There is no doubt that Joe Mauer has been one of fantasy's biggest flops this season. To this point Mauer is hitting .293 with only four home runs. Not the type of production most were hoping for when they drafted Mauer in the first or second round.
In one of my auction leagues the winning bid was $45 for his services.
Though he hasn't missed much time, Mauer has been playing through a few nagging injuries over a good chunk of the season. Battling these injuries has not allowed him to "let loose" as he did last season when we saw the huge jump in power.
Even without the power, we'd expect Mauer to be hitting for much more AVG at this point. One big issue has been his struggles with handling inside pitches. Using split stats from Fan Graphs, we can see a clear problem handling inside pitches.
(BIP stands for Balls In Play)
|2009||BIP to Left||96||157||160||80||49||15||16||0.510||0.911||0.401||0.451||32.3%||19.6%||48.1%||21.1%|
|2010||BIP to Left||55||83||84||30||17||11||1||0.361||0.554||0.193||0.349||29.8%||17.9%||52.4%||2.3%|
|2009||BIP to Center||92||149||152||66||53||5||7||0.443||0.631||0.188||0.407||21.1%||47.4%||31.6%||14.6%|
|2010||BIP to Center||63||107||109||37||29||6||2||0.346||0.458||0.112||0.327||25.7%||45.9%||28.4%||6.5%|
|2009||BIP to Right||104||150||153||45||30||10||5||0.300||0.467||0.167||0.274||14.5%||77.6%||7.9%||41.7%|
|2010||BIP to Right||50||68||68||18||10||7||1||0.265||0.412||0.147||0.254||16.2%||76.5%||7.4%||20.0%|
Last season, Mauer hit .300 on balls in play to right field (He hit .510 to left and .443 to center!). This season, his AVG on balls in play to right is down to .265 and it is also down to right and center, but still above .300 for both.
Dave Cameron pointed this out last season, but Joe Mauer's ground ball rate increases from under 20 percent to left field to over 75 percent to right field. By pulling the ball, Mauer decreases his chances of hitting the ball out of the park. Mauer's ISO (Isolated power) also falls moving from left field to right field.
He's basically the opposite of most left-handed hitters, who's power zone is down and in.
In 2009, Mauer spread the ball all over the field, literally. He hit most of his balls in play to left field (34.4 percent), but that wasn't much more than his balls in play to center (32.7 percent) and right (32.9 percent). To the halfway point of the 2010 season, Mauer has hit most of his balls in play to center (41.5 percent) and has pulled the ball much less often (26.4 percent).
|Balls in Play by field|
|BIP to LF||157||34.4%||83||32.2%|
|BIP to CF||149||32.7%||107||41.5%|
|BIP to RF||150||32.9%||68||26.4%|
At first, I wondered if opposing teams were knowledgeable to this data and simply pitching Mauer inside more. Thanks to TexasLeaguers.com's pitch f/x tool, we can see how that hasn't necessarily been the case. Looking at Mauer's swings, takes and called balls/strikes, we find that the majority of pitches end up on the outside half of the plate.
For clarity purposes, the chart below shows only four-seam fastballs. However, feel free to search through the other pitches as well, but they all show similar location.
One look at the overall spray chart says it all.
The large number of Mauer's outs have come on ground balls to the right side while very few hits have gone through the infield.
Now that we've looked at all the data, we circle back to the question of why has his production fallen off?
Mauer is still showing his great plate discipline (35/32 BB/K ratio) and still hitting line drives at a high rate (24.5 percent). We also can't point the blame at the Twins new ballpark, which has played fairly neutral according to statcorner.com. The only reasonable explanation for the lack in production has to be injury related.
Mauer missed time with a bruised heel in early May and has been battling a sore shoulder of late. In between, however, there were rumors that Mauer has been dealing with a sore hip and back. The bottom line: catching is a position that takes a tremendous tole on a player's body. Russell Martin is a prime example of this. He has been in the top two in innings caught for three straight seasons and saw a decline in offensive production every year.
The best and worst part about keeping Mauer behind the plate is that he never wants to sit out a game. While many players will take themselves out of the lineup with a little soreness, Mauer continues to play through it. Every fan wants to see Mauer in the game, but pushing himself and convincing Ron Gardenhire not to sit him could be having a negative effect on his production.
For fantasy purposes, there is very little good news given the present information. Mauer is playing hurt and his production is suffering because of it. We can't simply expect a second half improvement either. Mauer continues to catch almost every day and there is always the risk that he'll be less productive late in the season due to the natural wear and tear of the position.
If Mauer is already having physical issues, there is not much hope that he'll improve physically in the second half unless he gets more days off or DH's from time to time.
Joe Mauer is a great hitter. He does just about everything you want a hitter to do (last season he DID do everything). However, if a player is not 100 percent physically, you can't expect his production to be 100 percent.
Let's hope that Mauer himself realizes that a healthy Mauer at DH or 1B is better than a bruised and battered Mauer behind the plate everyday.