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  • Mauer and the Monster

    Hope for the 2013 season has faded, but Joe Mauer's dominance in the batter's box continues. Among many changes to the lineup, batting him second - not third - has been one move that Gardenhire has stuck to. But while it has led to an increase in plate appearances, the switch, among other factors, has led to a decrease in runs batted in. Several influences contribute, but the basics are obvious: an RBI requires a runner to be on-base. A look at the averages of those batting in front of Mauer reveals the hard evidence.

    The opportunities to bat second or third in an inning provide the best data. If Mauer bats fourth in an inning or later, he has a chance to do damage. If he bats first, an RBI is impossible. He can be driven in, of course, and help the offense, but he won't be able to produce others' runs, and he'd face the situation often, regardless of his position in the lineup. In 2013, Mauer has batted .386/.442/.514 (AVG/OBP/SLG) when leading off the inning. He's clearly doing his job there.

    Of course, Mauer bats second in the inning at the start of most games, and frequently thereafter. This season, he's had few opportunities to advance runners. The Twins' leadoff spot has been a Frankenstein's monster of ineffective plate appearances by ten different players, with the majority coming from Dozier, Carroll, Thomas, and Hicks. With a line of .199/.262/.300, this is by far the uggliest monster of all that has batted first in the Gardenhire era. The .562 OPS also makes up the third-weakest batter at any position since 2002, trailing only the 8th and 9th batters from 2011. While no one player has been quite this awful alone, a combination of poor timing and bad luck has led to exceptionally low averages at the top of the order. Batting second in the inning, Mauer comes to the plate with a runner-on just 26% of the time.

    Batting third in an inning, Joe's chance of driving in runs improves considerably. Mutually inclusive probability demonstrates that the ninth or first batter (or perhaps both) will regularly be on base when Mauer comes up. But at just 46% in 2013, the combination has the lowest rate in the Gardenhire era, thanks to the .268 OBP at the bottom of the lineup.

    For the purposes of comparison, look back at 2009. Then, the second spot could expect the ninth or first batter to be manning the bases in 59% of his appearances. That spot's modest .700 OPS drove in an impressive 94 runs, the most from that position since 2002. Mauer batted there just 32 times in 2009; the majority of the RBIs came from the motley crew of Orlando Cabrera, Brendan Harris, and Alexi Casilla.

    But in 2013, the bottom and top of the order are in shambles, and it's hurt Mauer's normally impressive stats. He could expect a bit more personal production if he followed two men in the first inning, but after that, little would change. Simply put, batters owe their RBI's to the players hitting in front of them.

    The immediate correlation is obvious. Runs come to those who get on base. But how do the on-base abilities at the top and bottom of the order set up the offense in general? Here is a graph of the yearly likelihood that the ninth or first batter was on-base for the second batter, along with a comparison with the overall runs per game.


    Of course, correlation does not grant causation; many factors contribute to overall offense. But again, runners need to be on base for others to drive them in. The exceptionally stagnant performances at the top and bottom of the lineup have hurt the team immensely.

    Mauer is a great fit for the second spot. In a better offense, his ability to consistently reach first would advance runners and set up the heart of the order perfectly. But as the best bat on the team, his switch has sacrificed RBI potential for more plate appearances, with no one to follow his lead. As we've seen in the past, he can be dangerous hitting third as well, but there's little available to fill the hole he'd leave. Unfortunately, Joe Mauer can't bat after Joe Mauer. If only we had two.
    This article was originally published in blog: Mauer and the Monster started by E. Andrew
    Comments 33 Comments
    1. John Bonnes's Avatar
      John Bonnes -
      To me, this raises two points:

      1. I'm not nearly as concerned about whether Mauer bats 2nd or 3rd as I am about whether he has someone in front of him that can get on base.

      2. His skills are being wasted on this team right now. I'm not sure how important that is and I'm not sure there is an easy solution, but I would sure love to see him hitting with some better hitters in front of him.
    1. troyhobbs's Avatar
      troyhobbs -
      I know the Twins won't trade Mauer nor would I want to see that but why pay him all that money if you're not going to put better talent around him?
    1. E. Andrew's Avatar
      E. Andrew -
      And without better talent, it'd be nice to see a couple more timely attempts to make something out of nothing. I know there are more than a few here that have a firm grasp of the base-out situations, and know that a bad bunter is a dumb man to have bunt. But in the right situation with a decent bunter, you can keep the defense/pitcher on their toes.

