The month of April was far from kind to Minnesota Twins’ first baseman Joe Mauer, but there are plenty of reasons to keep him on board.
Joe Mauer‘s contract is a source of contention among Minnesota Twins fans. $23 million per year for a small market team tends to do that. And, when Mauer’s legs suddenly went weak during the 2011 season and he went from one of the best catchers in the game to what many considered a below average first baseman, Twins fans were understandably nervous.
While we’ve never seen Mauer return to his true pre-2011 form, there’s a case to be made that his contract is not as bad as some might imagine.
Mauer’s April certainly was not his best offensive month on record. That .271 OBP? It’s way down from his usual .391. His .225 batting average isn’t exactly exciting either. It’s ten points lower than at the same time in his 2011 season, which was injury plagued to say the least.
As of May 1, he was ranked 164 of 184 qualified hitters according to Fangraphs.com, which makes him pretty much undraftable by fantasy standards.
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So what’s behind these troublesome numbers? It could be that Joe turned 34 in April, which is almost elderly by athlete standards. Then again, it could be that opposing teams often employ a shift when he’s up to bat.
Consider this. Mauer is putting the ball in play 87 percent of the time he’s up to bat. That is still 14 percentage points higher than his career high. He’s also hitting more line drives. A lot more. 34 percent of his hits are line drives, which is up 11 percent from prior years.
If teams weren’t playing a shift against him, who knows where his average would be right now. Now we know how Red Sox fans must have felt all those years when David Ortiz would come to the plate. If the Twins are worried about his power off the bat, he’s ranked 3rd on the team in that category, behind Miguel Sano and Max Kepler.
While he may not be producing as many runs as the Twins may be used to, he’s certainly saving more than his fair share. He’s anchoring what looks to be one of the most solid infields the Twins have had in recent memory.
Probably the most important takeaway from April is that Mauer stayed healthy. He was in the lineup as the designated hitter over 30 times last year. While Paul Molitor has held Mauer out of the lineup on 4 occasions in April, it wasn’t because of injury. Mauer has been available to play in every game this season which is a welcome change.
Chalk it up to age, to a different mindset, to teams figuring him out, to any number of factors. While his April wasn’t Joe Mauer’s best offensive month on record. Still, there are plenty of reasons for the Twins and us fans to still be happy he’s on our side.