Using a round bat to hit a round ball is one of the hardest skills in professional sports. It takes the right combination of hand-eye coordination to be considered one of the best hitters in the game. Joe Mauer had been one of those hitters.
Mauer's on-field performance has been on the decline since a concussion in 2013 and the resulting symptoms related to that brain injury. There may finally be some clarity to the situation as Mauer admitted to the Pioneer Press that symptoms from 2013 continued to plague him even last season.
In the story, Mauer describes that he suffered from blurred vision that he believes was triggered by bright light. Mauer said the vision issues only happened occasionally and later in the article he implies that he didn't let the coaches or front office know about his vision concerns.
Mauer feels like he is starting to get a handle on things as he has been symptom free for three months. He is still going to try and play with sunglasses during spring training to see if he can do a better job at picking up the ball and solve some of his vision issues.
Last season in day games, he hit .248/.316/.354 with 44 strikeouts in 226 plate appearances. His numbers in night games were better even if they weren't at the level of a pre-concussion Mauer. Over 366 night time at-bats, he hit .276/.352/.396 with 68 strikeouts. This meant he was striking out in 19.5% of his day game at-bats and 18.6% of his night game at-bats.
During the 2013 campaign (the season of his concussion), Mauer had a higher OBP and SLG during day games. Over 173 at-bats that season, he hit .318/.411/.480 with 40 strikeouts. At night his batting average was nine points higher but his OPS was 18 points lower. His concussion would cause him to miss the seasons last six weeks but he was still awarded the Silver Slugger as the best hitting catcher in the American League.
There are plenty of fans that have been tough on Mauer as he transitioned to first base and tried to overcome his concussion issues. That same group would probably wonder why Mauer didn't let the coaches or front office know about his symptoms. However, he likely wasn't hurting the team by playing. He had the second highest OBP on the team behind Miguel Sano who only played in half the team's games.
So what's next?
Mauer is entering his age-33 season and most players see some decline as they start to creep further into their 30s. Mauer did set career highs in games played (158) and at-bats (666) so he was playing through the symptoms even though his performance was suffering.
The sunglasses might be a solution to help with pitch tracking. It's also easy to envision a scenario where Mauer will feel like they are messing with his routine at the plate. In the article, he even refers to his batting box routine as "weird."
It doesn't seem like a batting champion version of Mauer will rise from the ashes this season but with some new exercises and a pair of sunglasses, there's hope for Mauer to cut back on some strikeouts and hit closer to his career average of .313.
Spring training is all about hope and there seems to be more hope now that Mauer will be more successful at using a round bat to hit a round ball.