      I happened to watch last night's ninth inning on MLB network (they went to the game for Dozier's attempt at the cycle). Harold Reynolds was hammering on the fact that you should bunt at a guy like Greg Holland who falls WAY off toward first base... With guys that struggle against righties, try bunting at a guy like that. Florimon's at 44% (bunt-hit %) against RHPs, which is about what Gomez had in his first year here. That move never bothered me.

      Haha anyway, our problems are way bigger than that, but the little stuff could nudge things in the right direction.
    1. Lonestar's Avatar
      Lonestar -
      Sign Sin-Soo-Choo 5 Years/$105M
    1. StormJH1's Avatar
      StormJH1 -
      Two things really summed up the enlightened fanbase coming full circle on Mauer and appreciating him as an all-time great talent, whose abilities are being wasted on this team.

      First, just watching Mauer in the 9th with 2 outs (I think). Team is down by multiple runs, there's no one on base. Mauer takes several pitches and then just laces one down the left field line for a single. Like Dick said, he swings one time and that's what happens. He can't hit a 3-run homer with nobody on-base, but did exactly what they needed, and of course the rally goes nowhere.

      Second was Perkins' tweet after the game. There was a hashtag meme about voicing unpopular opinions (could be about anything). Unsolicited, Perkins tweeted:

      Glen Perkins ‏@glen_perkins 12h Joe Mauer doesn't need to hit home runs to be a great hitter. #ConfessYourUnpopularOpinions

      That contract was not looking great when Mauer had...whatever he had in 2011. Yet, agree or disagree with the wisdom of the deal, he really has become everything you realistically could have hoped for.

      It's sad watching him waste away on a terrible team, but less so because I don't think Mauer's the type of "Alpha Dog" competitor who is tearing himself up apart inside because he's not in the Playoffs every year. As the star of a basketball team, that lack of "killer instinct" and ego might be a problem. But as one of 9 guys in a lineup, he just shows up for work and does his job extremely well, probably enjoys playing in his hometown, and that may be enough for him.
    1. StormJH1's Avatar
      StormJH1 -
      Quote Originally Posted by troyhobbs View Post
      I know the Twins won't trade Mauer nor would I want to see that but why pay him all that money if you're not going to put better talent around him?
      I think they are trying, but the farm system was poor, and you really can't do that in free agency quickly unless you WAY overspend on a Fielder-type player, in which case they probably are beyond what their budget allows. It's tough to fans to grasp, but their current struggles were caused by what they did in their drafts and developmental system from 2004-09, which happened to be years when the MLB product was quite good. Plenty of teams have tried to buy their way out of terribleness aggressively, and they usually fail the way the Royals and Mets have.
    1. drjim's Avatar
      drjim -
      Mauer is far from the only great player on a lousy team. I suspect if the future didn't hold as much promise there would be more rumblings of a trade.
    1. Ultima Ratio's Avatar
      Ultima Ratio -
      If he bats first, an RBI is impossible.
      I chuckled.

      Seriously, if 9 and 1 aren't getting on base, then wouldn't it make more sense to bat Mauer leading off? Either way he will have limited RBI opportunities, but then you get a 1) a few more ABs from him and 2) a guy on base for the 2-4 hitters.

      Try: Mauer, Dozier, Morneau, Hammer*, Arcia, Doumit, whatever...


      *When healthy again.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by StormJH1 View Post
      Plenty of teams have tried to buy their way out of terribleness aggressively, and they usually fail the way the Royals and Mets have.
      The Royals? When did they try to buy their way out of terribleness? I know the Mets have in the past, but they aren't now and I don't know when the Royals did.

