Thursday, May 21, 2015

Joe Mauer Is Reiventing Meaningful Statistics

May 20, 2015; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer (7) hits a solo home run against the Pittsburgh Pirates during the thirteenth inning of an inter-league game at PNC Park. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports
In the dead of the Pittsburgh night, late in the game (the top of the 13th inning to be exact), Joe Mauer did something that he has abandoned since August 17, 2014. With Antonio Bastardo on the mound, Mauer deposited a pitch over the right-centerfield wall at PNC Bank stadium. The Twins went on to win the game by a tally of 4-3. The home run was the shot that lifted Minnesota over the Pirates, but for Joe, it really doesn't matter.

The home run off of Bastardo ended a 286 at bat drought for Mauer. While a first basemen, power has generally not been his game (just 37 HR since 2010), but taking a deeper look at the 2015 version, that's something you should be ok with. Statistically speaking, the corner infield spots are held down by hulking home run hitters that drive the ball to all fields. Contrary to what may be popular belief, Mauer has reinvented himself in bringing value to the role.

Often regarded as an opposite field hitter (outside of the relative reliability to pull ground balls) Mauer has used all fields incredibly well in 2015. He is currently pulling 31.5% of his batted balls, while going up the middle with 35.4%, and hitting to the opposite field 33.1% of the time. A career 28.8% pull hitter, he has more evenly used all fields in 2015.

Although Mauer is more evenly distributing his hits, they are falling in equaling less total bases. Though this isn't ideal, it can likely be explained by his hard hit percentage. Owner of a career 33.6% hard hit percentage, Mauer is hitting just 23.6% of his batted balls hard this year. While his medium hits are at 59.1% (as opposed to a career 56.7%), his soft hits are also significantly up at 17.3% (career 9.7%).

The most visible place these numbers have shown up is in regards to Mauer's doubles this season. With eight total through the first quarter of the season, reaching 30+ will require a few more balls driven to the gaps. However, Mauer does have two triples already this season, matching his 2014 total.

Looking at the numbers as a whole, we can start to see where Joe Mauer has deficiencies, and where he should be expected to contribute. That being said, a glance at a few different key areas quickly points out that Mauer may in fact be on pace for one of his best offensive seasons in recent memory. Home runs aside, he is driving the Twins offense right now, quite literally.

Leading the club in runs batted in with 24, Mauer is blistering past his 2014 pace (which ended with 55 RBI). Mauer's previous career high in runs batted in came during the 2009 season, in which he drove in 96 runs for the Twins. As it stands now, he's on pace to even that mark. Mauer driving in runs is a by-product of his success in high leverage situations this season, and his success is astounding.

A large portion of being a talented hitter is situational hitting. While Mauer's .284/.341/.381 slash line may leave some room for improvement, it's tough to argue what he's done in high leverage situations. In 2015 with runners on base, Mauer is hitting .382/.463/.485 and with runners in scoring position he's even better, .419/.500/.512. Taking it one step further, Mauer is 4-5 with a triple and eight RBI with the bases loaded in 2015, equating to a 2.000 OPS. Driving runners around and putting the Twins on the board is no doubt the most important offensive feat, no matter how that is accomplished.

Now that we've established why Mauer's lack of home runs doesn't really matter, it's probably a good time to suggest things could continue to get even better. Hoping that Mauer's overall slash line returns back towards his career numbers still seems to be in the cards. Last season, Mauer didn't hit .300 in any single month until September. In 2015, Mauer's April line checked in at .318/.392/.412. He's struggled at the plate in May (outside of those high leverage situations), but it's pretty apparent that a healthy Mauer can still hit. As the summer wears on, it should be expected that Mauer hits at a better than average clip.

This Twins team is in a good place right now, and with key additions coming as the season goes on, they are in position to keep getting better. The 6th best offense in baseball is continuing to push runs across at a strong clip, and Joe Mauer is a big reason for it, even despite the home runs.