Much of the buzz surrounding the Twins this week has been a new face on an old debate.
Joe Mauer is the best player I have had the opportunity to see play regularly for the Twins (I say that having seen all of Puckett’s career as well – I don’t go any farther back than that however). He has also been one of the more polarizing sports figures in this town.
Anyone who follow the Twins has heard the arguments on both sides of the issue. It seems to be one of those issues where the line has been drawn and the sides are chosen. Both sides talk past each other, and like some of the more important polarizing issues of our times, folks aren’t changing their opinions.
Aaron Gleeman has been having some fun and putting a new twist on the all too familiar debate by posting the following at his blog and on twitter:
THROUGH AGE 31 JETER MAUER Batting Average .314 .321 On-Base Percentage .386 .403 Slugging Percentage .461 .463 OPS .847 .866 Wins Above Replacement 48.4 44.7
This comparison is particularly timely this year because, as we all know, 2014 is Jeter’s victory lap (complete with over-the-top scouting reports courtesy of FSN).
It certainly doesn’t seem to fit the narrative of the anti-Mauer crowd.
Truthfully, speaking as someone who doesn’t buy that particular narrative, one of the reasons this Jeter comparison is so welcome this year is that something is truly different about this old debate: Joe Mauer is not having a very good season.
Mauer is currently batting .279/.349/.348/.697. His OPS+ is 97 – meaning that a terrible year for him is just slightly below average for other major league first basemen* – but still well below his career OPS+ of 134. In addition, strikeouts are up. Mauer currently is striking out every 4.5 at bats, easily the worst season of his career in that department (he averages a K for every 7.5 at bats over the course of his career), but that number has been trending downward since 2010. Additionally, there have been a few high profile poor at bats for Mauer.
EDIT: *Beau points out in the comments that OPS+ is not adjusted for position, so he’s slightly below average for a major league batter, well below average for a first baseman.
This has given the boo birds a chance to voice their feelings at Target Field, and has added some ammo to the old charges that Mauer is soft, or unclutch, or whatever the word of the week is*.
*The size of his contract is usually an easy target as well, though it is difficult to say that Joe Mauer money is hamstringing the club when there is at least $20 million of budget space that went unspent in the offseason.
Parker Hageman has as good of an explanation as any for why it has been a down season. I know that defenses have been shifting when Mauer comes to the plate for years, but perhaps the scouting report has been refined to a science now. There is also an element of bad luck at play, not only in the fact that some of Mauer’s worst plate appearances have come in high profile moments. Mauer’s line drive percentage is 29% this season. That is the highest line drive rate of his career. Whether its because of the shift or just bad luck, a lot of those hard hit balls are finding gloves.
I will add this, the last time Mauer was in an extended slump we found out that there was a lingering injury – at that time it was a knee. He has had back problems this year.
There is some talk that Mauer is done at age 31. That could be the case, and he wouldn’t be the first player to decline in his early 30’s. But his line drive percentage seems to indicate that he is still striking the ball well, so it doesn’t seem likely.
Joe Mauer will probably come around and hit closer to Joe Mauer numbers for at least a few more years. Even if he doesn’t, he’s still the best player I have seen play on a regular basis. An easier prediction to make: there will always be a large percentage of Twins fans who don’t see it that way, and who will continue to claim that Mauer is the problem.
Despite all of this, I do think Howard Sinker has a point. It’s a tired debate – I don’t see many people changing sides. It takes attention away from the success of a more-exciting-then-expected ball club, and it takes attention away from more pressing problems with this organization, such as starting pitching, a lack of planning for center field……