One of the most amusing parts of the start of every sports season is hearing how this athlete or that athlete is in “the best shape of his/her life” or some variation on the theme. It very well may be true, but it also gets kind of ridiculous year after year.
Twins first baseman Joe Mauer is a local athlete whose health is CONSTANTLY being monitored. I’m not here to pick on Mauer because health is an important thing and in many cases he’s probably just responding to questions about it, nor am I poking fun at writers who are pursuing relevant stories.
Jan. 23, 2016: After spending the offseason working regularly with St. Paul strength-flexibility guru Roger Erickson, Mauer is much stronger than in past seasons.
That’s all well and good, but there was this published in the Star Tribune a year ago in a story by La Velle E. Neal III:
Feb. 28, 2015: “It’s kind of like, ‘Slow down, take it easy, and just ease into it,’” Mauer said. “But I am excited. I feel really good, and I’m trying to slow myself down and not try to do everything right away.” Hold the presses. Mauer is excited. It’s a result largely of the offseason work Mauer put in with St. Paul stretching guru Roger Erickson.
Mauer responded in 2015 with a healthy season but one in which he posted the lowest OPS of his career (.718). But how did he feel before the 2014 season? Here’s from the end of spring training that year, again from our guy La Velle.
March 30, 2014: Mauer spent spring training enjoying life as a first baseman. He usually reports to camp weighing around 235 pounds, then loses 7 to 8 pounds before Opening Day. He has fought through the years to keep his playing weight around 227. He reported this year at 228, no longer needing to build up a base weight that’s usually knocked down by catching in camp.
Mauer in 2014 also had a subpar year by his standards and played in just 120 games. Maybe, though, expectations were too high? After all, he was feeling pretty good coming into 2013 as well — per a story from La Velle that year quoting Mauer heading into camp.
Feb. 19, 2013: “This is the best I’ve felt in a couple years coming into camp. I’m trying to get my legs underneath me and get ready to catch” Mauer said.
Mauer only played in 113 games in 2013, but he was quite productive — posting an .880 OPS, the third-best mark in a 100-plus game season for his career (lower only than his MVP season of 2009 and his first batting title season of 2006). The spring before? This from La Velle again:
Feb. 24, 2012: (Mauer) dedicated himself in the weight room during the offseason and appears to be in terrific shape.
This was coming off the brutal 2011 season in which Mauer appeared in just 82 games and dealt with all sorts of leg problems. And lest you forget: Mauer in 2012 was awesome: 10 homers, 85 RBI, a .319 batting average and a league-leading .416 on-base percentage. People complained about his lack of power even then, but that was a very good season. The last time he didn’t really feel good in the spring was 2011, of course, which is as far back as we’ll go in this exercise. Per La Velle:
March 17, 2011: Mauer said he might be in late February shape and still building leg strength, while most of his teammates have made steady progress toward being full-throttle by Opening Day.
That turned out to be pretty spot-on, signaling a deviation. Between 2006 and 2013, Mauer had a batting average over .319 and an on-base percentage above .400 in six of eight seasons. For a while, 2011 was the outlier. But those numbers dropped off considerably in 2014 and 2015 in spite of reports that Mauer came into camp looking good. Will another year working with a strength/stretching guru be the thing that gets him out of his 2014-15 slump?
We’ll have to wait to see what 2016 brings.