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  • Joe Mauer Hates Pop-Ups

    Sometimes inspiration strikes in odd ways. Today, Rhett Bollinger, the Twins' MLB.com beat writer, sent out this tweet:

    Joe Mauer just popped out. Something he did only once last year in 641 plate appearances. #MNTwins
    — Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger) February 26, 2013

    Wait, what? I saw that come through my feed and I was immediately interested. Was it true?

    @bridman77 Yep. It's actually only once in the last two years. Fangraphs has the stats.
    — Rhett Bollinger (@RhettBollinger) February 26, 2013

    That seems so unlikely. Even by raw luck, one would think that Mauer would pop out a few times each year. Mauer was the best in the AL last year at not making outs. He only made an out 58.4% of the time. He had 641 plate appearances and only one resulted in an infield fly ball, which is what I will now be using to describe a pop up (at times). He struck out 88 times, so he still made over 300 outs with his bat. And yet, only once did he make an out by flying out in the infield.

    Originally posted at Kevin Slowey was Framed!

    How rare is this? I was inspired to investigate. I started doing some research. Mauer has only 20 infield fly outs in his nine-year-career. Crazy. I decided to look at how many players had 20 or more infield fly outs last season. Forty. Forty players! Forty players popped out as much or more than Mauer has in his entire career, and all just last season. Now I am really intrigued. Here's a spreadsheet that resulted from my intrigue:

    Infield Fly Ball Nerd Spreadsheet

    Looking at the spreadsheet demonstrates just how rare this feat or accomplishment or freak occurrence really is. In fact, take a look at this chart:

    Mauer Infield Fly Balls # of Players > 20 IFFB that season Mauer Infield Hits
    2004 1 87 4
    2005 3 62 6
    2006 2 73 8
    2007 1 62 5
    2008 6 57 10
    2009 2 50 8
    2010 4 46 12
    2011 0 56 6
    2012 1 40 8
    Total 20 533 67

    Mauer has had 20 infield fly balls in 9 years, and 533 players have had 20 or more infield fly balls in a season during that same span. I threw in a BONUS! column that shows Mauer has over 3 times as many infield hits than infield fly balls. How crazy.

    Before I go further, this data does not necessarily mean these were all pop outs. They are simply infield fly balls. Some may have dropped, although it stands to reason that the vast majority were converted into outs. So, when I use these terms interchangeably, I apologize. This isn't an academic journal.

    Since we are all in love with this stat at this point, I looked at who created the most infield fly balls per plate appearance. Basically, these are the Pop-Up Kings:

    Name IFFB PA IFFB/PA
    Eric Byrnes 273 3478 7.85%
    Tony Batista 180 2315 7.78%
    Mike Rivera 45 593 7.59%
    Todd Greene 58 841 6.90%
    Mike Moustakas 64 979 6.54%
    Rod Barajas 234 3642 6.43%
    Joe Crede 212 3307 6.41%
    Drew Butera 33 531 6.21%
    John Flaherty 43 692 6.21%
    Lenny Harris 34 555 6.13%

    Do you prefer volume pop-up hitters? Here is the chart for you!

    Name Career IFFB
    Vernon Wells 277
    Carlos Lee 255
    Eric Byrnes 245
    Albert Pujols 239
    Johnny Damon 221
    Alex Gonzalez 212
    Jimmy Rollins 210
    Yuniesky Betancourt 207
    Aramis Ramirez 206
    Rod Barajas 205

    A few familiar names indeed! Personally, I'd rather remember Eric Byrnes for his extreme pop-up-edness, rather than for his current gig at MLB Network. Tony Batista would have absolutely been my first guess as a Pop-Up King. The way he stands would seem to lend itself to popping up a lot. The leaders pop-up about every 13 plate appearances. What about the players with the lowest rate of infield fly balls? WordHippo tells me that the opposite of a King is a Subject. So, here are the Pop-Up Subjects (that sounds terrible):

    Name IFFB PA IFFB/PA
    Larry Bigbie 1 1218 0.08%
    Julio Franco 4 1517 0.26%
    Ben Revere 3 1064 0.28%
    Joey Votto 11 3064 0.36%
    Howie Kendrick 13 3232 0.40%
    Ryan Howard 19 4701 0.40%
    Joe Mauer 20 4552 0.44%
    Derek Jeter 34 7644 0.44%
    Jose Tabata 6 1197 0.50%
    Buster Posey 7 1255 0.56%

    Mauer, even with all his anti-pop-up glory, is only 7th. Larry Bigbie had one pop-up in his career. Here is the box score from that game, in case you want to frame it. Many of the names on this list are players who just don't hit a lot of fly balls at all. Just looking at last year, Ben Revere had the lowest fly ball rate, Jeter was second lowest, Kendrick fourth and Mauer sixth.

    Votto, Howard and Posey seem like the anomalies, as they are all powerful hitters. Votto and Posey post lower than average fly ball rates, and Howard is right at average. The fact that each hits a lot of homeruns is quite impressive, as they just hit fewer balls in the air than most power hitters.

