By Twins Geek
You can find the following in this weekend's Dugout Splinters in GameDay, the independent Twins program sold outside the Metrodome.
Oh, please - don’t play coy with me. You know you’re wondering. And if a Twins Geek isn’t here to tell you how close Joe Mauer is to hitting .400, then why, exactly, is he here?
Mauer is just seven consecutive hits away from the promised land. Or, if he gets 24 at-bats this home stand, he would need fourteen hits to scale his way to .400. Or, if he hits .500 for the foreseeable future, it will take him 42 more at-bats. Or, if he finishes the year with 500 at-bats, he’ll need to hit slightly under .414 the rest of the season to make it. So he’s still a torrid hot streak away from the cover of Time magazine.
That doesn’t mean he’s a slouch. He’s still hitting .315 for his career, which (if he had the requisite 2000 plate appearances) would be the third highest career batting average in the Twins record book, behind Rod Carew at .334 and Kirby Puckett at .318. (Fourth and fifth on the list are Shane Mack (.309) and Brian Harper (.306). Whoulda thunk?)
His patience at the plate is fast becoming legendary, too. Mauer’s career on-base percentage is currently .385, which would place him third all-time among Twins in career OBP, behind Carew (.393) and Chuck Knoblauch (.391), followed closely by another surprise – Matt Lawton, who had a career OBP of .379 as a Twin.
(I can guess what you’re thinking – where’s Tony O? Oliva’s best years were played in a decade when pitching ruled. For instance, in 1968 he hit .289 and still had the second best batting average in the American League. His career batting average was .304.)
Mauer’s also almost impossible to neutralize in a big situation. He’s as effective versus left-handed pitching (.379) as he has been against right-handed pitching (.367), so good luck to that late-inning southpaw specialist. There’s no reliable way to pitch to him. It doesn’t pay to get ahead of him, because he’s batting an amazing .393 after an 0-2 count. But that’s a better option than falling behind in the count, because he’s hitting .485 after a 2-0 count.
It’s usually about this time that someone starts to mention Mauer’s “lack of power”. That’s usually quickly followed my ears spurting blood, because this myth is getting tiresome. Mauer IS hitting for power. His .540 slugging percentage is second on the Twins (to Michael Cuddyer) and within the range of stud hitters like Vladamir Guererro (.547), Magglio Ordonez (.546) and the Twin that got away, David Ortiz (.545).
More importantly, he also just turned 23 years old a little over a month ago. Oliva didn’t hit any major league home runs until he was 25 years old, because he didn’t make it to the majors until he was 24 years old. Ditto Puckett, who had only four home runs in his first 1200 at-bats. Even Harmon Killebrew had only eleven home runs before the season in which he turned 23. Don’t let Mauer’s familiarity and youth fool you. He may not be the Killer, but he’s on pace to become every bit the power hitter Tony and Kirby were.
What you are witnessing this year happens about once a decade. This is looking a lot like Oliva in ’64, Carew in ’69 or Puckett in ’86. This is the path a breakout year takes, and a year you’re going to want to remember, so you can tell it to your kids or grandkids. So, welcome to the ballgame. Enjoy the show.