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TwinsCentric: What is going on with Joe Mauer? Here's the data

Posted by: Parker Hageman Updated: May 30, 2014 - 1:31 AM
This Joe Mauer vitriol has gotten out of hand.

Fans and media members alike are taking shots at him over his lack of production at the conclusion of just the season's second month of play. Sure, his power outage, run production and shortage of key hits has been the source of much consternation -- particularly in the last stretch when the team has dropped six of their last seven games.

Did you hear that the Twin Cities will have a new Joe Mauer-themed Uber cabs running in celebration of the All Star Game? For $23 million they will take you wherever you want but they can’t drive you home. 

See? I mean, how sick is that? Even I am not immuned from the growing mob madness. 

As a statistically-based individual, I realize that the run batted in is contingent on runners being on base in front of a hitter. I also know that batting second in a lineup often means you will be in fewer situations to drive runners in (even more so when your leadoff hitter insists on hitting a bunch of solo dingers). As a scouting-based individual, I appreciate his sweet swing and timeless patience at the plate. Still, Mauer’s production with runners in scoring position this season has been completely out-of-whack by his standards -- his lowly .189 batting average with runners in scoring position pales in comparison to his .327 average in those same situations from 2009 to 2013. 

If his offensive woes were isolated to just his situational hitting, it would be easier to dismiss as a product of small sampling but other issues have been plaguing him -- like his two-strike hitting (.208 average), performance against left-handed pitching (.224) or lack of power (.352 slugging percentage) -- and have increased the concern that there are other factors at play: like lingering concussion effects, lower back pain or something else. 

The Minnesota Twins, meanwhile, think that there is something less of a physical ailment but rather the masterful placement of the opposition’s defense. 

As Twins broadcaster Dick Bremer told KFAN’s Paul Allen on Wednesday morning, the belief in the organization is that team’s have figured out a way to combat Mauer’s opposite field tendencies which is wreaking havoc on his offensive numbers. 

“I think he more than any other Twins hitter has been victimized by the shifts,” Bremer told Allen. “When we talk about the shifts in the booth, we automatically show the infield and they are doing a lot of creative things in the infield but Joe’s really been victimized by the outfield shifts. And I think what we’ve seen -- and Ron Gardenhire confirmed it the other day -- Joe is trying now, and succeeding to some degree, pulling the ball more. Because he’s hit a lot of line drives to left field and he’s probably had eight doubles taken away from him with the left fielder basically playing in the left field corner.”

Prior to Thursday’s game, Gardenhire shared his thoughts on Mauer’s struggles with the media that echoed Bremer’s take.

“He’s hitting a lot of balls hard,” the Twins manager told’s Rhett Bollinger. “The way they’re playing him and pitching him If he were in Boston, he’d be hitting .400. I mean, how many rockets he’s hit out to left field, deep. He’d be pounding that wall. But he’s not in Boston, and they’re playing him 'oppo.' He’s ripping balls that way, and you just go through it. I don’t know if you start counting all the balls that this guy hits on the button. I can promise you it’s as many as anybody in the league. He hits it on the barrel of the bat.”

Yes -- alert the media -- a higher percentage of Mauer’s power comes from drilling the ball into left field. Last year, 21 of his 35 doubles were deposited to left. This year his doubles are way down and plenty of that has to do with the outfield shift. 

Mauer’s ability to lift and/or drive the ball in the air the other way has been effectively eliminated by the opposition’s defensive schemes. It is no secret that after numerous years that the face of the Twins has a penchant for going the other way at a high percentage. From 2010 to 2013, if Mauer hit the ball in the sky, 54% of the time it was to left field. It was that direction in which he accumulated the lion’s share of his extra base hits. On the other hand, Mauer would pull the ball in the air just 13% of the time, making the right fielder’s job essentially one that fields the ground ball that slipped through the infield.

