Minnesota Twins: Taking a Look at the Joe Mauer Paradox
By Ian Srp
A brief summary of the life and times of Minnesota Twins’ first baseman Joe Mauer and our obsession with his perceived role.
Picture this: It’s 3 o’clock on a Tuesday afternoon and your phone dings. It’s one of only a few possible things. 1. A ‘friendly’ text from your significant other reminding you that you were supposed to pick up the kids from school, 2. Your buddy from high school just sent you a meme you wish could be unseen, or 3. Another lineup update letting you know that Mauer is, once again, wedged between Sano and Castro in the 4-hole of the Minnesota Twins lineup.
This isn’t a ‘pile on Joe’ piece. I promise. Just bear with me a second.
Comparing Joe to the rest of the league has been done far too much, so I’ll spare you what you already know, however, even while focusing only on the Twins, the same conclusions can be drawn. According to ESPN, among the 7 qualified hitters on the team, Joe is ranked 6th in SLG (.310), 6th in OBP (.295), 6th in OPS (.605), 6th in BA (.230), T-4th in RBI (10), and T-5th in HR (1).
Ask any GM, coach, scout, little league platoon player or your own mother if those rankings are indicative of a cleanup hitter. Unless you’re Joe’s brother and his mother is your mother, there is no one on this planet, who knows a lick about the sport, who could logically argue for Mauer’s grasp on the cleanup spot.
This isn’t to say that Joe isn’t valuable to the team if used properly. I’m not losing my mind and screaming for him to be cut. I’m not whining for him to be benched. I won’t even be the guy begging for him to be put in the bottom third. He should be hitting sixth, right where an average player belongs.
He’s Average Today, but…
Mauer has been anything but average throughout his career. While he was catching, he was arguably the best all-around player in the game. Not only was he a force at the plate, people forget that he was a Gold Glove winner from 2008-2010. He was the player that every other team’s fans wanted.
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In 2014, after a bevy of injuries, the Twins and Joe thought it best to move him to first base to hopefully reduce the wear and tear and get a few more years out of his body. It did anything but. He languished to the first of 3 consecutive sub-.280 campaigns. Now, there are a lot of guys who hit .250 and still have immense value. Those guys are belting 30+ homeruns and driving in 90+ runs, though.
Those are the prototypical cleanup hitters. Big run driving machines, but capable of striking out 4 times in 3 at-bats. Joe is the polar opposite and you know what? It’s perfectly fine – just maybe being used a bit further down the lineup card.
So, the question is, how does a guy like Molitor, with all of his baseball experience and knowledge, continually force a guy more suited for 6-9 into a role predominately occupied by ‘go big or go home’ players?
It’s simple. He’s Joe Mauer. Not only that, he’s 6′ 5″, 225 pounds. In a Bleacher Report article from 2011, Joe’s swing was regarded as ‘perfect’. To me, that sounds and looks like you’re prototypical cleanup guy. But he’s not that guy anymore and the love affair with 27 year old Joe has got to stop.
So, what happened?
He’s getting older. He’s 34. Now, in our daily lives 34 is still a very young man, but remember, he debuted at 21 and spent his first 11 years almost exclusively behind the plate. Catching is no joke. It’s commonly thought of as the most physically demanding position on the field and Joe’s physical and mental ability to handle the Twins often tumultuous staffs was the stuff of dreams.
But it’s not 2009. Heck, it’s not even 2013. It’s 2017 and Joe is in the midst of yet another subpar season, by his standards. Yet, here we are, 1/6th of the way through the season and he’s continuously shoved into the role of power producer.
I’d love to know how Joe really feels about it. I mean, really feels. Is he happy there? Does he feel obligated as the veteran? Is he starting to feel like he needs to prove something?
Well, he doesn’t. Even through all of his struggles, this state and fan base loves Joe, even if we find ourselves struggling to understand his regression. Appreciate the memories. Enjoy watching the purest swing in the game.
Moving Joe down in the order isn’t going to ruin him. He’s a professional. If anything, it might remove a little pressure and allow the guy to breathe. If Mauer reads social media, I’m sure he’s well aware of the vitriol being spewed his way.
Remember, this team was being talked about as a candidate for contraction. How much of the Twins resurgence can be credited to Mauer? He’s the face of this franchise and it won’t change after he’s moved down or even after he’s long retired. Joe is the Twins and he will be for the foreseeable future.
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But, that doesn’t mean he’s a power hitter. SIXTH.