• Analyzing Mauer's New Power Approach Statistically

    Mauer hitting his 8th home run tonight got me thinking about how this year stacks up against last season and his career. I thought about going further back, but since '11 was messed up due to the injuries, '10 is starting to get a little far back for my liking for comparative purposes, and '09 is a fluke, I settled on this year and last year and compared them to his career numbers.

    So I'm going to start off with the more traditional stats. (Note: stats are from Fangraphs unless otherwise noted. Career averages for counting stats (HR, RBI, 2B) will be pre-'13, and these may not be 100% accurate as I am writing this during the game so the numbers are a bit fluid).

    Games AVG OBP SLG HR 2B RBI
    2012 147 .319 .416 .446 10 31 85
    2013 67 (pace:153) .331 .412 .506 8 (pace:18) 23 (pace:53) 25 (pace:57)
    Career 1065 (118) .323 .405 .469 102 (10.4) 270 (27.4) 612 (65.2)

    Batting average and on-base percentage are right around, albiet a little above, his career marks. Compared to last year, his average is up thirteen points, but OBP is down four, so on the surface it looks like he's getting a few more hits, but losing a few walks. Mauer is one 2-3 home run week from being on pace to double his home run total from last year and his career average. He's on pace for the second highest home run total of his career and the highest doubles output of his career as well. Since he's on pace to crush both his 2012 home run and doubles totals and his career averages in both categories, it follows his slugging should be up significantly, as it is.

    Despite the increase in slugging, Mauer is on pace to have his second lowest RBI total in a season where he has played at least 100 games. Since he has hit in the 2 spot most this year, everyone should have expected his RBI total to be low, due to a lack of opportunities. This is reinforced by the fact he is on pace to have the third lowest number of batters on base when he is batting. He has only 54 plate appearances with runners in scoring position; in these spots he is hitting .286/.444/.333. So, in this small sample size, he is hitting below his career marks with RISP of .340/.460/.492. Because of this we can expect some regression to aid his RBI total through the end of the year.

    For much of his career, fans have pleaded for Joe Mauer to "swing for the fences" or "take a chance" more, and the expectation was that he would have to sacrifice some average and OBP to do that. But much like 2009, he is slugging better this year without the sacrifice- how is he doing it??

    BB% K% BABIP LD% GB% FB%
    2012 14.0% 13.7% .364 25.0% 52.6% 22.4%
    2013 12.1% 19.0% .399 28.1% 45.7% 26.2%
    Career 12.2% 11.0% .346 23.4% 50.1% 26.4%

    Mauer has two numbers that really stand out when you look at this table. K% and BABIP are both way up from last year and career, so both should be expected to regress in the coming months, which both have begun to do this month. In June his K% is 11.3% and his BABIP is .345 compared to May when he was sitting at 25.6% and .507(!!!!).

    (Think about that for a moment: In May, Joe Mauer struck out in a quarter of his at bats, but half the times when he did put the ball in play, he got a hit. While obviously unsustainable, that is incredible! You've got to love baseball!)

    We might assume that since the K% is regressing he may be turning back into old Joe Mauer. But in May, Mauer hit 3 HR, and 12 doubles in 26 games. In June, he has hit 3 HR and 6 doubles in 18 games. Basically his K% has regressed, but his power numbers have not. This seems to imply that the "taking a big cut" or "swinging for the fences" strategy that would, for most, lead to an increase in power and strikeouts at the expense of batting average is not something that is necessarily the outcome for Joe Mauer. He is capable of hitting for a high average while still hitting for power without striking out a ton.

    To me the big key for Mauer sustaining this power is the line drive percentage (LD%). For his career, Joe Mauer has been a ground ball hitter, but this year he has turned some of those ground balls into line drives without altering his flyball percentage in any meaningful way. Since his LD% has jumped a bit from both 2012 and his career, the natural assumption is to argue small sample size, but Fangraphs has discovered that line drive percentage stabilizes after 150 PA, so we seem to have reached the point where we can start thinking he is making an adjustment that is allowing him to square up the ball better. That's not to say he won't regress, he probably will, but we are at the point where it is much less fluky.