    I refuse to try to make sense of anything related to Julio Franco.

    Back to Mauer. Mauer hits an infield fly ball once in every 227 plate appearances. So, today's event was pretty rare. In fact, we might not see another one until around June. The real question is why is he such a Subject of Pop-Ups? I really hate that name. Let's call them No Pop-Up Dudes going forward.

    A bigger picture can be seen with all of his batted ball data. Here are his batted ball rates compared with league average:

    Rates Mauer League Avg
    LD 23.10% 20%
    GB 50.30% 44%
    FB 26.60% 36%
    IFFB 2.20% 10%

    This helps to explain his lack of home run power, but overall great hitting.

    BUT WHAT DOES IT ALL MEAN?!?!?

    I don't know, nothing?

    Well, the best contact hitters seem to be good at avoiding the worst type of contact. It stands to reason that the infield fly ball is the worst type of batted ball. It doesn't get converted to hits or runs unless there is some sort of hilarious infield mishap and they almost never lead to sacrificed runners.

    Mauer likely avoids this type of contact because he has such a great approach and he doesn't deviate from it. He swings easily and tends to swing at only pitches he can handle. The fact that he doesn't hit a lot of fly balls to begin with helps as well. Overall, Mauer seems to be a hitter who knows exactly what he wants to do, and stays within that approach in nearly all cases.

    Or, he's a wizard.

    Upon further review, Grant Brisbee, Jeff Sullivan, and Jeff Passan all wrote about Joey Votto's extreme aversion to pop ups. You could argue that he was the original No Pop-Up Dude. In addition, Sullivan wrote about how remarkable Joe Mauer is. You can say I stole from everyone and no one.
    This article was originally published in blog: Joe Mauer Hates Pop-Ups started by Brad Swanson
    Comments 33 Comments
    1. h2oface's Avatar
      h2oface -
      I gotta say....... sometimes I would rather see an infield fly ball than a double play grounder.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by h2oface View Post
      I gotta say....... sometimes I would rather see an infield fly ball than a double play grounder.
      I will now open my sealed envelope to prove that I totally called this as the first comment.

      Attachment 3355

      That being said (drawn?), I guess a pop-up is better than a double play. I did not consider this.
    1. mnfanforlife's Avatar
      mnfanforlife -
      Quote Originally Posted by h2oface View Post
      I gotta say....... sometimes I would rather see an infield fly ball than a double play grounder.
      I cannot think of ANY TIME that I would rather see my guys get doubled-up than an infield pop-up
    1. Twins Twerp's Avatar
      Twins Twerp -
      Quote Originally Posted by mnfanforlife View Post
      I cannot think of ANY TIME that I would rather see my guys get doubled-up than an infield pop-up
      My brother, my brother, my brother, people that hate on Mauer are...idiots. He has one of the smoothest swings you'll ever see and is a first ballot hall of famer, and you wish he would pop out more...dumb.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      I used different samples for a few of the charts. The rate charts (IFFB/PA) used 2002-2012 data, which is all that FanGraphs has available. The volume chart used 2004-2012 data to mirror Mauer's career. Sorry for the terrible and embarrassing oversight.
    1. h2oface's Avatar
      h2oface -
      I don't see anyone "hating" on Mauer here, just observing that one out made in an AB is better than two. The only one making it personal and calling someone an "idiot" is a self professed "twerp"........... or......... can only twerps call another twerp a twerp, even though he calls himself a twerp?
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brad Swanson View Post
      I will now open my sealed envelope to prove that I totally called this as the first comment.

      Attachment 3355

      That being said (drawn?), I guess a pop-up is better than a double play. I did not consider this.
      Nice article...good research...and it shows how great of a hitter he is..but, you're right of course, you had to know that the whole DP comment was coming right away...gotta pull the negative out first...those 4%-5% of PAs he hits into DPs is a really killer :-)

      None of the great hitters today hit into DPs...especially those that make a lot of contact :-)
    1. twinsnorth49's Avatar
      twinsnorth49 -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      Nice article...good research...and it shows how great of a hitter he is..but, you're right of course, you had to know that the whole DP comment was coming right away...gotta pull the negative out first...those 4%-5% of PAs he hits into DPs is a really killer :-)

      None of the great hitters today hit into DPs...especially those that make a lot of contact :-)
      Exactly, I'm sure the Tigers are encouraging Miggy to change his approach, to mitigate all those DP's and hopefully pop out more often.
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by mnfanforlife View Post
      I cannot think of ANY TIME that I would rather see my guys get doubled-up than an infield pop-up
      How about in a tie game with no outs, bases loaded and the double play still gets the go-ahead run across. An infield pop-up scores nothing and the inning-ending double play is still intact for the next hitter.

      I like reading about these unique stats, but I guess I'm more curious as to why Mauer struck out 88 times last year. It really never dawned on me that that number had increased so significantly until I read your passing comment.

