So far this season Joe Mauer isn’t tearing the cover off the ball like he was last year so he must suck, right? Wrong. We can’t expect Nintendo-like numbers from Mauer every year but his lower offensive numbers are beginning to worry some Twins fans. What’s wrong with the Baby Joesus? Nothing, unless being human bothers you.
At this time last year, Joe Mauer was coming off an incredible May and as of June 7th had 12 HR, 35 RBI and was hitting .410/.497/.795 (BA/OBP/SLG). Compare that to this year where Mauer currently has 2 HR, 24 RBI and is hitting .311/.385/.443. While his offensive numbers are much lower than this time last season, including 10 less HR with more games played, he still is the best hitting catcher in baseball and I’m sure the Twins are glad to have him.
Mauer’s current batting average of .311 is at a season low after being as high as .360 on May 16th. When I first noticed his average had dropped this far I had a couple thoughts. Why would I be surprised by a player who is only hitting .311? That question led me to wonder when the last time Mauer’s average was this low? I used Yahoo Sports to look at game logs from last years MVP season and try to find when his average was at .311 or lower. I was shocked to find that it never got as low as .311 and in fact, it never got below .350 all year long! His season low was a feeble .353 on August 1st last season and can only be defined as inhuman, especially when you consider he hit .347 to win his first batting title in 2006. I moved on to the 2008 game logs to find the last time his average was at .311 or lower. After some digging it appears that the last time Joe Mauer’s batting average was at .311 or lower…..May 2nd, 2008. That means it’s been over 2 whole years since Joe Mauer’s batting average has been .311 or lower.
So what could be the reason for Joe to be at his lowest batting average in over 2 years? It’s probably a combination of things but one thing I’ve noticed is defensive alignment. Remember last year when Mauer got hits back up the middle? This year teams have started playing him up the middle and cutting down on hits. Same thing is probably happening to his left center gappers from years past as this year it seems they are no longer falling in for hits. The home runs are down this year as well and many are blaming Target Field. That has some truth if you consider how many of his home runs landed in the first row of left field bleachers at the dome last season. Unlike the controlled environment of the Metrodome (and air vents blowing out when Twins were batting), this year those front row home runs are facing the elements and it could be knocking them down to just warning track flies. It’s also possible there’s a nagging injury or he’s just worn down already this year. Drew Butera started 2 of the games out in Oakland with a depleted Twins lineup that was so bad Sunday that Nick Punto was the best hitter in the infield. You would hope Mauer would have sucked it up and kept Butera’s awful bat out of that already feeble lineup. Let’s hope it’s just Gardy being Gardy and not so much something bugging Mauer (I haven’t heard why Butera caught those 2 games, if you do fill me in).
We can’t always expect Joe Mauer to hit like he did last season, that’s asking too much. Although his numbers are down this year compared to last, he’s still the best hitting catcher in baseball and there’s nothing wrong with being human, even if you’re considered a baseball god.