Joe Mauer: 23 K’s and Counting

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.

Follow Twins Rubes on Twitter @twinsrubes.

5 thoughts on “Joe Mauer: 23 K’s and Counting

  1. Not real surprising stats as the pitchers have finally figured out he rarely rarely swings at the first pitch so they groove a strike to get ahead. They then put one on the corner that he looks at again to go 0-2. Even with Joe’s skills as a hitter, you can only survive so many times after letting yourself get behind 0-2. Solution: HIT THE FIRST PITCH!

    • sorry arlan , but that analysis is far too typical of the ‘fan in the stands’. Pitchers have been trying to figure how to pitch to Joe for about a decade now , and Joe generally prevails. Joe today has bumped up his average again to where he generally is , over . 320. Joe has the highest lifetime batting of all time ( 1900-present among catchers) and he has 3 batting titles and he will be there again in the fall like he was last year when all the ‘experts ‘ were telling him how to bat!
      You don’t spit into the wiind , you don’t tug at Superman’s cape and you don’t mess around with Joe !
      The only thing Joe can’t fight is Father Time and biological age of his body. It happens to everyone . Joe is 30 now , not the 20ish wonderkid anymore.

      • well once again we have to address this ‘what is wrong with Joe and why he should listen to the ‘average joe ‘ in the stands / couch”.
        Joe is hitting close to .400 again , on one of the best hitting streaks on his career, and he probably didn’t listen to one fan or crtitic or sports ‘journalist ( Souhan , Ruesse) , he just let all that “advice’ roll off his back. Gardy kept saying ‘leave Joe alone , he is the least of my worries, he will be just fine’…
        I swear there seems to be anti Joe faction out there that assumes just because he signed that massive contract , anything less than a .375 and 30 homer season is a failure!
        I have always thought if I was talented enough to play as a pro , I would respond much better to cheers and encouragement than to jeers.

  2. The K rate analysis is indeed interesting. I bet when he breaks 100 Ks for the year (he’s on track to do this), more people will take note.

    Also interesting is that this 6′ 5″, 235 lb guy — who has been labeled a wunderkind athlete his whole life — still can’t find a way to use his build and perfect swing to generate enough power to go deep. I guess when you’re in the hole all the time it’s hard to pounce on inner-half stuff.

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