      I agree with the premise of your post for the most part, not all, but most. Can you give some example years for the Royals? You talking this year when they finally aren't bottom feeding with their payroll? I mean I know they are above the Twins, but that's hardly an accomplishment...and they are in the playoff hunt...so they aren't exactly terrible.
    1. troyhobbs's Avatar
      troyhobbs -
      Quote Originally Posted by StormJH1 View Post
      I think they are trying, but the farm system was poor, and you really can't do that in free agency quickly unless you WAY overspend on a Fielder-type player, in which case they probably are beyond what their budget allows. It's tough to fans to grasp, but their current struggles were caused by what they did in their drafts and developmental system from 2004-09, which happened to be years when the MLB product was quite good. Plenty of teams have tried to buy their way out of terribleness aggressively, and they usually fail the way the Royals and Mets have.
      Fair enough but the payroll is down $45 million from the inaugural season at Target Field and will probably be even lower next year. You could pick up some serious talent with that kind of cash...or save it and lose 90 games a year consistently
    1. Linus's Avatar
      Linus -
      Quote Originally Posted by StormJH1 View Post
      I think they are trying, but the farm system was poor, and you really can't do that in free agency quickly unless you WAY overspend on a Fielder-type player, in which case they probably are beyond what their budget allows. It's tough to fans to grasp, but their current struggles were caused by what they did in their drafts and developmental system from 2004-09, which happened to be years when the MLB product was quite good. Plenty of teams have tried to buy their way out of terribleness aggressively, and they usually fail the way the Royals and Mets have.
      This.
    1. troyhobbs's Avatar
      troyhobbs -
      Quote Originally Posted by Linus View Post
      This.
      So it's impossible to improve via free agency?
    1. benchwarmerjim's Avatar
      benchwarmerjim -
      Quote Originally Posted by ThePuck View Post
      The Royals? When did they try to buy their way out of terribleness? I know the Mets have in the past, but they aren't now and I don't know when the Royals did.
      They 'overpayed' for Gil Meche a few years back. I dont know if that what the poster was thinking of, but that what comes to mind.
    1. Linus's Avatar
      Linus -
      Quote Originally Posted by troyhobbs View Post
      So it's impossible to improve via free agency?
      Its impossible to go from where the Twins are currently at to a legitimate contending team via free agency. When they are a player or two away, then yes, free agency is a viable and necessary option. We are not there yet; in fact we might be two years away before it makes any sense.
    1. troyhobbs's Avatar
      troyhobbs -
      Quote Originally Posted by Linus View Post
      Its impossible to go from where the Twins are currently at to a legitimate contending team via free agency. When they are a player or two away, then yes, free agency is a viable and necessary option. We are not there yet; in fact we might be two years away before it makes any sense.
      True. It's still frustrating when management is constantly shedding payroll but then saying "we're not about respectability, we're about winning." Well, they havent been getting much of either the last few years and hoping for wins a few more years down the road isn't a fool proof strategy even given the bright outlook of the future, I'd be disappointed if I was Mauer.
    1. Teflon's Avatar
      Teflon -
      On the bright side, not having runners on base means that Joe isn't grounding into his usual 20 double plays a season. Only 5 so far this year in 455 plate appearances. His slightly higher strikeout rate this year is helping in that regard, too.
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by Teflon View Post
      On the bright side, not having runners on base means that Joe isn't grounding into his usual 20 double plays a season. Only 5 so far this year in 455 plate appearances. His slightly higher strikeout rate this year is helping in that regard, too.
      And by 'usual 20 double plays a season' you mean the three seasons he's had 20 or more. His 162 game average for GiDP is 19...his 162 game average for plate appearances is 696. So that's, what, less than 3% of his PAs?
    1. KGB's Avatar
      KGB -
      Another reason for Joe's lack of RBI, would be his .252 average with runner on (career average is .337) and .243 with RISP (career .336)
    1. ThePuck's Avatar
      ThePuck -
      Quote Originally Posted by KGB View Post
      Another reason for Joe's lack of RBI, would be his .252 average with runner on (career average is .337) and .243 with RISP (career .336)
      Mauer bats a little at #3, but mostly at #2 this year. The Twins #1 batters this year have an OBP of .267. That's DEAD LAST in MLB. The next lowest is .281. Our #9 hitters have an OBP of .264. He's had 94 plate appearances with RISP. Who is he supposed to be knocking in? Compare that to Trout who is the Angels #2 batter most of the time and the #1 hitter a little bit. He has 136 plate appearances with RISP.

      Mauer is 11th in the AL for runs created (cumulative stat) and 5th in the AL in runs created per 27 outs (an average stat, like batting average). He's creating runs just fine, but he's also batting in the 2 spot with little help in front of him or behind him. MAYBE he's pressing too much with RISP due to the #3 spot's inability to drive in runs themselves this year? I mean our #3 hitter is 20th in RBI this year and that's with Mauer on base 40% of the time...
    1. KGB's Avatar
      KGB -
      Not saying he a bad hitter, he having a great year when nobody is on base. But if you are talking about his decrease in RBI, you can't ignore what he is doing when given the opportunity to drive in runs.
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