Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Mighty Mighty Mauer

On May 1, Joe Mauer made his triumphant return to the Minnesota Twins after missing the entire first month of the season due to injury. I was in attendance that day, and got to see him launch a ball into the left field seats with his very first swing of the season. Given that it had taken Mauer 216 plate appearances to hit his first home run a year ago, seeing him go deep in his very first trip to the plate was a most pleasant surprise for Twins fans. A bit of a fluke, perhaps, but promising nonetheless.

For the rest of May, Mauer played like he was on a mission to prove that his home run in that first at-bat was no fluke. After adding a double and walk to finish that first game 2-for-3, he proceeded to bat .406 over the remainder of the month, launching 10 home runs, six doubles and a triple in 96 at-bats to finish the month with an insane .802 slugging percentage.

It figured that Mauer would slow down in June, and in a way, he has. The power production has tailed off -- over the first half of the month, he's notched two home runs and two doubles over 59 plate appearances, meaning he's averaged one extra-base hit per every 14.75 PAs after averaging one per every 6.42 in May. The June rate isn't bad -- it's about in line with his career rate of 1 XBH/12.84 PA entering this season -- but obviously it's nowhere near the gargantuan power rate he flashed during his first month.

And yet, while the power has dipped for Mauer, the hits have kept on coming. After finishing May with a .414 batting average, Mauer is hitting .415 in June. He's been held hitless only once in 13 games and he's collected multiple hits seven times. Whatever regression we've seen in the power department, it has yet to emerge in the batting average column. Mauer has shown no signs of slowing down his torrid hitting pace.

Now, I'm not going to start talking about any quest to bat .400; we'll have that conversation if he's still hitting at this level around mid-August. But I think it is appropriate to sit back and marvel at what Mauer has done through 181 plate appearances. He's already matched his career high for home runs in just a month and a half, and his OPS+ (229) is a Barry-Bonds-in-his-prime type of figure. If Mauer's season ended today, he would have the highest single-season batting average of any player with a minimum of 181 plate appearances in the last 50 years. Mull that over for a minute.

Twins fans don't need to be reminded of how special a player Mauer is, but it's worth expounding on how absolutely unbelievable his offensive performance has been up to this point. He's bound to hit up some sort of rut at some point, be it regression to the mean or the wear and tear of playing nearly everyday and frequently at a hugely demanding defensive position. It's almost impossibly difficult to maintain a batting average as high as Mauer's currently is, even if big slumps are avoided. (It's worth noting that, for instance, Nomar Garciaparra was flirting with .400 as he entered August in 2000 but ended up falling about 30 points short of that mark because he hit a measly .340 over the final two months of the season. By the way, how the hell did Nomar finish NINTH in the MVP voting that year??)

I would encourage everyone to savor this impressive run while it lasts, but who knows how long it's going to last. Mauer continues to terrorize opposing teams and no one can seemingly figure out how to pitch to him. He's having an historical season that will likely stand out as one for the ages even if his numbers start to gradually but surely decline over the next few months.

Which they will. Right?



Statistics and Odds
While we're all wondering if he will carry this hot hitting into September (and beyond?), it's worth noting that there are gambling entities giving odds on Mauer finishing with a batting average above .400 for the year. Should you get involved with online betting please remember, be smart about it. Bet with your head, not over it.

7 comments:

soup said...

It's sometimes baffling to go back and look at MVP voting. Wade Boggs finished 9th in MVP voting in '87 with a 1.049 OPS.

Nick M. said...

Well, if you are going to go after 1987 MVP voting, it gets worse. Alan Trammell is probably who should have won that and if he did, maybe he'd have a better shot at that Hall, which is where he deserves to be. That year, he hit .343/.402/.553 with 28 homers and 21 stolen bases and played a great short. And in 1987, that was a pretty amazing season for a shortstop, let alone just any player.

But how about the NL that year? That's when Dawson won it with his .328 OBP, somehow doing so for a last place team over Jack Clark, who played on the NL Champion Cards and lead the league in OPS, Eric Davis, who had 37 homers, 50 stolen bases, 100 RBI and a .991 OPS, Will Clark, and Darryl Strawberry. Those were all just as egregious, if not worse. So, 1987 does stand out, but even more so than you said.

soup said...

Yeah, I actually wrote a little blurb about the 1987 AL MVP at Alright Hamilton a while back. Some very good numbers that year.

Beau said...

Could Mauer's decline in power this month be related to the insane amount of lefties the Twins have faced in June?

DK said...

I think Mauer's decline in power this month is probably more related to the fact that Joe Mauer is not really a guy who's going to hit 11 homers every month. I mean, very few people in the world can hit 11 homers every month.

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