Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Prescription: Rest, Dammit

Let’s try and diffuse this Mauertov cocktail a bit. This mix of a beloved icon, incredibly high expectations and a demanding and underachieving position can become highly explosive when you add the catalyst of questionable health.

That’s because there is no shortage of opinions. There are those who want him to move to a different position, which they guarantee will resolve any health issues. There are those to whom the thought of moving him out from behind the plate is ridiculous, negating a substantial amount of his vaue. There is also the faction who questions his toughness, because they expect their superstars to play every day. And, of course, there are those who just love him and sideburns, and want to stuff a gallon of Kemps whole milk into all the Negative Nellys’ pie hole.

These are all fun, and make for great column fodder. But I’m not feeling especially rhetorical tonight, and besides, I’ve wanted to study something for a while. Last year, I kept noticing that Mauer seemed to hit his home runs after a day of rest. It also seemed that Mauer’s offensive surge in the second half of last year coincided with a lot more rest. And of course his 2009 MVP season started with a month or rest.

So let’s try and take the rhetoric out of this. I’m not going to try and judge his perceived toughness or softness, or whether he should want to play more, or should play a different position. What I want to know is: does Mauer hit better when he’s been recently rested?

First, let’s see if I was right about those home runs last year. Mauer hit just nine home runs last year, so let’s take a look at each one and see how close they came to a day where he wasn’t playing catcher:

#1. at LAA– It was only two days into the season, so just two days from an off day for the whole team.

#2. at NYY – Three days earlier he had a day off. He had actually had quite a bit of time off, because he had been hurt, but didn’t go on the DL, and then seemingly rushed back from injury for the Yankees series.

#3. at PHL – The big ninth inning home run versus the Phillies. The whole team had the day off two days earlier.

#4 at TOR – The Twins had an off day the day before.

#5 at BLT – The day before Mauer had been the designated hitter.

#6 at KC – The day before, Mauer had a day off.

#7 at CLE – The day before, the Twins had the day off.

#8 vs CWS – Mauer’s first home run in Target Field came two days after the team had a day off.

#9 at CWS – Two days before this, Mauer had been given the day off.

First, let’s state the obvious: Mauer struggled to get home runs at Target Field, which isn’t too surprising since many of his dingers in 2009 cleared the right field fence. That’s a considerable challenge at the new ballpark.

But it also suggests that maybe there is something to this rest thing. Four of his home runs came the day after he was rested. Four more came two days after a break. One came three days later and none came four days after a break. Incidentally, Mauer played 22 games last year where he had played catcher four days in a row or more.

That’s a fun anecdotal analysis, but let’s take it a step further. If we look at his overall batting line, did he hit considerably better after a little rest? Let’s see:

Oh, right – you don’t like numbers. Let’s turn it into something a bit simpler:

Last year, Mauer’s batting average went down the more days in a row he caught, and it REALLY affected his power. If we want to get into some treacherous small sample size territory, we can carry it further:

Apparently Mauer is REALLY good after catching seven days in a row! Actually, Mauer only started four games where he had been catching seven or eight games, and in one of those he went 4 of 7, thus the spike at the end. But the rest of the line seems to further support the thesis: Mauer is quite a bit better when he is frequently rested.

This isn’t proof. Anyone who wanted to poke holes in this analysis would start with the fact that these are fairly small sample sizes, none greater than 40 games. They’ll get no argument from me that this is a long way from proving that Mauer needs his rest.

Instead, let’s take is as directional evidence. Last year, Joe Mauer hit quite a bit better and for a lot more power when he was frequently given a break from playing catcher. Whatever your blustery opinion on how he should be used in the future, it might pay to try that strategy going forward.


Kirsten said...

Speaking as someone who has spent many years behind the plate, catching is really taxing, both physically and mentally, so I'm sure it's a nice break for him to DH ( I wish teams I play for would carry multiple catchers), but at the same time, catchers do love what they do, so I would imagine he'd be unhappy to be rested TOO much.

If he says he's fine, he's fine. For once I'm firmly on Team Mauer, and I think it would be a shame to move him somewhere else in the field. Watching him catch is a beautiful thing, he's got great style.

What I really want to know is how I can get a couple of those injections for MY knees.

Large Canine said...

My beef isn't that he needs his rest. All players do, especially catchers. Best= Mauer catching. 2nd best=Mauer DHing. 3rd best=Mauer on the bench. My issue last year is Gardy's overall lineup usage. On a day Mauer either DH's or is on the bench, the other 8 regulars need to be in the lineup to offset Butera's limp bat. There was a May or June game last year where Hardy and Hudson were on the DL already, then Mauer DH'd and Gardy also rested Span that game. So essentially 4 regulars were out. Unacceptable. Obviously you cannot control injuries. But when everyone is healthy, rest regulars one at a time, obviously taking into account matchups against pitchers (which Gardy doesn't seem to do very well either).

BeefMaster said...

Large Canine - I've also been frustrated with Gardy's tendency to play the "B Team" on getaway days, giving everyone rest at the same time, but there is some defense for it this year, if he plays his cards right and rests Mauer against a lefty.

There are three "B Squad" guys on the bench (Tolbert, Repko, and Butera), and two of them are righthanded. Against a lefty, there's a pretty solid case to be made that the Twins' best lineup, even with Butera catching, also includes Repko in the outfield, with Cuddyer or Delmon at DH and both Thome and Kubel riding the pine. As long as that's not also the day that they have Tolbert spell Valencia (or, God forbid, Morneau), they're not losing a ton of offense, given that Kubel's hopeless and Thome's mediocre against lefties.

Jack Ungerleider said...

I suspect that no matter how you slice the data you will be able to find the trends you are looking for.

Here's a stat for you to look at John, I'd be interested in what you find. I suspect that while number of days in a row is important, the number of pitches thrown in any given game may be more important. We all know that Mauer's offense lags in later innings. But the question becomes is he better later in games an in the next game when the pitching staff is efficient? If the starter gets to the 7th or 8th inning on 100-110 pitches that means Mauer is catching maybe 130-150 pitches that game. If they get pulled in the 4th with 95 pitches then you are looking at 200+ pitch game. I suspect that there is carry over from that. I don't have the stats but I bet there were more of the high pitch games last year than in 2009. If that's the case, then the rest is less on number of days and more on accumulated pitches.

Large Canine said...

rest at the catcher pos is obviously the most important. I think the goal should be to put the best possible lineup on the field for each game taking into consideration the opposing pitcher while giving your pos players the oppropriate amount of rest. I think there have been some Twins who have not gotten the correct amount of rest (Justin prior to getting the flu when Cuddy was on berievement leave, Span, Cuddy, etc...). Obvioussly things like Justin going to the DL on 7 July menat Cuddy wasn't going to get any rest. Gardy and the Twins need a better back up plan. Get away B lineups should include no more than 1, possibly 2 non regulars.

Anonymous said...

1. I love the tag BeefMaster.
2. I am in the camp who just thinks Mauer is hot and I want to see him and his sideburns on the field not hiding in the dugout.
3. If Mauer has to sit then it should be a game where Pavano is pitching so I have another hot guy to gaze at.
4. Beyond that…Play Ball!

Anonymous said...

Shouldn't you look at how everyone else reacts to rest too so you hae a baseline to campare Mauer to?

walter hanson said...


You went into a great detail about how Mauer was having trouble hitting homers to right. I think Target Field played more of a damaging role in losing left field homers. A lot of Joe's homers to left in the Metrodome seemed to get to the first five rows only. In Target field they were best off the wall or caught on the warning track.

After all it was one homer at home and eight on the road.

Walter Hanson
Minneapolis, MN