So it would stand to reason that teams who even have a basic understanding of spray charts would shade their outfielders to the left field line, having the left fielder stand on the chalk, the center field move over to a spot between the second base bag and the shortstop position, and have the right fielder camped out in the right-center gap. This would leave real estate the size of the airport unguarded on the right side -- just like the alignment the Tampa Bay Rays deployed on April 23 that the Star Tribune’s LaVelle Neal captured:

All it would take would be a little flare or doink over the first baseman’s head to net Mauer an inside-the-park home run. Of course, since 2010 Mauer has elevated just 55 pitches (7.2% of his liners/flies) that has gone into the far right quadrant of the field, meaning that land is safer than Canada.

While the Rays are some of the more forward-thinking teams when it comes to defensive positioning, other teams because to follow suit more often when facing Mauer. In addition to the shifting, teams have tailored their approach to pitching him away more frequently, almost taunting him to play right into their hands. 

What is telling is how many line drive hits this has taken away from Mauer this year. According to ESPN Stats & Info, between 2009 and 2013 Mauer had an .803 average on line drives to the outfield (.744 when going to left field). This year that rate has tumbled to .579 (.450 when going the other way). 

Visually you can see the stark difference in the outs made on his spray chart:

Notice how the outs on the left (2014) are closer to the left field line? Those hard hit balls would be difficult to catch if a left fielder was playing in a straight-up formation. 

In this last series, the Texas Rangers tried the same positioning. Rather than Yu Darvish on the mound however, the Rangers trotted former Twins pitcher Scott Baker to start. Baker’s stuff is not nearly as good as Darvish’s so when the former teammates squared off, Mauer was able to turn around an 88-mile per hour fastball on the inner-half into that right field corner where no one was home. 

That marked just the 10th hit for Mauer to right field and just the 15th ball he has hit out that direction this season. To Bremer and Gardenhire’s point that Mauer is trying to pull the ball more frequently, there has been a slight uptick in that department but nothing of huge significance. Prior to the beginning of last week’s West Coast road trip, Mauer had pulled 21.7% of the balls he put into play. Since then, he has increased that rate to 34.5%. 

The issue of pulling the ball more will not likely lead to more hits unless the opposition supplies him with pitches on the inner-half. When Mauer has pulled the ball, 78% of the time it has been on the ground dating back to 2009. In this case, opponents are peppering him with pitches down-and-away in efforts to get him to play into their outfield shift. When he has tried to pull something on the outer-half of the plate, he is almost assured a grounder to second (which, coincidently, he is 1-for-23 when pulling a ground ball this year).

So who knows where the season goes for Joe Mauer from here. He’s as mechanically smooth as they come and, if he is not hiding any cracked vertebrae or whatever, he should be healthy as an ox and able to make the necessary adjustments at the plate -- make sure to turn on pitches on the inner-half, drive the ball up-the-middle more frequently and capitalize on mistakes in general. Several week of doing that should open up left field for him again.

Stay tuned. 

(Data from ESPN Stats & Info)


