After reviewing the team’s data on their off-day, one stat drew my attention: Joe Mauer has expanded his hitting zone and is now following after a significantly higher amount of out-of-zone pitches. After offering at 21% of pitches outside the hitting zone in ’09, he’s up to 30% in the season’s initial month. This has not affected his performance per se; it’s simply a curious trend for the reputably selective Mauer.
Or maybe there’s a little more to that statistical jump.
It was no secret that in 2009, Joe Mauer loved to take the ball to the opposite field. When going away, Mauer was able to lift the ball at a 48% clip which resulted in 16 of his 28 home runs as well as a .911 slugging percentage. Pitchers would enable Mauer’s habit by locating over half of their pitches in the outer-half of the plate, thereby playing to his strength. As opponents continued to pour pitches away to the Twins catcher, Mauer displayed some zen-like discipline, chasing after just 44 pitches (5% of his overall total) on balls thrown outside the strike zone away.
This year has seen slightly different results for Mauer. While he has leveled out the lofty fly balls -- his fly ball rate in that direction is down to 37% as his line drive rate has shot up to 44% -- he is still stroking the ball solidly. Despite not sneaking the ball over the fence with as much ease in the current season, Mauer is slugging .656 with six extra base hits to left. Similarly, Inside Edge’s numbers show that he is exercising a .244 well-hit average on pitches away while the rest of the league is hitting just .095. What is interesting, and probably reflective in his overall chase increase, is that he has swung at 25 pitches (17% of his overall total) on balls thrown outside the zone away.
Fly Ball% (Opposite Field)
Line Drive% (Opposite Field)
Well-Hit Average (Away)
Via BillJamesOnline.net, Fangraphs.com and MyInsideEdge.com
Perhaps in the season’s early going Mauer has pressed a bit more and has expanded his hitting zone in hopes of reaching a few more seats in the outfield. Perhaps it simply is Mauer cheating a bit on the outer-half of the plate as pitchers are favoring that locale. Whatever the reason, he is still handling the pitch well, as indicative of his line drive rate and well-hit average, it is just that he is simply go after it more frequently.
To be fair, the bar was set freaky high in 2009 as Mauer completed his superhuman first month of his season with a .414/.500/.838 batting line and 11 home runs – topping his 2008 tater total in just 30 days. Mauer’s home run totals were almost certain to subside from the prior season as his 20.4% HR/FB rate was well above his career norm. This year Mauer has been an image to his regular self. His batting average is high (.345), he is reaching base at a 40% clip (.406) and slugging at .500. With the exception of the heel injury that took him out for a handful of games, things appear business-as-usual with the Twins’ franchise player.