Time to Question Mauer's Health Yet?
by, 05-07-2012 at 08:41 AM (1058 Views)
[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.