New England 2/1/15 5:30 PM
Detroit 69 FINAL
Philadelphia 89
Portland 94 FINAL
Cleveland 99
Sacramento 102 FINAL
Toronto 119
Boston 98 FINAL
Minnesota 110
Dallas 94 FINAL
Houston 99
Denver 93 FINAL
New Orleans 85
Brooklyn 102 FINAL
Atlanta 113
Oklahoma City 92 FINAL
New York 100
Charlotte 86 FINAL
San Antonio 95
LA Clippers 94 FINAL
Utah 89
Washington 98 FINAL
Phoenix 106
Toronto 1 FINAL(SO)
New Jersey 2
Pittsburgh 0 FINAL
Washington 4
Chicago 3 FINAL
Los Angeles 4
Temple 86 FINAL
UCF 62
Winthrop 75 FINAL
Coastal Carolina 68
Lafayette 59 FINAL
Colgate 54
Northeastern 60 FINAL
Drexel 65
Wake Forest 76 FINAL
Florida State 82
Rhode Island 64 FINAL
Fordham 63
Delaware 82 FINAL
James Madison 88
South Carolina 58 FINAL
LSU 64
New Hampshire 63 FINAL
Maine 58
Seton Hall 80 FINAL
Marquette 70
Binghamton 68 FINAL
American Univ 54 FINAL
Navy 64
Elon 65 FINAL
UNC-Wilmington 82
Wright State 76 FINAL
Oakland 84
Minnesota 58 FINAL
Penn State 63
Duquesne 55 FINAL
Richmond 86
South Florida 52
Hartford 66 FINAL
Stony Brook 72
Albany 47 FINAL
Vermont 44
Hofstra 79 FINAL
William & Mary 100
UNC-Asheville 74 FINAL
Longwood 64
Radford 84 FINAL
Char Southern 77
Holy Cross 0 Postponed
Loyola-Maryland 0
Duke 73 FINAL
Notre Dame 77
Texas Tech 36 FINAL
Oklahoma 81
Oregon State 55 FINAL
Arizona State 73
Morehead State 82 FINAL
Austin Peay 69
Drake 69 FINAL
Bradley 57
Lehigh 62 FINAL
Bucknell 68
Rice 48 FINAL
Houston 59
Missouri State 57 FINAL
Illinois State 67
Loyola-Chicago 47 FINAL
Wichita State 58
Nebraska Omaha 64 FINAL
South Dakota St 86
Northern Iowa 59 FINAL
Southern Ill 52
Louisville 81 FINAL
Boston College 72
St Johns 74 FINAL
Creighton 77
East Carolina 58 FINAL
Memphis 70
Georgia Tech 70 FINAL
Miami-Florida 50
Miss State 73 FINAL
Ole Miss 79
Clemson 68 FINAL
NC State 57
Indiana 67 FINAL
Purdue 83
Kansas 64 FINAL
TCU 61
Oregon 56 FINAL
Arizona 90
Air Force 66 FINAL
San Jose St 52
Stanford 84 FINAL
Washington 74
Rider 56 FINAL
Siena 49
Dayton 76 FINAL
Richmond 62
Eastern Kentucky 53 FINAL
Jacksonville St 73
Saint Josephs 0 Postponed
Saint Louis 0
Binghamton 55
Akron 60 FINAL
Ohio U 72
Ball State 72 FINAL
Miami-Ohio 55
Memphis 56 FINAL
Cincinnati 44
East Carolina 32 FINAL
(2) Connecticut 87
Murray State 59 FINAL
Eastern Illinois 75
Kent State 63 FINAL
Central Michigan 65
UT Martin 64 FINAL
Tennessee St 58
Eastern Michigan 56 FINAL
Western Mich 83
Bucknell 61 FINAL
Lehigh 76
Indiana 57 FINAL
Michigan State 72
Colgate 56 FINAL
Lafayette 58
Fordham 66 FINAL
Davidson 45
Duquesne 76 FINAL
St Bonaventure 64
George Mason 66 FINAL
VA Commonwealth 70
Detroit 59 FINAL
Youngstown St 58
Army 0 Postponed
Boston U 0
Loyola-Maryland 0 Postponed
Holy Cross 0
Tulsa 74
Oklahoma St 54 FINAL
Kansas State 52
West Virginia 57 FINAL
Texas Tech 73
Denver 56 FINAL
South Dakota 82
Northwestern St 46 FINAL
Central Arkansas 63
Austin Peay 67 FINAL
SIU-Edwardsville 87
Kansas 61 FINAL
Iowa State 56
Bowling Green 50 FINAL
Northern Ill 67
Penn State 64 FINAL
Minnesota 75
San Jose St 80 FINAL
Air Force 83
Boise State 82 FINAL
Colorado State 83
Utah State 51 FINAL
Wyoming 86
San Diego State 50 FINAL
Fresno State 57
Nevada 52 FINAL
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