Previewing Your 2010 Minnesota Twins: Joe Mauer

For a further explanation of that pretty graphic, I suggest you read this.  (Feel free to check out the new DiamondView for pitchers as well.)  Thanks, as always, to Justin Bopp for putting this together.

Batter-diamondview-c-mauer_medium_medium  

Clearly, CHONE excpents Joe Mauer to get on base more often than any other catcher in baseball.  CHONE also expects Joe to be pretty close to the best defensive catcher in baseball, closely trailing Gerald Laird (and Kenji Johjima, although he's now in Japan).  And of course, even if Joe's power drops off from last season, he's still likely to be one of the biggest sluggers from his position.

Questions about guys like Mauer are different than the questions for 99% of ballplayers.  It's:  "How good will Joe Mauer be this season?" instead of "Will Joe Mauer be good this season?"  Still, after the jump we'll look at his strengths, weaknesses (are there any?), expectations and his role on the 2010 club.

Strengths

We all know that Mauer is one of the most complete hitters in the game today.  One of the biggest reasons for this:  he destroys fastballs.  Not even in the sense that "Oh, yeah, he's good", because that doesn't quite cover it.  Joe was 42.2 runs above average against fastballs in 2010.  That's monstrous.  That's I'd-better-just-make-up-another-pitch-because-there's-a-better-chance-he-doesn't-murder-it good.

What makes this such an advantage for Joe?  Why do pitchers even consider throwing him fastballs at all, much less 63% of the time?

  1. Joe has an amazing eye, works the count and is pretty good at not swinging when the ball isn't over the plate.
  2. Pitchers don't really want to put another runner on base for Justin Morneau, so late in counts they choose to "challege" Mauer with a pitch they feel they can control.
  3. Joe's also pretty good against crappy breaking balls and mediocre offspeed pitches.

That's just off the top of my head.

Mauer's reflexes and natural skill show in how he hits the ball.  He's averaged a 22% line drive rate throughout his career, and in fact only 27.5% of his balls in play have been flies.  When you combine a lack of fly balls (fewer easy outs), barely any pop-ups (just 2.4% in his career) and a low strikeout rate (11.5% career), the man doesn't give you an easy out.  He's always hitting the ball hard.

Of course, hitting the ball hard didn't always translate into power.  At least, not until 2009.  Less than three of every ten balls that Mauer hit last season were in the air, but of those three, one of every five left the park.  Mauer's HR/FB ratio was a ridiculous 20.4% in 2009, thanks in no small part to all of the opposite field home runs.  Now, those opposite field bombs are likely an aberration, but this much is true:  Joe's picked up some power.  One out of every three fly balls he pulled left the park.

Just like Hudson, Mauer's a guy who can handle any situation.  In fact, he's better in medium-leverage situations (.420 OBP, .492 SLG, career) than in low-leverage ones (.394/.488), although again it's differentiating between great and stellar.  In high-leverage situations Mauer loses some power (slugging just .415, although it's been much higher the last two seasons) but he makes up for it by prolonging the game: his OBP is a situational-best .429.

Defensively it's always tough to quantify a catcher.  There are a number of metrics in use, and the one Justin has chosen for DiamondView is CHONE's DEF, which pretty accurately places Mauer in the upper echelon of defensively-apt receivers.  He cleary understands these pitchers and has worked with most of them for years, which is always a bonus.  He's got a strong and accurate arm, and he's quick with his release--not always nailing the highest percentage of would-be base stealers, but it's hard to pin that all on him.

Weaknesses

When talking about Mauer, it's more about areas where he's not as strong as compared to weak, but we'll give it a try.

More than 75% of Mauer's balls-in-play that are pulled end up being ground balls, and only about 7% are fly balls.  This means that, in spite of the fact that one in three fly balls to right field end up over the fence, not many fly balls are really hit to right field.  It's really a precipitous dropoff in slugging on balls in play as you move from left field (.693 SLG, career) to center (.532) to right (.398).  Sure, he pulled five home runs last season (when he'd never pulled more than three in a season), but that's still only five of 28.  Mauer hit 16 homers to left field in 2009, and that doesn't strike me as a repeatable skill.

What else...what else...um...Joe sometimes has trouble with sinkers?  As in, he's basically league average?

Expectations

Oracle

AB

Hits

2B

3B

HR

R

RBI

BB

SO

SB

CS

AVG

OBP

SLG

Bill James

542

181

35

3

22

104

100

81

61

4

2

.334

.422

.531

CHONE

527

175

34

3

18

88

91

66

61

3

2

.332

.408

.510

Marcel

486

160

28

3

16

83

79

71

61

5

1

.329

.412

.498

ZiPS

497

167

31

3

19

84

84

73

55

4

1

.336

.418

.525

As expected, everyone predicts Joe to just be Joe.  The power slips a little bit, but everybody pretty much thinks Mauer will continue to be one of the unstoppable forces in the game this season and to be worth about 7 wins above replacement.

What's His Role?

To be a leader.  To be an offensive catalyst.  To continue to be the center of not just the Minnesota Twins, but of the state itself and of the fanbase.  It's a tough role to play.  But if anyone can be all those things, Joe (he of the calmest of calm demeanors and he of the do-I-have-a-heartbeat-ilk) can be.

Our only job is to appreciate just how great he is, and how lucky we are to have a guy like this on our team.  He's the epitome of Minnesota.

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