    So far, we can see that #7 is hitting for more power and the cause of it seems to be a jump in LD%, meaning he is squaring up the ball better than he has in the past. Now his home run per fly ball rate (12.7%) is the third highest of his career, behind 2009 (20.4%) and his rookie year (17.1%). In May and June that rate has been around 15%, so are we seeing him get lucky, or are we seeing Joe Mauer just hit the ball harder than he generally has? The LD% would seem to support the idea that he is hitting the ball harder.

    The question that remains is whether this is a product of a change in approach or simply randomness in a 300 plate appearance sample.

    O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone%
    2012 22.2% 48.8% 35.2% 79.7% 91.9% 87.9% 48.8%
    2013 26.5% 52.4% 39.0% 72.8% 87.5% 82.4% 48.4%
    Career 23.6% 50.6% 36.8% 79.9% 92.4% 88.3% 49.1%

    (If anybody isn't sure what is going on in the chart above: O-Swing% and O-Contact% are out of zone swing and contact percentages; in other words, how often he swings and makes contact with pitches out of the zone. Z-Swing% and Z-Contact% are in the zone swing and contact percentages; how often he swings and makes contact with pitches in the zone. Swing% and Contact% are the total percentage of pitches Mauer has swung at and made contact with, respectively. Finally, Zone% is the number of pitches that Mauer has seen that have been in the Zone. All of this is based off of Pitchf/x data.)

    Now this is where we see that there may be a change in approach, as he is swinging at the highest percentage of pitches in his career, outside of 2010. That would seem to say, maybe he's seeing more pitches in the zone and taking a cut more often, but that is not the case based on his Zone%. He is swinging at more pitches out of the zone than ever before, which seems to give credence to the idea that he is taking more chances (or getting fooled more often). To me, the piece that demonstrates more of a change in approach is the contact numbers. He is making the least contact of his career by 4 percentage points. That seems to indicate he is taking more chances, swinging a little harder and in so doing, making more solid contact at the expense of making any contact. This would explain the increase in strikeouts, though I cannot find monthly splits to see if it has regressed with the strikeouts.

    To me this strategy of sacrificing some contact to square the ball up a little better, which allows for a few more hits to fall due to how much higher the BABIP is for line drives than ground balls, will also result in a few more extra base hits. Now is it all sustainable or is it simply a blip: who knows, that is why we watch!
    This article was originally published in blog: Comparing Mauer's '12 and '13 and career numbers started by jwestbrock
    Comments 19 Comments
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      I appreciate the in depth analysis you did here. We had this very discussion on the forums about a week ago and I came to the same conclusion you did here. His final numbers will depend on how far his babip drops and what happens with his strike outs.

      On a separate note, Joe was interviewed on an ESPN radio show about a month ago and was asked if he had changed his approach at the plate given his higher power and strike out rates. Joe said no, he hadn't changed his approach and he didn't know why he was suddenly hitting for more power and striking out more.
    1. BHtwins's Avatar
      BHtwins -
      I personally think people are thinking too much about his BAPIP regressing going forward. Hitter BAPIP is never been a particularly static number anyway.

      His BAPIP increase is completely a product of driving his GB % sharply downward this year. I think its clearly because of increased leg strength. He is particularly healthy this season, has developed the right programs to build his leg strength and they have done a decent job of mixing his positional appearances. He is elevationg the ball better because of it I think.

      His BAPIP (GB %+) will drop of as the sason progresses but I bet its not as sharp as years past because I just think he is healthier this year with a stronger lower body.
    1. jwestbrock's Avatar
      jwestbrock -
      I could definitely see him not having changed his approach, because he is being pitched slightly differently this year. He's been seeing 3 percentage points fewer fastballs, 3 more in changeups, and everything else the same. That coupled with his legs being under him, as BHtwins said, would explain the increase in balls categorized as line drives, the increase in HR/FB rate, and would lead to a BABIP increase with harder ground balls.