      That's way out of his norm, and he's approaching the unflattering 100k level. I like Mauer, I'm not bashing him, but what happened last year to drive up his K% to 13.7%? His contact percentage was only down .8% from his career average. However his swing percentage was at 35.4%, down from his career average of 37.3% and his swing percentage of pitches in the zone was 52.5%, down from his career average of 55.5%. It would seem to me that his seeming desire to be the most selctive hitter is actually driving his K% up.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      How about in a tie game with no outs, bases loaded and the double play still gets the go-ahead run across. An infield pop-up scores nothing and the inning-ending double play is still intact for the next hitter.

      I like reading about these unique stats, but I guess I'm more curious as to why Mauer struck out 88 times last year. It really never dawned on me that that number had increased so significantly until I read your passing comment.

      That's way out of his norm, and he's approaching the unflattering 100k level. I like Mauer, I'm not bashing him, but what happened last year to drive up his K% to 13.7%? His contact percentage was only down .8% from his career average. However his swing percentage was at 35.4%, down from his career average of 37.3% and his swing percentage of pitches in the zone was 52.5%, down from his career average of 55.5%. It would seem to me that his seeming desire to be the most selctive hitter is actually driving his K% up.
      yeah, he finally had more than 65Ks in a season. This one season is definitely showing a trend :-)
    1. nicksaviking's Avatar
      nicksaviking -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      yeah, he finally had more than 65Ks in a season. This one season is definitely showing a trend :-)
      I didn't say anything about a trend, I simply wanted to know what changed last year.
    1. Nick Nelson's Avatar
      Nick Nelson -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      Nice article...good research...and it shows how great of a hitter he is..but, you're right of course, you had to know that the whole DP comment was coming right away...gotta pull the negative out first...those 4%-5% of PAs he hits into DPs is a really killer :-)

      None of the great hitters today hit into DPs...especially those that make a lot of contact :-)
      Right. The flip side is that the hard grounders which sometimes turn into DPs also sometimes turn into singles through the hole and doubles down the line. Pop-ups rarely turn into anything but outs. No question you prefer a guy with this hitting profile.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      I didn't say anything about a trend, I simply wanted to know what changed last year.
      If I had to guess, and that's all it'd be, is he was probably feeling the pressure of constantly being told he needed to hit HRs and be the kind of hitter he really isn't and this was causing him to push. Or it could just be one of those things....you know...just turned out that way.
    1. AM.'s Avatar
      AM. -
      It appears to me that Mauer does a better job than most at making square contact (thus the high LD% and high BA, and when he does miss, he misses high on the ball at a much higher rate than the rest of the league.

      While he is clearly a superstar and under appreciated, and ridiculous to even consider making suggestions to someone vastly better at hitting major league pitching than almost everone on the planet, I think that this article does demonstrate that it may be true that if he could move his contact point/target zone a bit lower on the ball, without sacrificing his LD%, he could swap out some ground balls for fly balls and therefore home runs, and be an even better hitter than he already is.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      > Mauer was the best in the AL last year at not making outs.

      Among players with enough appearances, no one in the NL topped him either. No reason to include the qualifier; Mauer was the best last year at not making outs.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quick, since Mauer entered the league in 2004, who has the most GIDPs? A billion points if you know. 2 billion if you look it up. I reward research.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Brad Swanson View Post
      Quick, since Mauer entered the league in 2004, who has the most GIDPs? A billion points if you know. 2 billion if you look it up. I reward research.
      I'd guess Pujols
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      I'd guess Pujols
      You'd be right, one billion points!

      He is also first in WAR over that span. Mauer is 11th.
    1. Brad Swanson's Avatar
      Brad Swanson -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      > Mauer was the best in the AL last year at not making outs.

      Among players with enough appearances, no one in the NL topped him either. No reason to include the qualifier; Mauer was the best last year at not making outs.
      Exactly, and that is what makes him such a great player.
    1. CDog's Avatar
      CDog -
      Quote Originally Posted by nicksaviking View Post
      I like reading about these unique stats, but I guess I'm more curious as to why Mauer struck out 88 times last year. It really never dawned on me that that number had increased so significantly until I read your passing comment.

      That's way out of his norm, and he's approaching the unflattering 100k level. I like Mauer, I'm not bashing him, but what happened last year to drive up his K% to 13.7%? His contact percentage was only down .8% from his career average. However his swing percentage was at 35.4%, down from his career average of 37.3% and his swing percentage of pitches in the zone was 52.5%, down from his career average of 55.5%. It would seem to me that his seeming desire to be the most selctive hitter is actually driving his K% up.
      It may not explain it entirely, but the whole league is striking out more. It may be (at least partly) due to pitchers being better at striking people out.

      EDIT: I was surprised after actually looking, that Mauer's K-rate has actually increased over his career more slowly than the league K-rate. It certainly doesn't appear that way to the eye because he actually decreased it over the first several years and jumped each of the last two (as opposed to the league that has been on a steadier, smoother climb, obviously).
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