Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Contemplating Joe Mauer

Joe Mauer bops a first-inning single Tuesday evening.
We're almost one fourth of the way through the regular season, and — surprise — Joe Mauer's hitting .340.

It's been the most uneven season of his career so far. No. 7 was hitting .393 after a 2-for-4 game April 20. The next day he went hitless, and he finished the month 3-for-33, which lowered his season average to .287. He hasn't had a hitless game since, and he goes into today's game with a 13-game hitting streak.

His first inning single Tuesday night (his only hit of the game) came with two strikes and was his 30th hit of the season with two strikes, an astounding figure. For his career, Mauer is a .257 hitter with two strikes (slash line .257/.311/.357); this season, Mauer is .322/.365/.400, even as he heads for a new career high in strikeouts. (Figures, garnered from Baseball Reference, don't include Tuesday's game.)

It's worth knowing, for comparison purposes, that the American League average with two strikes is .183 — .183/.252/.284 —  and this paltry level of performance is normal. Hitting is difficult; hitting with two strikes is almost impossible.

Striking out more often — Mauer has whiffed in about 24 percent of his official at-bats this year, as compared to a career rate of about 12.5 percent — and getting more hits with two strikes is a difficult combination to maintain, and I don't expect him to maintain it.

He has reached two strikes in 47.1 percent of his career plate appearances; this year he's got to two strikes 56.9 percent of the time.

I'm going to hazard the guess that if he's going to hit .340 this year and continue to challenge the single-season doubles record — and it's too early for me to get revved up about that notion — he'll need to have fewer two-strike at-bats.

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