I hesitated to write this post because 1) it feels a little bit like piling on when the Twins, at 10-29, need no further reminders of how things bad are going and 2) any post about Joe Mauer turns my Twitter mentions into a mess faster than Marco Rubio’s @ messages went that route after he suggested Tim Tebow be given a statue in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. (This really happened).
But here we are anyway because the truth cannot be ignored, nor can it be controversial. It’s a fact: after a strong start that had the Twins organization and fans encouraged that Mauer might be rounding back into pre-2014 (and pre-concussion) form thanks to improved vision and the chance to work harder in the offseason, he’s been stuck in a slump lately that has plunged his numbers basically right back into the same mediocre territory they were in for the 2014 and 2015 season.
That’s not to say Mauer won’t rebound — it’s dangerous to write things when a player is at the bottom of a slump or the peak of a hot streak, as things have a way of evening themselves out — but it’s at least troubling in the short-term and has contributed to the Twins’ recent woes.
Through 25 games, Mauer was hitting .337 with an absurd .459 on-base percentage as of May 1, the key factors in a robust .920 OPS at the time. He had also struck out just nine times in those 25 games, which is vintage Mauer (as opposed to the version that racked up 208 Ks over the past two seasons). The Twins were just 7-18 in those games, but it was hardly Mauer’s fault. He was a bright spot in an awful April, and a lot of people — maybe wanting to believe, maybe giving a player with a track record the benefit of the doubt — were close to ready (if not ready) to declare that the old Mauer was back.
Since then, however, Mauer has gone just 7 for 50 in his last 14 games. Beyond that dismal .140 average, his strikeouts are also way up — 16 in the last 14 games.
2014: .277 BA, .361 OBP, .371 slugging, .732 OPS
2015: .265 BA, .338 OBP, .380 slugging, .718 OPS
2016: .266 BA, .383 OBP, .367 slugging, .750 OPS
With 25 total strikeouts through less than one-quarter of the season, Mauer is on pace to again top 100 Ks. He does have 26 walks, helping to support a still-healthy OBP that stands out as the only real positive difference between the seasons.
On the downside, in spite of being on base so much, Mauer has scored just 11 runs — not really his fault if other players aren’t driving him in. And although runs batted in also tend to be circumstantial, Mauer has just 10 of them all year after knocking in 66 a year ago. He’s had 41 plate appearances this season with runners in scoring position and has a .488 OBP in those spots thanks to 14 walks and 7 hits in 27 official at-bats. Last year he hit .352 with RISP.
Teams have also pitched around him quite a bit — Mauer is tied for the AL lead with five intentional walks, in part because of his hot start, in part because of his reputation and in part because of struggles from the rest of the lineup, I would imagine.
That hot start, though, is a weeks-ago memory. After being encouraged by the Mauer of old, the first quarter of the season, on balance, has been the Mauer of late.