After a couple disappointing seasons, Mauer appears to be back on track.
Over the last couple years, Twins fans and baseball fans alike have repeatedly asked the same question: Can Joe Mauer ever return to being an elite hitter? After a concussion during the 2013 season, the Twins organization made the decision that Mauer’s time behind the plate was over and moved him over to first base. To make things worse, it appeared his bat had been left behind as well.
After posting an OPS+ of 135 during his first 10 years in the big leagues, Mauer suddenly dropped to a 101 OPS+ during the 2014 and 2015 campaign, essentially making him a league average hitter. While being a league average hitter is acceptable for a catcher, it isn’t for a first baseman, especially for one who is being paid $23MM a year.
The results made it clear that the Mauer of old was gone. There was little hope left that the 2009 AL MVP could regain his approach and bat that had made him one of the best players in the game for a decade. However (maybe thanks to a set of strobe glasses), this may no longer be the case.
So far, Joe has been able to rekindle the fire and hit for a wRC+ of 161, good enough for 20th in the MLB. And the thing is, the stats back up his improvement.
This is due in part to an improved eye at the plate, one that rivals even his best seasons. Currently, Mauer is posting a 19.4% walk rate, a 9.3% increase from last season, and shattering his previous career high of 14% set in 2012. Much of this improved walk rate can be equated to his career low swing rate of 34.2%, which is the third lowest in the MLB.
Mauer’s eye at the plate this season has helped out in more ways than just taking more walks. Mauer stands out on the strikeout-prone Twins squad with a strikeout rate of 8.6%. This is due to the fact that Mauer has made contact on 92.1% of his swings, which helps him hold a 2.5% swinging strike rate.
Often, when a player makes contact with a higher percentage of pitches, it can lead to weaker contact, but thanks to Mauer’s elite eye at the plate, this isn’t the case. Mauer has only made weak contact on 7.6% of the balls he’s put in play. While his ISO of .137 is still below the league average of .155, he has managed to spray the ball across all fields, like in this game-tying, opposite field single:
Thanks to spraying the ball across the diamond and holding a career-best 31.8% line drive rate, Mauer has gotten his BABIP up to .354, which could be sustainable given his profile.
All of this could mean the return of Joe Mauer. The combination of not swinging at pitches that he shouldn’t, and the batted ball profile for when he does swing helps create an elite hitter that can be the anchor of any lineup. With the Twins starting to turn the corner, they need Mauer to be there and help lead them to the next step. Luckily for them, it appears like they might get just that.
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