      Now his legs being better doesn't necessarily explain the swing and contact changes, but those could be a product of Mauer being pitched different. So maybe he hasn't changed his approach, pitchers are just pitching more to what he wants and because he's healthier he's taking advantage.
    1. Steve Lein's Avatar
      Steve Lein -
      BABIP, to me, is a statistic that can be maintained over a single season, it doesn't necessarily regress or progress to the mean of that player's career all the time (such is the case with any stat where "luck" can apply), thus I hate when it is used with that caveat thrown in - But I guess that's not what my comment turned into here here today...

      Ergo -> While it's not a very good judge of things on the whole, I have this incredibly detailed (and cumbersome) spreadsheet dedicated to Joe Mauer and comparing a whole bunch of stats to other players (a lot of it dedicated to comparing him to other teams primary #3 hitters from 2012), and it's quite interesting what one can come up with messing around with all those numbers.

      For instance, Adam Dunn, who hit .204 (110 hits) last year and struck out 222 times (34% of his PA's), drove in a higher % of ALL Total possible baserunners (including himself) than Mauer did (and Joe hit .319 (174 hits) and K'd in only 13.7% of PA's). The quick math for you on that is this:

      Mauer: 1055 total possible baserunners, 85 RBI on the year (8.05%).
      Dunn: 1028 total possible baserunners, 96 RBI on the year (9.34%).

      You can 100% attribute that fact to Dunn hitting 41 HR's (.468 slugging) compared to Mauer's 10 (.446 slugging), but I find things like that interesting -> Dunn was a better "run producer" with a batting average of .204 than one of the best pure "hitters" in the game.

      For further comparison's sake, Miguel Cabrera of Triple Crown winning fame, drove in 12.18% of all possible baserunners (1141 TPB, 139 RBI).

      Of note in relation to this article, is even with a few more HR's, Mauer's TPB% I've given above is considerably lower this year, only 5.26% (and he's slugging .060 points higher too), and that likely means that his increase in K's is not a good thing in that regard - or demonstrates how bad the hitters have been in front of him. There is a -10% difference in how many PA's he's had with runners on base compared to 2012.
    1. snepp's Avatar
      snepp -
      Quote Originally Posted by Steve Lein View Post
      Of note in relation to this article, is even with a few more HR's, Mauer's TPB% I've given above is considerably lower this year, only 5.26% (and he's slugging .060 points higher too), and that likely means that his increase in K's is not a good thing in that regard - or demonstrates how bad the hitters have been in front of him. There is a -10% difference in how many PA's he's had with runners on base compared to 2012.

      Add in that he's been uncharacteristically lousy w/RISP (~750 OPS) and in high leverage spots (~650 OPS).
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by snepp View Post
      Add in that he's been uncharacteristically lousy w/RISP (~750 OPS) and in high leverage spots (~650 OPS).
      He also doesn't have Ben Revere's speed on base ahead of him. Revere probably scored from first more often than Dozier/Carroll have been able to on Mauer's doubles.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      There is an element of luck in babip certainly and an increase in LD% will increase the odds of also increasing your babip. The reason I say that Mauer is likely to see a regression is because in the last 10 years only 15 players have finished a season with a babip >.380. Therefore the odds are stacked against his babip remaining any where near the .399 that it is right now. Couple that with his career average of .348 and his career high of .373 and the likely hood of a regression is very high. IMO the question is how large of a regression.
    1. drjim's Avatar
      drjim -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      There is an element of luck in babip certainly and an increase in LD% will increase the odds of also increasing your babip. The reason I say that Mauer is likely to see a regression is because in the last 10 years only 15 players have finished a season with a babip >.380. Therefore the odds are stacked against his babip remaining any where near the .399 that it is right now. Couple that with his career average of .348 and his career high of .373 and the likely hood of a regression is very high. IMO the question is how large of a regression.
      Would you think his k rate would also regress? Would that cancel out the expected drop in babip to maintain similar overall production?
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by drjim View Post
      Would you think his k rate would also regress? Would that cancel out the expected drop in babip to maintain similar overall production?
      I think that combined those are the two largest factors in how his stats look at the end of the season. I would guess, and that's all it is, that a 20-30 point drop in babip would outweigh a 3-4% drop in K%. That would be a real interesting study IMO if anyone would care to take it on.
    1. diehardtwinsfan's Avatar
      diehardtwinsfan -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      There is an element of luck in babip certainly and an increase in LD% will increase the odds of also increasing your babip. The reason I say that Mauer is likely to see a regression is because in the last 10 years only 15 players have finished a season with a babip >.380. Therefore the odds are stacked against his babip remaining any where near the .399 that it is right now. Couple that with his career average of .348 and his career high of .373 and the likely hood of a regression is very high. IMO the question is how large of a regression.
      Wasn't Mauer one of those guys in 2009?
    1. AM.'s Avatar
      AM. -
      Transferring my comment from your original post:

      Great piece. The data you have presented, while barely over the threshold of small sample size, show two things:
      1)Mauer is swinging at more pitches, and
      2)Mauer has shifted where he hits the ball up in the spectrum; more fly balls/line-drives at the expense of ground balls.

      The question is whether he is changing his swing path to more of an uppercut, or swinging at more higher pitches? (Or another explanation...returned leg strength?)

      One note...this is the first year he would have had the opportunity to work with Brunansky....maybe he's changed his approach slightly due to that?
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by diehardtwinsfan View Post
      Wasn't Mauer one of those guys in 2009?
      No, his career high was in 2009 but it was .373.
    1. fairweather's Avatar
      fairweather -
      Mauer is one of those guy7s that will have a higher BABIP then most guys because he almost always hits the ball square.
    1. Willihammer's Avatar
      Willihammer -
      I wonder if Mauer has done something to address his ground ball tendencies. Or at least, has he tailored his approach to the type of pitcher that he's facing. This could be SSS noise, but so far he is absolutely pounding ground ballers.



      edit: also worth noting that he's got a .500 BABIP against them but 10 doubles in 57 PAs would suggest he's just hitting them hard too.
    1. Boone's Avatar
      Boone -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      I think that combined those are the two largest factors in how his stats look at the end of the season. I would guess, and that's all it is, that a 20-30 point drop in babip would outweigh a 3-4% drop in K%. That would be a real interesting study IMO if anyone would care to take it on.
      First of all, I think you're underestimating the potential drop in strikeouts. Here are his K rates:
      Career :12.2%
      4/2013: 17.3%
      5/2013: 25.6%
      6/2013: 12.2%
      2013 : 19%

      There is a very real chance that his K% will drop 5-7%.

      As for weighing K% and BABIP, the formula is as follows: BABIP = (H/AB - HR/AB)/(1 - K/AB - HR/AB - SF/AB), where the 1 is a result of AB/AB and H/AB is the batting average that results from the other variables. I used Mauer's 2013 HR/AB (2.89%) and 2013 SF/AB (0%). In order to calculate the expected batting average for the rest of the season I used a .365 BABIP. Here are the results:

      If Mauer continues to strike out at a rate of 19% rate (21.7% of his ABs) and his BABIP falls to .365, then his batting average will fall to .304
      If Mauer strikes out at his career rate of 12.2% (12.7% of ABs) going forward and his BABIP falls to .365, his batting average will actually rise to .333.
      In other words, a drop in K rate to his career rate will outweigh a drop in BABIP of 35% points if he maintains his current HR and SF rates.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      Quote Originally Posted by Boone View Post
      First of all, I think you're underestimating the potential drop in strikeouts. Here are his K rates:
      Career :12.2%
      4/2013: 17.3%
      5/2013: 25.6%
      6/2013: 12.2%
      2013 : 19%

      There is a very real chance that his K% will drop 5-7%.

