Thursday, July 15, 2010

Joe Mauer's pull power?

For the second day in a row, Star Tribune columnist Jim Souhan has taken aim at Minnesota’s All-Star catcher, this time taking an opportunity to highlight what he believes are the reasons behind Joe Mauer’s decline in productivity. Souhan indicates several factors contributing to this drop-off, noting “the ballpark effect”, “the scouting effect”, “the position effect” and “the contract effect”.

Although some of the scribe’s offerings have some merit (for example, teams have shifted the shortstop almost on top of second base when Mauer is batting to cut down the hits up the middle and this plays a role in his batting average), others are more speculative (the contract effect is less likely to do with the “pressures of a contract” but rather the team that signed him did so when he was overachieving and thus likely to have a regression the following season). Still, there is one declaration that Souhan made that caught my attention which fell under “the scouting effect”:
“When Mauer was at his best last season, he was capable of pulling the ball with power; he has not shown an ability to do so this season.”
At best, this statement is shoddy reporting and at worst it is patently false. Either way, it was lazy.

While Mauer demonstrated a decent ability to hit the ball to all fields well, he did not necessarily pull the ball with power. Everybody who has reviewed his numbers last year would agree that Mauer’s power was generated when driving the ball to left field, not pulling the ball. In fact, just eight of his 59 extra base hits (14%) were pulled into right field.

According to’s split breakdown, Mauer’s power numbers were well above the league average when driving the ball to the opposite field but well beneath the norm when yanking the ball to the right:

Slugging Percentage
Mauer 2009
Mauer 2010
League LHB

Obviously his power was most prevalent when going away and has suffered the most from ’09 to ‘10. After all, 16 of his 28 home runs were opposite field shots helping to bolster that slugging percentage. Additionally, Mauer’s power results when pulling the ball this year are almost as good as his previous season, if not better. While his slugging percentage is down to an even .500, he’s knocked seven of his 29 extra base hits to right (25%). So suggesting that he is not pulling the ball for power this year is misleading.

What’s more is that by the virtue of the manner in which he was putting the ball into play, Mauer has demonstrated little that he has a tendency to hit the ball for much power when pulling in the first place.

For his career, Mauer’s hit a groundball to the right side 70% of the time when making contact in play. During the season in which he was supposedly “pulling the ball with power”, the Twins catcher bounced the ball 77.6% of the time in that direction. Last year, left-handed batters as a whole hit the ball on the ground 59% of the time. It’s hard to accumulate desirable power numbers when the ball is kicking up dirt. Nevertheless, as you can see, there is little evidence separating what he did last year in his MVP year when turning on a pitch from this year:

Batted Balls - Pulled
Line Drive%
Fly ball%

Without question, the fan base, front office and coaching staff are all seeking answers to the team’s most well-paid hitter’s offensive doldrums; however, those numbers didn’t drop-off because he has stopped hitting the ball for power when pulling it as the popular columnist noted. Ironically, if Mauer would like to beat the defensive maneuvering that has quieted his riot thus far in 2010, hitting for power to right field could led to alterations in the opposing team’s approach and thereby opening up the middle of the infield for him more often.

Then again, simply continuing to hit the ball hard all over the field will undoubtedly lead to more hits.