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Kevin Slowey was Framed!

Joe Mauer Hates Pop-Ups

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Originally posted at Kevin Slowey was Framed!

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.

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 (2002-2012 data):

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 (2004-2012 data used to mirror Mauer's career)!

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.

Updated 02-27-2013 at 10:38 AM by Brad Swanson

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Comments

  1. Shane Wahl's Avatar
    Nice article. That was good and I shared the info on Facebook for peeps. That's pretty rare for me to do that from something around here.
  2. Oldgoat_MN's Avatar
    Thank you, Brad, for a very interesting article on a very strange stat.
    Get some rest.
  3. h2oface's Avatar
    Fun read............ one thing.......... you have Eric Byrnes hitting 273 IFFB in 3478 PA's on one chart, and then have him hitting only (only?) 245 IFFB'S for his career in the next chart....... so as they sing on SNL........ "What's up with that?"
    Updated 02-27-2013 at 10:47 AM by h2oface
  4. Brad Swanson's Avatar
    That's a classic case of bad chart labeling. The 273 is his career number, the 245 is his 2004-2012 number. I just used Mauer's career era for the second one. I should update that!
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