In 2009 Joe Mauer was undoubtedly the best all-around catcher in the MLB. He won the AL MVP nearly unanimously only one first place vote shy. In that season, he had a triple slash of .365/.444/.587 with 28 home runs. He continued to put up elite numbers for the next five years while playing at a premier position. Fast forward to today and Mauer is a shell of what he used to be. He no longer catches and continues to struggle at the plate. This year with the Twins being an early season surprise, they need Mauer to perform with the bat. Mauer, though well past his prime, has every opportunity to produce big numbers the rest of the year and help the Twins back to the playoffs.
One of the aspects that helped Mauer (and any MVP caliber hitter for that matter) win MVP in 2009 was his plate discipline. He walked 12.5% of the time and struck out only 10% of the time. In the past three years, however, he has struck out at least 16% of the time and this year only walking 9% of his at bats. Among the 165 qualified hitters, Mauer sees the 26th most strikes. In addition to seeing a lot of pitches in the strike zone, he also sees more fastballs than anyone else in the league. Pitchers are giving him the easiest chance at getting a hit. Here is Mauer’s heat map from this season:
Mauer is getting pitches right down the heart of the plate. Compare that to how he was being pitched to in his MVP season:
Back when he was a threat he was being pitched to very differently. Mauer is being pitched to but is also making the most contact in the zone. Mauer is 2nd among qualified hitters in z-contact%. This season he is making more contact in the zone than ever before despite the fact that he is swinging at the same pitches and at the same rate:
Mauer has simply aged. Pitchers are giving Mauer every opportunity to do damage. He is receiving an ample amount of fastballs down the heart of the plate. Mauer is looking to stay at this respectable average. His BABIP is .319 which is in line with his career normal.
Twins fans should be encouraged by Mauer. He may not be walking as much, but that is due to that fact that he is seeing more strikes. Mauer is doing what any other player would do when presented with a high dose of fastballs down the plate, and that is to attack. He is making a lot of contact and putting a lot of balls in play. He is not hitting the ball as hard as he used to 8 years ago. Nobody expects that. At this point if he can continue to hit around .275 with a home run every now and then, Twins fans should be happy.