The Minnesota Twins had such a bad April that the team has become nearly invisible except for those die-hard fans that love and follow their team. And this invisibility is sort of a shame because they really have not played poorly since the middle of May. Few people would guess, for example, that the Twins played above .500 for the month of June. The lack of attention has also hidden some nice seasons for guys like Scott Diamond, Josh Willingham and Joe Mauer. This post features the latter who has bounced back nicely from pretty much a lost 2011 to again offer the baseball world more than shampoo commercials.
Currently, Jue Mauer is second in the American League in batting with a BA of .332. There is a slight chance that Mauer can claim his fourth batting title. A certain Angels' phenom must cool off a bit for that to happen, but there is plenty of time for Mauer to win another title. Mauer is also first in the American League in on-base percentage of .422. That is an excellent figure and his highest since 2009. There is no way for him to match his slugging of 2009, though, as he has only hit six homers to go with 21 doubles and a triple.
All that said, Mauer has again taken his place among the best hitters in the league. Even so, this observer would dispute some of what Jeff Passan of Yahoo Sports tweeted this afternoon: "...Joe Mauer deserves some MVP votes. He has been superb." Mauer is currently tied for ninth in the American League in fWAR and Fangraphs is much higher (3.4) on him than Baseball-Reference.com which has him at 2.5 rWAR. And he is only eleventh in the league in wOBA. Mauer is back to being an offensive weapon, but MVP votes? No.
Let's start for a moment with his fielding. Mauer is not a full-time catcher anymore. He has caught 49 of the Twins' 99 games. Mauer has DHed (isn't it great how we turned that into a verb?) 25 times and has played first base 19 times. Behind the plate, he has been less than ordinary. Both Fangraphs and B-R have him in negative territory with his fielding. Plus, Mauer has only thrown out a paltry 15% of runners attempting to steal. That is Varitek-like. And while you have to give the pitchers some of the credit for not being able to hold the runners on, you also have to give the Twins' catching some of the responsibility for the Twins being dead last in most pitching categories.
There are also some strange things going on with Mauer's batted balls. His BABIP is a very high .375. That is higher than his .345 career BABIP. But what doesn't make sense is that Mauer is at a higher BABIP while hitting more ground balls than he's ever hit in his career. His current ground ball to fly ball ratio of 2.68 is easily the highest of his career. And yet, he is batting .282 when he hits ground balls. That is high. He doesn't hit many fly balls, but when he does, they are effective. He has a .946 OPS on fly balls which is also kind of unbelievable against the league norm. And his homer to fly ball ratio is pretty good too at just over ten percent.
Mauer is absolutely raking when he hits a line drive. His OPS on line drives is 1.860. Of the 53 line drives he has hit, 45 have found a safe place to land or hit or dent. It should be mentioned that his line drive percentage of 24.9 percent is the highest of his career if he were to maintain it.
So there is some really good stuff here and some not so good stuff. He has only swung and missed 4.2 percent of the time this season. That is astounding. And yet, he leads the league in grounding into double plays with an amazing 19, well on pace to beat his career high of 22.
The great news is that Joe Mauer is back as an offensive player. He is one the best pure hitters of this generation. The not so good news is that not only is he not an every day catcher anymore, he is no longer a very good one when he does.
The good news is that Head and Shoulders doesn't have to be embarrassed about its spokesperson anymore (except at how dumb the commercials are). The bad news is that the Twins are paying him at $23 million a season and he only has an outside shot of reaching that value according to Fangraphs and no shot according to Baseball-reference.com. This writer would still pay to see him hit though.