In his first season after moving out from behind the plate and starting at first base full-time, things definitely didn’t go as planned for the Twins Joe Mauer. Despite the fact that once again he found himself on the shelf for a portion of the season, this time with an oblique injury, Mauer’s time on the field didn’t produce typical results either. The numbers may not tell the whole story however.
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Hitting for a .277 average, Joe Mauer suffered through what was his worst season at the plate as a major leaguer. Mauer also saw his strikeout percentage balloon to the highest rate of his career, at 18.5%. Looking for answers, Mauer has suggested that harder throwing pitchers and an enlarged strike zone contributed to the step back a season ago, but the answer may be even more simple than that. It’s relatively hard not to believe that the change of perspective didn’t have an effect on the output Mauer saw in 2014.
Having played behind the plate for the entirety of his career, Joe Mauer had the benefit of seeing and calling a game before nearly everyone on the field. Prior to stepping into the batter’s box for his first at bat of the game, Mauer had traditionally already seen at least three hitters come to the plate. In doing so, he was given a first person view of how any given game’s strike zone would look, and what may be called. Taking that benefit away, while adding in the distraction of having to learn an entirely new position at the highest level of baseball, would be detrimental to even the best players in the big leagues.
As 2015 rolls around, Joe Mauer has some ammunition in his own pocket when it comes to tackling the demons he faced a season ago. While he still will not have the benefit of getting an advanced look at the strike zone, his preparation should be in an advanced place. This time around, Mauer isn’t learning first base from the ground up, and is instead simply perfecting a role he’s already accustomed to. Having the ability to focus on his approach and ability in the batter’s box, should give him the benefit to rebound significantly in 2015.
At this point, it’s hard to argue that Mauer is even a top 10 first basemen in the major leagues, but expecting things to stay that way is also a tough bet to make. A former prized quarterback, and having paved the path of a hall of fame level catcher, Mauer should be expected to shine at his new position in due time. Expecting the power of a prototypical first basemen is a fool’s errand, but betting against Joe isn’t wise either.
Look for the extra seasoning to give the Twins their .300 hitting star back, while allowing Mauer to continue to rise through the ranks of first basemen at the game’s highest level.
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