      As for weighing K% and BABIP, the formula is as follows: BABIP = (H/AB - HR/AB)/(1 - K/AB - HR/AB - SF/AB), where the 1 is a result of AB/AB and H/AB is the batting average that results from the other variables. I used Mauer's 2013 HR/AB (2.89%) and 2013 SF/AB (0%). In order to calculate the expected batting average for the rest of the season I used a .365 BABIP. Here are the results:

      If Mauer continues to strike out at a rate of 19% rate (21.7% of his ABs) and his BABIP falls to .365, then his batting average will fall to .304
      If Mauer strikes out at his career rate of 12.2% (12.7% of ABs) going forward and his BABIP falls to .365, his batting average will actually rise to .333.
      In other words, a drop in K rate to his career rate will outweigh a drop in BABIP of 35% points if he maintains his current HR and SF rates.
      Thanks for doing some of the math. A few questions and comments. K% and HR% are usually expressed as a function of PA's not AB's so did you use the actually K, HR and AB numbers in your math or the K%/HR% shown on Fangraphs/Bref? Are your BA's in your last paragraph season totals or from midseason to end of season totals? One thing you left out of your conclusion is that a fall in babip will also reduce his SLG percentage as well because, presumably, he won't hit as many doubles either. His HR rate would remain independent of this however since babip specifically does not include HR's.

      I think you misunderstood my point about his strikeout rate. He could very well decrease his second half K% to 10%. Since we are almost half way through the season however that would only lower his season k% by 4.5% to 14.5%. In order to drop his season k% to his career average of 12% he would have to have a second half k% of 5%. That seems very unrealistic. So my point was that his season k% might drop 3-4% meaning his second half percentage would be 11-13% which I think is entirely possible.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      He's only struck out 11 times this month over the course of 19 games. He had 18 in 23 games in April and 38 in May. Could very well be, May was just a fluke month as far as Ks go and he's back on his normal track. Of course, May was also his best month of the season, by far in BA, OBP and SLG%.
    1. Boone's Avatar
      Boone -
      Quote Originally Posted by Oxtung View Post
      Thanks for doing some of the math. A few questions and comments. K% and HR% are usually expressed as a function of PA's not AB's so did you use the actually K, HR and AB numbers in your math or the K%/HR% shown on Fangraphs/Bref? Are your BA's in your last paragraph season totals or from midseason to end of season totals? One thing you left out of your conclusion is that a fall in babip will also reduce his SLG percentage as well because, presumably, he won't hit as many doubles either. His HR rate would remain independent of this however since babip specifically does not include HR's.

      I think you misunderstood my point about his strikeout rate. He could very well decrease his second half K% to 10%. Since we are almost half way through the season however that would only lower his season k% by 4.5% to 14.5%. In order to drop his season k% to his career average of 12% he would have to have a second half k% of 5%. That seems very unrealistic. So my point was that his season k% might drop 3-4% meaning his second half percentage would be 11-13% which I think is entirely possible.
      All of the rates were per AB not PA like on Fangraphs. Also, my calculations were for what his numbers would be like going forward. So what I was saying was that if Mauer struck out at a 12% rate for the rest of the season with a .365 BABIP during that time period, he would hit .333 for the rest of the season.
    1. Oxtung's Avatar
      Oxtung -
      So it's been a month now and I was wondering how his K% and babip have started to play out. I think it will be interesting to track this as we go along.
      PA
      K's
      K%
      babip
      Avg
      April-June
      315 60 19% .399 .330
      July
      105 17 16.2% .373 .308

      Joe has seen an almost 3% drop in his K rate this month along with a 26 point drop in his babip leading to a 22 point drop in his batting average. Mauer still had a fantastic babip rate since the original post in June but, unfortunately, he still carried over the higher than average K%. At this point it seems his drop in babip has had more of an effect than his drop in K% on his batting average. It will be interesting to track this going forward.
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