Joe Mauer had such a good year last year that this year has seemed like a down year for the 2009 MVP winner. And yes, last year seems like an outlier for the Twins' catcher. Yes, he's hit only seven homers. Yes, his average is down 38 points from last year and his OBP is down 47 points. But my goodness, he sure is fantastic and last year was so good that his 2010 campaign has been lost a bit in the shuffle.
But Mauer is batting .327 with a .397 OBP. He has a 140 OPS+, the third highest of his career. He has hit 38 doubles. And what is truly fantastic is that Mauer has turned it on in the second half at a time when the Twins lost Justin Morneau to concussion syndrome that left a huge hole in the lineup behind him. He has played 21 games so far in the second half and his second half line: .435/.495/.694. Wow!
And by many accounts, Mauer has struggled physically this year. A recent story indicated that he had a cortisone shot in his knee. It is easy to forget that Mauer is putting up these numbers as a catcher. He is the best offensive catcher since Mike Piazza and though Piazza was far ahead of Mauer in offensive stats at the same point in his career, Mauer can actually...you know...catch. Piazza had more of a power game than Mauer which accounts for Piazza leading the league in OPS+ twice. Mauer has only done that once. Piazza had 1038 hits in his first seven seasons. Like Mauer, his first season was only a partial one. Mauer has not yet completed his seventh season and has 997 hits. He should come pretty close to matching Piazza in that category in a lot fewer at bats.
Another amazing thing about Mauer is that he has 415 walks so far in his career compared to only 335 strikeouts. That doesn't happen very often any more--if it ever did happen often. He puts the ball in play consistently. If you look at his BABIP this year, for most other batters, you would say they were lucky because it sits at .344. The average is said to be around .300. But the key to hitting, as told by the old Hall of Famer, Willie Keeler, was to "hit 'em where they ain't." Mauer does that on a consistent basis. The great ones do.
The only thing that is of mild concern about Mauer is that his success at throwing out base stealers is down quite a bit the past two years. Last year, it was 26% and this year it sits at 28% after a career that has averaged 37%. But it's so hard to judge that. Is it the catcher or the pitcher's ability to hold the runner that matters? How do you measure that? Oh, it can probably be done if you could figure out how fast the pitchers deliver the ball to the plate or how good their moves to first have been. But, the point is that it's not an easy thing to measure. You can tell when a catcher is struggling in that area. Varitek comes to mind last year and the year before. Posada is having a miserable year at it this year. But the Fan gets to watch them a lot more so the Fan has no idea if Mauer's technique is off or if his arm isn't where it should be.
The other thing that is easy to miss about Mauer is his age. For gosh sakes, the guy is only 27 years old. He was signed in 2001 right out of high school and three years later was in the big leagues and four years later, he was the regular catcher for the Twins at the age of 21. Mauer, barring health problems, has a lot of baseball left and we've just seen the tip of what he can do.
Enjoy it folks. A catcher like Mauer doesn't come along very often and he is a real joy to watch.