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Mauer’s 2009 Power Surge, Revisited

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Again looking at leaderboards, I noticed that only one of the top 10 hitters by batting average had fewer than 10 home runs; that would be your 2009 American League MVP, Joe Mauer.

Mauer is hitting 0.324 through 127 games and, barring a disaster to end the season, will finish as a 5-WAR player.  It’s a far cry from his 8-win 2009 season (which no one could reasonably expect him to repeat), and just looking at his lines across the two seasons, it’s not hard to see where the difference is.

Season G H 2B HR BB% K% ISO BABIP AVG OBP SLG wOBA WAR
2009 138 191 30 28 12.5% 12.0% 0.222 0.373 0.365 0.444 0.587 0.438 8
2010 127 155 41 8 11.3% 10.6% 0.140 0.345 0.324 0.400 0.463 0.370 4.8

The BABIP change almost entirely explains the batting average and OBP drop, but a lot of Mauer’s value in 2009 came from the 28 home runs.  He was 3rd in slugging percentage in 2009 (behind only Albert Pujols and Prince Fielder), but this year is just 54th, between Victor Martinez and Gaby Sanchez.

Mauer hit 9 home runs in the minor leagues (294 games), then hit 6, 9, 13, 7, and 9 home runs in his first five big league seasons, for a total of 44 home runs in 561 games.  Heading into 2009, the projection system PECOTA pegged Mauer for a 10 home run season with a 0.436 slugging percentage*.  Going into 2010, PECOTA predicted 19 home runs for Mauer and a 0.491 slugging percentage.  The 5 projection systems provided on FanGraphs had Mauer hitting 22, 18, 16, 21, and 19 home runs with slugging percentages between 0.498 and 0.536.  So what happened?

*Here are the 2009 and 2010 write-ups in Baseball Prospectus for Mauer, provided because they’re funny:


2009: Last season, Mauer joined Hall of Famer Ernie Lombardi on the very short list of catchers to win two batting titles.  In most regards, the year was a welcome return to form after the multiple injuries of 2007, although Mauer’s power dropped again.  In 2007, the outage was seen as a function of lack of leverage due to various leg problems, but at this state, it seems more likely that unless Mauer radically alters a grounder-generating approach, he’s never going to develop into a big-time home-run – or even doubles – producer.  That’s not a problem as long as he maintains his patience and doesn’t have his footspeed completely eroded by catching.  His defense speaks for itself, so he should have a long career as a backstop, even if his offense fades.  Speaking of which, want to see something really scary?  Through his just-completed age-25 season, Mauer has hit .317/.399/.457.  Through his age-25 season, Jason Kendall batted .312/.399/.451.  Just sayin’.

2010:  In 284 career minor-league games, Joe Mauer hit a grand total of nine home runs.  yes, every scout you could find would tell you that one day, he’d hit 25 to 30 a year.  He averaged less than 10 per year in his first four full seasons for the Twins, but scouts insisted that he was the ultimate example of why there is the cliché about power being the last tool to develop.  In 2009, it finally showed up.  Nobody thinks it’s a fluke, and now he’s easily in the argument for most valuable future career in baseball based on his production, age, and position, a franchise player at a position that has seen only one hitter of his caliber in 50 years – and Mike Piazza lacked Mauer’s gifts behind the plate.

Mauer’s plate discipline numbers remain virtually unchanged from 2009 to 2010, and only one number in his batted ball profile sticks out:

Season O-Swing% Z-Swing% Swing% O-Contact% Z-Contact% Contact% Zone% F-Strike% SwStr%
2009 20.4% 56.1% 37.0% 79.1% 91.1% 87.6% 46.5% 51.7% 4.3%
2010 24.4% 56.0% 39.4% 80.2% 96.2% 91.0% 47.6% 55.3% 3.3%

Season GB/FB LD% GB% FB% IFFB% HR/FB
2009 1.62 22.6% 47.8% 29.5% 1.5% 20.4%
2010 1.56 24.2% 46.2% 29.6% 2.3% 6.3%

So he didn’t hit any more fly balls; he just hit more of those over the fence.  Since, for this study, I’m only really interested in the home run power, I checked Greg Rybarczyk’s HitTracker to get the details of Mauer’s 2009 and 2010 home runs.  From the website, here’s how it works:

Hit Tracker is a spreadsheet tool that takes as inputs atmospheric information and observation data, and gives as an output the true distance that the home run traveled, along with the initial speed of the hit off the bat and the precise angles at which the ball left the bat. It does this by creating as a starting point an initial “best-guess” three dimensional trajectory for the home run, and then modifying that trajectory, a little bit at a time, until the trajectory matches the observed data from the actual home run event.

With these data, Rybarczyk has categorized the home runs based on how far they go over the fence and, with the estimated trajectory, can determine how many parks that particular hit would have been a home run in.  He also categorizes home runs at “Just Enough,” “No Doubt,” and “Plenty.”  Again, Greg’s explanations:

“Just Enough” home run – Means the ball cleared the fence by less than 10 vertical feet, OR that it landed less than one fence height past the fence. These are the ones that barely made it over the fence.

“No Doubt” home run – Means the ball cleared the fence by at least 20 vertical feet AND landed at least 50 feet past the fence. These are the really deep blasts.

