When Minnesota’s prodigal son returned to the lineup on June 17, the Twins were in the midst of a four-game winning streak. In his first plate appearance back, Joe Mauer scooted a groundball up the middle scoring Alexi Casilla and giving the Twins a 1-0 lead. Since then, however, he has gone 2-for-17 while appearing overmatched.
Prior to heading back to join the team, Mauer readily admitted that he was not 100% telling reporters that “Timing wise and hitting wise, I'm not where I need to be in midseason form.”
In terms of connectivity, Mauer is doing just fine in that department – showing that he is able to put the bat on the ball at a high clip. The problem is that his contact has mostly produced grounders. In fact, with a minimum of 50 plate appearances, Mauer’s 68.1% ground ball rate is the highest in the American League. That type of infield littering is typically reserved for slap-hitting, speedsters.
Perhaps because of the extended time off from baseball activity or his various ailments, Mauer has not shown the ability to stay in on pitches. Much like Morneau’s early season woes, Mauer too is pulling off of the ball with his front hip, leaving him susceptible to fastballs away and off-speed stuff.
Unlike Morneau, Mauer is able to keep his hands back much better so he's not turning over the ball as much but because he is still pulling out on his swing, he is unable to generate a charge when going to the opposite field. The below images provides somewhat of a perspective on what Mauer is doing different versus his 2009 campaign:
Focusing in on his front hip, you see that in the 2011 version (left) the hip has pulled off the ball. This leaves him hitting more with his hands - pushing and punching the ball on the outer-half of the plate. In his 2009 version, Mauer’s front hip is centered allowing him to create more power and ability to drive the pitch that is thrown away.
Because of this, Mauer has seen a precipitous decline in his ability to drive off-speed and breaking pitches so far in his truncated 2011 season:
Mauer vs. Off-Speed Stuff
% Put In Play
Opponents appear to be taking advantage of this since his return to the Twins in June, giving him an increased dosage of sliders to upset his already disturbed timing. The Giants executed well against the left-handed catcher, working him down-and-away in his appearances in the Bay Area. With the exception of a line drive double play and a punched double to the left-center gap, Mauer routinely beat the ball into the ground.
With Milwaukee’s advanced scouts likely casing AT&T Park in preparation for the upcoming series, the Brewers pitching staff will likely follow suit and implement San Francisco’s blueprint when facing the Twins’ catcher.
The Killer shirts have finally arrived to the DiamondCentric Headquarters this week. Expect shipping soon and be sure to pick one up if you have - part of the proceeds goes towards the Killebrew Foundation.