As a young boy, I used to spend hours dividing my baseball cards into team sets, then adding up the combined statistics of each player to create winners and losers.
That’s a short introductory way to say I’ve always been fascinated by statistics — particularly sports, especially baseball. Even when I don’t go looking for them, as I used to with those cards, they tend to find me.
As such, they turned up in multiples Monday. A simple baseball-reference.com search of Joe Mauer for something entirely unrelated led me to examine his 2014-season-to-date in comparison to other years. Mauer has had two decent-to-good seasons (2005 and 2007). He’s had five other years that ranged from pretty good to fantastic (2006, 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013). And he has had one season that qualifies as otherworldly (2009, his MVP year).
The outlier, so far, is 2011 — the year we all learned about “bilateral leg weakness,” such as it was. What drew me in is this: One-quarter of the way through 2014, Mauer’s batting average (.283), slugging percentage (.352) and OPS (.725) are lower than they were in 2011.
Those numbers, of course, are not the end of the story. It’s still small sample size, one hurt by a cold stretch since Mauer returned from his back injury. My love of stats sometimes takes me to fangraphs.com, where we ditch the world of batting average for newer, advanced metrics.
Long-embraced stats “breed false narratives,” Dave Cameron wrote in a well-reasoned post on the site Monday. “This isn’t about replacing old numbers with new numbers, or attempting to dissuade anyone from enjoying the aesthetics of the game. It is simply about telling the average fan about the reality of what actually happened on the field.”
Here we find some hope for Mauer. His line drive rate is 25.4 percent — the second-highest mark of his career — suggesting he’s been a bit unlucky so far this season. He is also seeing fewer fastballs than at any point in his career, suggesting perhaps that pitchers will take their chances with other Twins hitters.
Is this 2011 all over again? It’s too early to say, but Mauer has 5,229 career plate appearances. Fewer than 10 percent came in 2011 and this year combined. That’s a small sample size.
One fact not in dispute, gleaned from yet more stats that arrived Monday from a besttickets.com MLB census: At his listed height and weight of 6-5, 230 pounds, Mauer is about three inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than the average Twins player.