“Plenty” home run – Everything else, except for the 2 above Homerun types

Lucky Homer – A home run that would not have cleared the fence if it has been struck on a 70-degree, calm day.

With that in mind, here’s Mauer’s 2009 home run list:

Date Pitcher Team Ballpark Type/Luck True Distance # Park
9/19/2009 Verlander, Justin DET Metrodome ND 422 30
9/13/2009 Gonzalez, Carlos OAK Metrodome PL 382 30
8/31/2009 Floyd, Gavin CWS Metrodome ND 409 30
8/18/2009 Feldman, Scott TEX Ameriquest Field PL 433 30
8/18/2009 Feldman, Scott TEX Ameriquest Field PL 433 28
8/17/2009 Hunter, Tommy TEX Ameriquest Field JE 372 26
8/15/2009 Sipp, Tony CLE Metrodome JE 417 24
8/13/2009 Meche, Gil KC Metrodome PL 414 29
8/8/2009 Verlander, Justin DET Comerica Park PL 366 27
8/7/2009 Galarraga, Armando DET Comerica Park JE 381 26
7/31/2009 Santana, Ervin LAA Metrodome JE 407 18
7/24/2009 Lackey, John LAA Angels Stadium PL 420 29
7/24/2009 Lackey, John LAA Angels Stadium JE 416 21
7/8/2009 Coke, Phil NYY Metrodome JE 369 16
6/20/2009 Moehler, Brian HOU Metrodome PL 420 30
6/12/2009 Wells, Randy CHC Wrigley Field PL 388 12
6/2/2009 Huff, David CLE Metrodome JE 358 13
5/25/2009 Papelbon, Jonathan BOS Metrodome PL 417 24
5/24/2009 Bush, Dave MIL Metrodome ND 421 30
5/23/2009 Looper, Braden MIL Metrodome JE 361 21
5/21/2009 Gobble, Jimmy CWS U.S. Cellular Field ND 385 22
5/19/2009 Buehrle, Mark CWS U.S. Cellular Field PL 378 22
5/16/2009 Chamberlain, Joba NYY New Yankee Stadium JE 418 22
5/15/2009 Coke, Phil NYY New Yankee Stadium PL 426 27
5/12/2009 Galarraga, Armando DET Metrodome JE 360 9
5/9/2009 Hernandez, Felix SEA Metrodome PL 392 29
5/8/2009 Jakubauskas, Chris SEA Metrodome JE 381 20
5/1/2009 Ponson, Sidney KC Metrodome PL 390 27

Of Mauer’s four home runs, only 4 were “No Doubts;” 13 were “Plenties” and 11 were “Just Enoughs.”  3 of the 4 “No Doubts” would have made it out of all 30 parks.  Only 3 of the “Plenties” and none of the “Just Enoughs” had enough to get out of all 30.  The average for each type was 28, 26, and 20 for “No Doubts,” “Plenties,” and “Just Enoughs,” respectively.  Now for 2010:

Date Pitcher Team Ballpark Type/Luck True Distance # Park
8/18/2010 Floyd, Gavin CWS Target Field JE 367 11
8/10/2010 Garcia, Freddy CWS U.S. Cellular Field PL 412 27
7/26/2010 Marte, Victor KC Kauffman Stadium JE 384 30
7/23/2010 Guthrie, Jeremy BAL Camden Yards PL 411 5
7/6/2010 Tallet, Brian TOR Rogers Centre JE 415 25
6/19/2010 Lidge, Brad PHI Citizens Bank Park JE 419 24
5/14/2010 Burnett, A.J. NYY New Yankee Stadium JE 402 30
4/6/2010 Saunders, Joe LAA Angels Stadium JE/L 409 4

A different story.  No “No Doubts,” only 2 “Plenties” and 6 “Just Enoughs,” including 3 that would have made it out of less than a dozen ballparks.  There was only home run that would have made it out of so few ballparks in 2009.  Thanks to this great tool, we can also see where Mauer’s home runs ended up in each season.

2009

2010

Only 9 of Mauer’s 28 2009 home runs were hit to the right side of second base; only 3-6 more could be classified as left-center, meaning that Mauer hit 13 (or 16) home runs to left field in 2009.  Just looking at the chart, a lot of those look like “Just Enoughs,” traveling between 350 and 380 feet.  All of Mauer’s pulled home runs traveled at least 400 feet.  It doesn’t seem to me like Mauer did anything differently in 2009 than he did previously or that he’s doing now.  He has always hit the ball to all fields, and in 2009, some of those fly balls to left field found their way into the seats.  Joe Mauer doesn’t have to hit 25 to 30 home runs to be a valuable player; that he did it in 2009 (along with hitting 0.365 while playing catcher) made him an easy choice for MVP.  I agree partially with BP’s 2009 take on Mauer’s career, with one caveat.  Given the extension he got before the 2010 season, he won’t have that long of a career as a backstop; the Twins are going to make sure he hits for as long as he can.

Also, this post was an excuse to show this video:

Date Pitcher Team Ballpark Type/Luck True Distance # Park
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Written by Dan Hennessey

September 14, 2010 at 10:13 PM

Posted in Uncategorized

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