Since April 20th, Twins catcher Joe Mauer has seen his average drop 107 points from .393 all the way down to .286 after this afternoon’s 1-2 performance against the Indians. Despite his struggles, he still has his OBP up at .364, which would be lower than every season in his career except in 2011 when he finished at .360. His .286 average is lower than any season total in his 10 year Major League career. The most alarming statistic resulting from his slow start is his strike out rate, which is currently at 5.13 PA/K. In his worst season (2012) for strike outs, Mauer struck out 88 times, once every 7.28 plate appearances.
I decided to go through each of Mauer’s 23 strike outs to try and figure out what’s going on with the 3-time AL batting champ. Here are a few interesting observations from those 23 at bats.
Only 5 of the 23 strike outs were Mauer looking at third strike, 2 of those 5 against left-handed pitchers. All the other 18 K’s were swinging third strikes. 8 total strike outs were facing lefties, 15 against righties.
In those 23 at bats, Mauer saw an average of 4.21 pitches, just below his season average of 4.23 pitches per at bat – which places him 4th in the American League currently. Considering he needs to see at least 3 pitches just to strike out in the first place, the fact that he sees on average fewer pitches when he strikes out is a bit surprising. 8 of his strike outs, amazingly, came on just 3 pitches. Pitchers are getting ahead of Mauer and putting him away quickly. Only 7 two-strike foul balls has he fought off in these 23 at bats.
The count at the time of the strike out has been as follows: 0-2 8 times, 1-2 10 times, 2-2 4 times, and 3-2 just once. These haven’t been deep at bats at all.
He’s struck out on 8 fastballs (4 looking), 10 sliders, 1 sinker, 1 cut fastball, 2 curve balls (1 looking), and 1 change up. 7 of the 10 sliders he’s swung and missed on were either low and away from a lefty, or down and in from a righty – all out of the strike zone.
What may have been the most consistent trend is whether the pitcher was getting ahead in the count or not. In 22 of the 23 strike outs, the pitcher got ahead either 0-2 (11 times) or 1-2 (11 times). The one time Mauer got ahead 2-1, the count ran full, he fouled off one 2-strike pitch, and then struck out swinging on a curve ball below the knees.
There have been at least one man on base in 12 of those at bats, twice with the bases loaded. There were 0 outs 6 times, 1 out 9 times, and 2 outs 8 times when Mauer struck out.
I didn’t track this specifically, but as I watched each at bat one other thing popped out as a running theme. Mauer almost always swung at strike 2 in each appearance, which was either a swing and a miss at a pitch out of the zone, or a foul ball on a pitch right down the middle it seemed. For some reason Mauer is just missing those strike two pitches, despite his aggressiveness.
In my head I’m wondering if it’s possible that his legs could be a little weary from all the catching he’s been doing. Last season, Mauer started just 72 games at catcher, DHing 42 games, and playing first base in 30 games. To this point in 2013, he’s started 19 games at catcher, 6 at DH, and just 1 at first base. In the midst of that, he’s also had 10 days completely off between rain outs, scheduled off days, and 2 games off on the bench.
Around the time of the double-header against Miami, Mauer seemed to hit somewhat of a wall offensively, after completely tearing it up for a 10-game hitting streak the two weeks before. He’s hitting .329 with two strikes still this season, but he’s had two strikes on him about 3 out of every 4 PA’s. Last season the count got to two strikes only about half of his PA’s. Pitchers are working ahead, and Mauer is staying aggressive to the point where his average with two strikes is way up (just .266 last season), but it’s also resulting in many more strike outs. Let’s hope that’s all it is, and not another case of chronic bilateral leg weakness.
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