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The (Partial) Return of Joe Mauer

I'll still take Mauer over any catcher in baseball.
I'll still take Mauer over any catcher in baseball.

When Joe Mauer stepped into the batter's box the first time after his months on the disabled list, he was hitting an abysmal .235 with an equally disappointing .556 OPS. He singled in his first at-bat, which was exciting to see. But he then went 2-for-24, and that average dropped to .186 with a jaw-dropping .454 OPS.

Mauer would finish the month of June by collecting a hit in each of the last five games, but his overall line was still significantly worse than it was when he hit the DL.

Since then it's fair to say something has changed. Most likely Joe is feeling a bit more like Joe. Maybe a little more of that strength is coming back and he's feeling better in himself, but timing Major League stuff takes a little while. In Joe's case, it took those first 25 at-bats over seven games. Hell, maybe it took him all 12 games he played in June and all 41 at-bats.

Once the calendar turned to July, however, there's been no doubt that Mauer has started to find his stride. His triple slash for the month is .380/.463/.408, including a .457 average over his last ten games (yes, that includes his 0-for-4 last night).

Timing, and a matter of at least some strength, are certainly part of the issue. Breaking down his balls in play by month it's easy to tell that, at some point along the line, those hits were going to start falling. When it rains, it pours.

March & April 6.9 72.4 20.7 .276
June 29.7 54.1 16.2 .216
July 30.5 57.6 11.9 .468

League average for line drive rates in Major League Baseball is generally between 18 and 20 percent. Ideally, you'd love a team full of hitters who hit line drives on 100% of their balls in play because they fall for hits orders of madnitude more often (Mauer has a .667 average on liners and a 1.452 OPS) than grounders (.227; .453) or fly balls (.263; .708).

In his stint with the Twins prior to the disabled list, and even just after his return, Mauer was hitting ground balls at an historic rate. But with a little bit of playing time and a pair of improving legs he's caught fire, and I feel safe in saying it's only a matter of time until we start seeing the doubles rack up and, dare I say it, even a home run or two.

Obviously Mauer isn't completely back yet. His career slugging percentage is .474, and a lot of that will need to come from hitting more doubles. And he's not catching five days a week yet, either, although it would be a surprise if he consistently hit that benchmark before next spring.

But he is on his way, and it's more than fair to say that in spite of the power and playing time issue he's still one of the most valuable hitters a team could have. It's good to have him back.

Bits and pieces...

  • Mauer has yet to strike out in a high-leverage situation this year.
  • Low leverage situations have been his worst this season (.648 OPS, 90 PA), compared to medium leverage (.714, 61) and high leverage (1.000, 10) ones.
  • Mauer appears to "go for it" in high leverage situations, at least this year. He's hit zero line drives at such times, and his fly ball rates spike to 36.4%.
  • Joe has struggled against southpaws this season, posting just a .526 OPS when stepping in compared to the .825 OPS against righties.