• Two Strike Counts and Joe Mauer

    "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.
    This article was originally published in blog: Two strike counts and Joe Mauer started by Cody Christie
    Comments 11 Comments
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      His not being petrified of having two strikes on him allows him to be extremely selective early in the count, and not swing at just any old thing just because the count is favorable and he'd "expect" a fat pitch.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Like virtually every hitter who's ever played baseball, Joe Mauer is a much worse hitter with two strikes on him. That he's not horrible with two strikes is a good thing, maybe even a great thing. But let's not pretend it's a good thing when he gets two strikes on him. It's not.
    1. 70charger's Avatar
      70charger -
      I'm not sure anyone's said that. Maybe some overzealous people might creep in that direction, but I thought the author was pretty clear. Obviously, his batting average is lower with 2 strikes than his overall batting average, but it's much higher than the norm as compared to the rest of the majors. In fact, his average in two strike counts is higher than the major league overall average. That's something.

      Hence the difference between "strike two, you're out" with a normal player, contrasted with the "strike two, don't panic" with Joe Mauer. Mauer was also called one of the best two-strike hitters in history. Which he is. But the author never hinted that therefore Joe should attempt to get into two strike counts.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by 70charger View Post
      I'm not sure anyone's said that. Maybe some overzealous people might creep in that direction, but I thought the author was pretty clear. Obviously, his batting average is lower with 2 strikes than his overall batting average, but it's much higher than the norm as compared to the rest of the majors. In fact, his average in two strike counts is higher than the major league overall average. That's something.

      Hence the difference between "strike two, you're out" with a normal player, contrasted with the "strike two, don't panic" with Joe Mauer. Mauer was also called one of the best two-strike hitters in history. Which he is. But the author never hinted that therefore Joe should attempt to get into two strike counts.
      exactly.
    1. Physics Guy's Avatar
      Physics Guy -
      Hitting with two strikes is what makes Joe a great hitter. He has a great OBP because he is able to draw walks by taking more pitches. Do I wish he didn't take as many pitches? Sure, but the number of pitches he takes does help to wear down the pitcher. His average is consistently in the .300's because his two-strike BA doesn't drag him down. The way he is hitting with two strikes this year is unbelievable.

      As for Pierre and Suzuki, it's pretty clear why they are on the list. They are both good contact hitters, with low K rates. With two strikes they put the ball in play and use their speed to get infield hits. I would hazard to guess that they, in their younger days, were amongst the leaders in IF hits.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      I probably should just go find the site with these breakdowns, but one thing that occurs to me is that lumping "two strikes" together may be what accounts for Joe's edge over other batters. Splitting stats further risks SSS of course; but if batters do worse on 0-2 than 1-2 (than 2-2, than 3-2), then *if* Joe is facing fewer of the highly unfavorable two-strike counts (due to better batting eye and selectivity, presumably) it would skew the totals to his advantage. Which of course is a good thing, but maybe at 0-2 specifically, he's no better relative to his norm than anyone else is.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by 70charger View Post
      I'm not sure anyone's said that.
      Well, Cody in his article said:

      ...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.

      My emphasis added.
    1. ashburyjohn's Avatar
      ashburyjohn -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      But let's not pretend it's a good thing when he gets two strikes on him. It's not.
      While I basically agree, I'll go back to the point in my original response, that maybe Joe being better than average at dealing with two strikes has its main payoff earlier in the count when he can afford to be selective on a nominally favorable count like 2-1.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      I probably should just go find the site with these breakdowns, but one thing that occurs to me is that lumping "two strikes" together may be what accounts for Joe's edge over other batters. Splitting stats further risks SSS of course; but if batters do worse on 0-2 than 1-2 (than 2-2, than 3-2), then *if* Joe is facing fewer of the highly unfavorable two-strike counts (due to better batting eye and selectivity, presumably) it would skew the totals to his advantage. Which of course is a good thing, but maybe at 0-2 specifically, he's no better relative to his norm than anyone else is.
      For his career, after getting himself an 0-2 count, he's batting .244. When attempting to put the ball in play on an 0-2 count, he's hit .236 for his career. I believe that's quite a bit better than the norm.
    1. USAFChief's Avatar
      USAFChief -
      Quote Originally Posted by ashburyjohn View Post
      I probably should just go find the site with these breakdowns, but one thing that occurs to me is that lumping "two strikes" together may be what accounts for Joe's edge over other batters. Splitting stats further risks SSS of course; but if batters do worse on 0-2 than 1-2 (than 2-2, than 3-2), then *if* Joe is facing fewer of the highly unfavorable two-strike counts (due to better batting eye and selectivity, presumably) it would skew the totals to his advantage. Which of course is a good thing, but maybe at 0-2 specifically, he's no better relative to his norm than anyone else is.
      Relative career splits can be found here: Joe Mauer Career Batting Splits - Baseball-Reference.com I'll repeat: Mauer is better with 2 strikes than most hitters. He's significantly worse than he is when he doesn't have 2 strikes. Perhaps most significantly: when ahead in the count, for his career he's a .381/.563/.584 hitter. When behind in the count: .261/.262/.363 After 0-2: .244/.259/.332
    1. drjim's Avatar
      drjim -
      Quote Originally Posted by USAFChief View Post
      Relative career splits can be found here: Joe Mauer Career Batting Splits - Baseball-Reference.com I'll repeat: Mauer is better with 2 strikes than most hitters. He's significantly worse than he is when he doesn't have 2 strikes. Perhaps most significantly: when ahead in the count, for his career he's a .381/.563/.584 hitter. When behind in the count: .261/.262/.363 After 0-2: .244/.259/.332
      This reminds me of the point in Moneyball where they talk about the great numbers Hatteberg had when he swung at the first pitch. It was thought he should swing at more first pitches, but that kind of defeated the point of why he had such good numbers in that situation, because he was so selective.

      It would be pretty amazing if Mauer had worse numbers with less than two strikes than with two strikes. If Mauer puts a pitch in play with less than two strikes it is likely a pitch that he really wanted and was able to put a good swing on it resulting in a better outcome.

      If Mauer started swinging at more pitches with less than two strikes his numbers in those situations would drop (probably by a substantial margin because he will be chasing more out of his comfort zone) and it would probably coincide with slight drops in 2 strike numbers as well (as some of his advantage gained by seeing more pitches would be mitigated).
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