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Jason’s Blog: Mauer Mayhem

Posted By: Jason Iacovino

Minnesota has a sports crisis it doesn’t want to address.  The reluctance to address the crisis, like the subject of the crisis himself, is too Minnesotan to face the issue square-on.

Instead, we prefer to be passive-aggressive.  We’re all guilty of it in our daily lives.  We have something that’s bothering us but instead of confronting the situation we choose to pretend that everything is okay, make excuses, bicker about it in outside circles, and move on without rocking the boat.

Joe Mauer, Minnesota’s most famous and popular athlete of the last 25 years, is nothing near what we thought he was.  It’s this simple–and still, we can’t admit it.

I’ve sampled reaction from what I call the Mauer Media (Star Tribune writers Jim Souhan, Lavelle E. Neal III…Twins and NBC Sports blogger Aaron Gleeman, et al) since rumblings of Mauer’s poor start of the year began in mid-April through today and here’s the responses I’ve heard:

“He’s in a slump….every great hitter will have a slump…get back to me in mid-May.”

“He’s had bad luck…he’s hitting balls hard into the opponents’ shifts.”

“He’s got a bad back.”

“He’s not getting the calls he used to from the umpires.”

“His line drive percentage is still very high.”

The Mauer situation hit a creshendo on Wednesday night when he capped off an 0-for-4 with a strikeout against the Rangers in the 7th inning as the tying run stood at third base, lowering his average to .277.  As Mauer walked back to the dugout, the Target Field faithful boo’ed noticeably.

I’m not going to go through all the statistics, but I will say there is no longer any stat that could be twisted to make it look like it’s business as usual for Mauer. He’s striking out at an alarming rate.  He has an unbelievably low total of homeruns (2), doubles (6), and RBIs (15) for a No. 2 hitter with over 200 plate appearances.

But even as the Mauer Media has finally succomb to the realization that this is more than a slump, they still insist that patience is in order as 2014 is a big departure from the six-time All-Star’s 10-year career.

That’s where I take exception.  Sure, it’s never been quite this bad–not even during the infamous ”Bi-lateral Leg Weakness” season of 2011–but the trend is definitive and alarming.  Last season was the first ever where Mauer struck out more than he walked.  His strikeout to walk ratio here in 2014 is atrocious.  Mauer finished with an alarmingly low 47 RBIs in 2013–an incredibly low total even considering he missed the final month of the season with a concussion.

This year Mauer is on pace for an even lower 45 RBIs and that’s if he plays the full season.

When the Target Field era began in 2010, Mauer’s HR total went from 28 the previous season down to 9.  His batting average and on-base percentage dropped about 40 points each and his RBI total went from 96 to 75.

So what…it’s no secret the Metrodome was much more hitter friendly than Target Field and Mauer still batted .327 with an OBP of .402 and he had 43 doubles–All-Star numbers for sure.  Anyone who expected the ridiculous stats Mauer put up in 2009 to continue in perpetuity while he remained the Twins catcher was kidding themselves.

But here’s the thing….even those Target Field-adjusted 2010 numbers have been slowly eroding.  We get it about 2011–it was a nightmare…a wash…take it away.

But 2012, another All-Star season, saw minor reductions in doubles and on-base plus slugging from the New Normal of 2010, despite a higher number of plate appearances.  The walk-to-strikeout ratio also got a lot tighter.

The bottom line in 2012 and 2013, while more than acceptable, certainly does not represent the best Mauer can be.  And what we’re slowly discovering this season is the best Mauer can be may be long, long gone.

And that’s what’s truly troubling here.  Nevermind the money–I couldn’t care less about the $23 million per season price tag.  The Twins can afford it and Mauer’s resume at the time of the deal more than justified the signing, particularly given the intangibles his popularity brings to the franchise.

What I want is for star athletes to rise in their prime.  Now that he has moved to first base, you would think Mauer has several very good years left.  The hope is by the time the talented farm prospects the Twins have (Byron Buxton, Miguel Sano, Trevor May, and Alex Meyer to name a few) are ready for The Show, Mauer will still have plenty left in the tank and can be the glue that holds a championship team.

Batting .277 with no power and no ability to steal bases will not achieve this end.  And a .400 on-base percentage with no ability to steal bases and a low average with runners in scoring position (2013) might not get it done, either.

Look, at this point I don’t care if it comes in the form of a one month spurt–we need Mauer to show us he can still do what he did in 2010–not 2012 or 2013–and certainly we don’t want anything that resembles 2011.

Or this year. This year is all about the boos and it’s not just a “slump.”

Jason Iacovino can be heard Tuesdays and Fridays on KRFO-AM 1390 at 3:50 p.m. Email him at jjiacovino@stthomas.edu. Follow him on Twitter @JasonIacovino.

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