I have little original to say about Joe Mauer: now in his age 30 season, Mauer is unquestionably in the midst of a 1st ballot Hall of Fame Career. Owner of a career .323 BA (and .405 OBP), he has 3 batting titles as a catcher (rest of the AL catchers in history: zero). Through age 30, his career compares favorably to the best backstops ever to play the game.
With that as background, his numbers this year raise a question in my mind: has Mauer changed his approach at the plate? Through the first 2.5 months of 2013, Mauer is swinging at 40% of the pitches he sees (up almost 3 percentage points over his career average and 5 over 2012). His career contact rate is 88.5%, but this year that number has dropped to 81.5%. His contact on strikes has dropped a bit, but on balls outside the zone he has made significantly less contact (81.9% career, 69% this season).
Mauer’s results thus far, despite the swing and contact changes, are not wildly out of line with what we’ve come to expect from a Mauer season. His 2013 slash line of 332/414/498 is in line with career norms, though his 6 HRs and ISO of 166 (2nd best of his career, behind only the 28 HR outburst in the last year of the Metrodome) might indicate that Mauer’s more aggressive approach at the plate is designed to produce more power. When you graph Mauer’s HRs and flyballs from 2012 and 2013 (below), you see his flyballs are averaging slightly more distance this season (295, versus 288 last year), but not enormously so.
So what then to make of Mauer’s 2013 campaign? I’m interested to watch the year play out – for a hitter as accomplished as Joe Mauer, I would expect little to no adjustments even as he hits the wrong side of 30. Nevertheless, it seems undeniable that Mauer is being more aggressive at the plate – swing rates stabilize earlier than other statistics in baseball. By the end of the year, I hope to be able to revisit this question and see whether the additional swings were dictated by more aggressive pitchers, a concerted effort to hit for more power, or perhaps some small adjustments dictated by the ongoing battle with Father Time.