Tuesday, May 26, 2009
Oh settle down. It's a legit question. I have no doubt you are currently swearing at your computer and calling me every simple minded insult your tiny brain can come up with, causing your co-workers to once again question your sanity and intelligence level, but stay with me here.
I'm not accusing your hero of anything, I'm just saying that if this entire state didn't worship Mauer to a level usually reserved for criminally insane cult leaders there would be some questions raised, but since nobody even dares hint at it, if falls on me to do the digging.
The numbers, simply put, are enough to raise the question, as any but the most hard-headed homer Mauer-loving fan would admit. This season, after hitting a pinch two-run home run yesterday, he has hit eleven ding dongs in just 81 at-bats. This is up against just nine all of last season in 536 at bats and a career high of just 13, back in 2006.
Before this season, Mauer hit a home run every 47 at bats. This year, he is hitting one every 7.4 at bats. That's about a 6.5 times increase in his home run rate. The most obvious example of a hitter taking the juice is always Brady Anderson, who hit fifty home runs in 1996 despite a career high of just 21 before that season, and never hitting more than 24 after that. Anderson came into 1996 with a home run rate of one HR every 49 at bats. In that season, he hit one every 11.6 at bats - a 4x increase. This means that so far this season, Juicin' Joe has increased his home run hitting ability MORESO even than Brady Anderson - the poster boy for a roid-aided season.
So what has changed? Simply put, Mauer is hitting more fly balls, and a higher percentage than normal of those fly balls are going over the fence. In his career, of the balls Mauer has put in play, 27.4% of them have been fly balls - this season he is at 36.6%. Of those fly balls, in his career 10.4% of them leave the yard - this year he is at a staggering 38.5%.
What does that mean? We can mostly ignore the fly ball percentages, as both the career number and this season's number fall in a normal range, and on the low end to boot. The home run/fly ball percentages are very interesting, however. His career number of 10.4% is on par with guys like A.J. Pierzynski (9.0), Russel Martin (9.6), and Johnny Damon (9.0) - nice, dependable mid-teen home run hitters who might rarely get to twenty. The 38.5% this season is more like Ryan Howard (33.0), Jim Thome (27.6), and Barry Bonds (25.1). Look at those two sets of names again. That my friends, is what we call, "a huge leap."
We only have data on HR/Fly ball going back to 2002, so we can't look at Brady. Luckily, we have another excellent candidate in Adrian Beltre. Beltre came into 2004 with a career high of 23 home runs, hit 48 that year (a contract year, no less), and then never hit more than 26 again. That year his HR/FB rate jumped from a career number of 13.5% all the way up to 23.3% - a huge jump, but no where near as high as Mauer. A-Rod, who has admitted to being on roids when he was with the Rangers, posted higher than his career HR/FB rates in both years with Texas we have data for.
Look, I'm not here saying Mauer is on steroids. I actually don't think he is, and tend to think more like this article from Fangraphs which thinks this month has just been a blip or this from Aaron Gleeman which compares Mauer to Wade Boggs. Then again, I didn't think A-Rod or Manny were on roids either, and was legitimately surprised when I heard the news.
So enjoy this from Mauer, chances are we won't see a power display like this from him again. But don't surprised if bad news comes at some point. You have been warned.
(I also find it pretty damn hilarious that now that Mauer is finally hitting like a #3 hitter, Gardy finally moves him to #2. It almost has to be intentional, doesn't it?)