is richly compensated – which appears to be exiting its golden era.

Add that up, and you get frustration, and frustration, not ignorance, is why fans boo.
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  1. Alex's Avatar
    I think its far more due to perception thanks to the way the team handled his press last year with his injuries. WPA is one single reference point and it's early in the season. There are players getting paid more and doing a lot less (Twins are playing one of those guys right now) who aren't getting the ire of their fans. It's ridiculous that he's getting this much ridicule when the Twins have to score more than four runs every night just to be in the ballgame.
  2. Teflon's Avatar
    In Sunday's game versus the Royals, in the bottom of the 2nd, Mauer uncharacteristically jumped on Bruce Chen's first pitch to him in the 2nd inning, sending a deep shot to straight-away CF that was caught at the track. In Mauer's remaining at-bats, the KC pitchers went to 2-0 counts in all three, not coming in with any first-pitch strikes. To me, it seemed similar to showing bunt to get the third baseman to play in farther. You're not going to bunt all the time, but you still show it sometimes to keep them guessing. I don't know if that was actually Joe's intent or if the first pitch from Chen was just unavoidably fat. Either way, it worked well for Joe in his subsequent at-bats. Of course on Friday, Mauer hit a double and a triple after first TAKING two strikes in each at-bat so it really didn't matter how the Royals started him off, I guess. His first pitch swinging percent this year is 10% which is higher than it's been since 2008. To put that in some context, however, Justin Morneau has sung at 33% of the first pitches he's seen over his career and was swinging at 43% this year.

    Joe has typically driven in around 18% of the batters on base when he bats. The league average is around 15%. This year Joe is driving in 20% (12 of 59) so the impression than he is leaving more men on base is false. Maybe his fails are in more dramatic situations causing the fans to perceive them more dramatically, I don't know.
  3. JB_Iowa's Avatar
    As a non-Minnesotan, I never really grasped the Joe Mauer "deification" thing. To me he was always a very talented player with great potential and accomplishments and a pretty milquetoast personality.

    From the outside looking in, it seems to me that there are a lot of factors that may figure in for those who boo Joe Mauer -- and John has mentioned many of them.

    I believe that the team's current misfortunes are the biggest factor. If the Twins were winning "forgiveness" for last season would come a lot faster.

    But when the team is as bad as this one is, people tend to lash out at the most visible factor (in some ways its payback for the way they idolized him when the team was winning). And things like his salary and his Florida residency start to nag at people and put a bullseye on his back.

    I don't think Joe Mauer will ever be the "golden boy" that he once was. I do think that he would regain a lot of his "goldeness" if the team would start winning and if he stays healthy over several seasons. Obviously he has to have some decent level of performance as a result of that health. It also wouldn't hurt if he was a little more publicly involved in charitable endeavors in Minnesota (again a case where more is expected from an "idol").

    And remember, when you are lost in the dark forest of losing, it is hard to see any shining lights.
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