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Twins Fan From Afar

Time to Question Mauer's Health Yet?

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Since taking a foul tip to the knee
last week, Joe Mauer hasn't been
the same

[Originally published at Twins Fan From Afar]

Since Joe Mauer dinged his knee taking a foul tip on April 29, he has not been the same player. Yes, he missed only one game, which is a testament to the fact that he is resolute in his desire to to play this season. That, especially when compared to the way Mauer and the organization dealt with his injuries last season, should be commended. But what about the product on the field?

Last week, I wrote about Mauer's ground ball rate -- specifically, the fact that we should keep an eye on the frequency of his ground outs second base as a possible indicator of his health. To sum up that post: In Mauer's 2009 MVP season, he hit into the 4-3 putout 12.2 percent of the time; in 2011, when he was injured, but before being placed on the disabled list, that figure was 26.3 percent. And as of last Tuesday's game (when I wrote the post), that number was 18.2 percent.

The last four games (since I wrote the post about the ground ball rate) have not been good offensively for Mauer, and that has me worried. Take a look at his Fangraphs game log, and tell me if you don't agree. In 16 plate appearances (14 at-bats because Mauer walked twice), Joe has 1 hit -- an infield single to shortstop. He has grounded out to second base 6 times in those 14 at-bats, including one double play grounder. Only 4 balls have left the infield -- all flyouts. And -- possibly the worst sign for Mauer -- not a single line drive. Horrible numbers from our former MVP and team leader. His percentage of at-bats that result in grounders to second is now at just under 21 percent on the season.

I don't want to make a mountain out of a molehill. In Mauer's defense, Jered Weaver and Felix Hernandez pitched 2 out of those 4 games, and they are, of course, very good pitchers. And the sample size is still small. But don't we expect more from Mauer against good pitchers (than we do, say, Drew Butera), and isn't that a fair expectation? Deep down, don't you think that something is wrong with Mauer -- i.e., that the knee is really plaguing him and that he's just grinding out at-bats? Admittedly, I didn't watch this weekend's games, but from what I listened to on the radio, they described Mauer as "cautious" when he was running.

For those that are still stuck believing that Mauer's best -- or only -- value to this team is as the starting catcher for the next several years, this is what we have to look forward to. Yes, there are going to be weeks-long and months-long stretches of great baseball from Mauer, even if he remains at catcher forever. But there are also going to be stretches where his legs and knees are so banged up that he can't get any power into his swing. Aside from that "clutch" infield single (which I read could have been ruled an error), Mauer hasn't provided very much value to the Twins in the past week. This isn't my rally cry to move Mauer from catcher immediately and forever, as much as it is a recognition -- maybe the fifth or eighth or tenth recognition in the past several years -- that, as he ages, Mauer's best "value" to the Twins is being healthy and on the field, regardless of the position.


  1. CDog's Avatar
    As I've said in response to another of your posts (I think), when Mauer tried to play at the start of '11 and clearly wasn't right, the main cause of the not-rightness was lack of strength in his left leg. The result of that not-rightness was a lot of grounders and almost always to 2B. There was also some not-rightness at the end of the prior season (leading to the surgery) and there was an increase then, too, of grounders to the right side. Now he takes a nasty foul ball off that same leg (one he described as one of the worst he's ever gotten hit with), in the same area that was the cause of problem, and he immediately is hitting a ton of grounders to 2B. Yeah, I think there's a pretty natural inclination to worry about that. I know I am.

    As for a couple other things you mention, yes two of the games were against Weaver and Hernandez, but the rest were not. Big time not. And for whatever reason, Mauer had previously absolutely RAKED King Felix (with a small sample as all individual matchups are, but a fair amount more than those usually have). And the infield hit to shortstop wouldn't have been an error anywhere, I don't think. It was a crispish ground ball right up the middle that the shortstop got his glove on well behind the second base bag (he was several feet into the outfield grass). A play he maybe could have made and would sometimes, but certainly not an error.
  2. Twins Fan From Afar's Avatar
    CDog, thanks for the clarification on that ground ball single -- like I said, I didn't see it, but was just going off of something one of the SEA or MIN writers had penned.
  3. JB_Iowa's Avatar
    I'm not a stats person but as I watched him run to 1st in his last AB yesterday, I commented on his knee. It wasn't a limp but it seemed like there was a hesitation in his step.

    I don't know the answer to all this but I think you are absolutely correct in your conclusion that he will go through periods like this (probably many of them) as long as he continues to cqatch.
  4. USAFChief's Avatar
    Not that it matters but the infield single was not "crispish." I was at the game...it was a weakly hit five hopper that just happened to be in a perfect spot. If it was well hit the SS wouldn't have gotten a glove on it.

    He was definitely favoring the leg all weekend. It was more noticeable during BP.
  5. CDog's Avatar
    WHAT?!?! Chief disagrees with my rather wide-ranged description? And on the negative side? This is all brand new and unexpected information!!!

    One of the many things that amuses me in a rather absurd way is when people add "I was at the game" as if it's some sort of proof that they're right even when the subject is something that has nothing to do with the specifics of being at the game.

    Since I'm pretty big fan of the truth, I should mention that the SS nearly fielded the ball exactly where the dirt meets the grass. When he reversed course to go pick up the ball that he hadn't caught, he picked it up several feet into the outfield, which is where I was likely remembering that from. Smalley mentioned, and I agree, that it was a play he probably would make sometimes and was disappointed he didn't, but I don't see it as an error almost ever. And as long as we're on the truth, I don't really know how it matters, but since the five-hop description was given as evidence of how uncrisp the ball was hit, it hit the ground four times before the glove.

    When the ball was hit, the split second insta-reaction was "base hit up the middle" (that likely isn't the reaction of someone predisposed to the negative, or someone distracted by the hot dog vendor or someone focusing on mis-counting hops). Then in that next split second is when I realized "oh, infields play Mauer shifted to pull" and the SS was there to make the play. But it was hit "so weakly" that the pitcher really made no reaction until the ball was past him. Bremer referred to it as "hot," so factor down the proper amount from there and I'll stand by crispish. It wasn't blistered or scalded or ripped or tattooed or even no-doubt-crisp. It was a crispish groundball up the middle.

    Andohbytheway, if you're really interested, it's the 8th or so highlight on the videos on the Twins mlb official page if you'd like to watch it yourself.
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