Joe Mauer came to the plate Wednesday in the bottom of the 10th of a tie game, with runners on first and second and nobody out. It was a tailor-made situation for a walk-off hit — something a FSN graphic showed is very rare. During Mauer’s at-bat, the stat flashed up: Mauer has just one career walk-off hit and it came more than eight years ago on July 15, 2007 against the A’s.
That wasn’t just a long time ago. It was before Mauer’s MVP season, before two of his batting titles and before two Twins AL Central-winning teams. The Twins have won 720 games that Mauer has played in his career (oddly enough, the Twins have also lost exactly 720 games in which he’s played).
So that’s 1,440 games total. But just one walk-off hit for Mauer. It was rather confounding to me and required some further thinking. Here’s what I came up with as an explanation:
*Part of it certainly has to do with Mauer’s inclination to draw walks and/or for teams to pitch around him when possible. His one walk-off hit was a notable exception, since there were runners on second and third with no outs in a tie game when he hit his walk-off single. But there was also a left-handed pitcher on the mound, with righty Michael Cuddyer up next and Justin Morneau behind him. But it stands to reason that in many cases he has been pitched around in walk-off situations. Someone like Kurt Suzuki — who had his 9th career walk-off hit earlier this season — perhaps gets more opportunities because he often bats lower in the order and is the guy you pitch around other batters to get to.
*Maybe Mauer just isn’t very “clutch”? That theory was espoused on Twitter last night (and in Minnesota living rooms for a decade). Anecdotally, it feels like it has merit. But here’s the thing: Mauer has 148 career hits in 486 career at bats (.305) in 9th or extra innings, including 60 extra base hits. Suzuki has 40 fewer hits and a much lower average in the 9th/extra innings, but he has nine times as many walk-offs. While the breakdown doesn’t tell us the exact scenario in each case, it’s still odd.
*Thinking anecdotally again, the memorable late Mauer hits that I can think of have come on the road — and, of course, a walk-off can only happen at home. Two that spring to mind immediately: a 13th-inning home run at Pittsburgh to beat the Pirates earlier this year and a two-run triple at Seattle in the 11th inning this year to beat the Mariners.
So in the end, it’s probably a combination of things: Mauer not taking advantage of some situations (as was the case Wednesday when he struck out); Mauer being selective and taking a lot of walks; Mauer getting pitched around, particularly in his prime; and just flat-out baseball weirdness and luck combining to give Mauer pretty good numbers in late-game situations and examples of clutch hits on the road but not at home. It all adds up to one career walk-off.
I welcome more theories in the comments, as usual.