In 2009, the Twins’ backstop broke out in a big way, crushing the baseball to the tune of a .365/.444/.587 (AVG/OBP/SLG) line. He more than doubled his previous career high in home runs, hitting 28 bombs combined with 96 RBIs, despite only playing in 138 games. He took home a ton of hardware that year, garnering an all-star nod, the AL batting title, the gold glove and silver slugger for the catcher position, and the American League MVP award. He even managed to steal 4 bases for an added bonus.
Mauer brought high expectations into the next season, but his power numbers fell off as he only managed to hit 9 home runs and put up a .469 slugging percentage, over a 20% decrease. The 2011 season was worse, as a multitude of maladies limited him to 82 games, and plummeted his three line stats to .287/.360/.368. Much of this can be attributed to injuries, but the Twins have to be worried about the increasing list of ailments that Mauer has succumbed to. According to Sports Illustrated’s Tom Verducci, Mauer has had significant injuries in six seasons with the Twins.
2004: Surgery to repair a torn medial meniscus in left knee.
2007: Stress reaction in left fibula.
2008: Surgery for a minor kidney obstruction.
2009: Inflammation in the sacroiliac joint (back).
2010: Bruised left heel; right shoulder tendinitis; tissue inflammation in left knee; offseason arthroscopic surgery on left knee.
2011: Bilateral leg weakness; soreness in hips, elbow and shoulder.
Beyond the injuries, we can point to Mauer’s Isolated Power numbers and examine why his MVP season was so successful. Isolated power is a player’s average subtracted from their slugging percentage. This looks specifically at the amount of extra base hits a player gets when he records a hit. In 2009, Mauer’s isolated power was .222, compared to a league average of .161. As can be seen below, when balls were left above the bottom quarter of the zone, he managed to hit the ball for extra bases at an extremely high rate.
Despite this success Mauer struggled heavily hitting the ball for extra bases the next two seasons, posting a total isolated power of .119. He had a difficult time hitting balls for power in the zone, as can be seen below.
A common argument to discern where Mauer’s struggles came from would be that pitchers figured him out, but there is virtually no difference between average pitch location to Mauer in 2009 versus 2010-11.
All indications point to Mauer being healthy and ready to go this season, and the Twins are going to need him in a highly contested AL Central division this season. The Tigers have positioned themselves as division favorites and the rest of the teams are in hot pursuit after breakout seasons. If Mauer can get back to making solid contact on pitches in the zone, the Twins could have an MVP candidate back in their lineup.