"Strike two, you're out," seems to be the current mantra for most of baseball. Unless you're Joe Mauer.
One of the biggest challenges for batters in recent years has been their ability to come back in an at-bat after falling into a two-strike count. Since 2006, there has been a steady decrease in players' ability to hit with two strikes. Last year, two-strike hitting dropped to a new low, as batters were able to muster only a .178 batting average.
How do pitchers have so much of an advantage when it comes to throwing to batters with two strikes?
For one thing, players don't care as much if they do strikeout. Blame the juiced up players in the steroids era. It didn't matter if a player was swinging and missing as long as the ball was flying over the fence. Home run and RBI totals made up for big strikeout numbers.
For batters to get anywhere near 200 strikeouts in the past would have been horrific. Bobby Bonds was a trailblazer for the current generation of strike out prone players. He struck out 187 times in 1969. He passed that mark the next year with 189.
The 200-strikeout mark hasn't been as much of an embarrassment in recent years as it had been in the past; that level has been exceeded five times in the last five seasons. Mark Reynolds has three of the top five strikeout seasons and he also sits at the top of the list with 223 strikeouts. Adam Dunn came within one strikeout of tying the MLB record last year but that dubious honor still belongs to Reynolds.
Twins fans have become accustomed to seeing one player buck the trend when it comes to hitting with a two-strike count. Joe Mauer is one of the best hitters in the game and he doesn't seem to have any trouble when he finds himself deep in a two strike hole. It almost seems as if Mauer becomes a better hitter as an at-bat is extended.
In 2012, Mauer ranked as one of the top five batters in all of baseball when it came to hitting with two strikes. His .266 batting average with two-strikes was the highest mark in the American League. It was high enough to finish just ahead of Prince Fielder.
Best Two-Strike Hitters in 2012
1. Martin Prado .286
2. Jayson Werth .286
3. Matt Carpenter .268
4. Joe Mauer .266
5. Prince Fielder .265
Overall, Mauer has been on quite the roll to start the 2013 season. This has also helped his numbers with two strikes against him. So far this season, he is hitting .409/.435/.523 when he has two strikes. Those are unheard of numbers and it is hard to imagine that he will be able to keep up that pace for the entire season.
For his career with two strikes, Mauer has a batting line of .258/.312/.359 which gets him close to the top of the all-time list. Besides being a Hall-of-Fame caliber hitter, Tony Gwynn was also the best hitter of all-time with two strikes against him. His .302 average would be good for any count much less when he has two strikes against him.
Todd Helton, Ichiro Suzuki, Juan Pierre, and Wade Boggs round out the rest of the top five with their averages sitting from .260 to .262. Ichiro would be a name that most would expect to see on this list. Pierre certainly doesn't fit the mold of all-time great but baseball is a funny game.
The game of baseball will always be changing and batters will likely need to find some way to improve their results when in a two strike count. If Mauer continues on his current track, his record will show him to have been one of the best two-strike hitters in history. He is going against the trend in baseball and Twins fans are happy with those results.