There are a lot of fans out there who will tell you that 32-year-old Minnesota Twins first baseman Joe Mauer is on the decline. Some will even point all the way back to 2011 when Mauer hit just .287 with three home runs and 30 RBI after being limited by injuries for half of the season.
But say whatever you want; Minnesota’s hometown hero hasn’t seen his skills drop off just yet, and last night’s tie-breaking home run in the 13th inning against the Pittsburgh Pirates is just one example of why he should still be one of the league’s most feared hitters.
Mauer led the Majors in on-base percentage right after a terrible 2011 season and went on to hit .324 the year after that. Last season was clearly another forgettable one for Mauer, who was once again plagued by injuries, but he’s been a huge part of the Twins success so far in 2015.
This doesn’t seem true at first glance when you look at the stats. Mauer is batting a whooping 34 points below his career average and he has only managed to hit a single home run, but there are still so many things that the catcher turned first baseman has been doing so well. A quarter of the way through the 2015 season, Mauer is currently on pace for 97 runs batted it. That would be a career high for the six-time All-Star, who drove in 95 runs while hitting 28 home runs during his MVP season in 2009.
The disappearance of most numbers might catch your eye, but in the end driving in runs is all anybody can ask of a franchise player. With just one home run on the season, Mauer still has more RBI’s than Mike Trout, Alex Rodriguez, Hanley Ramirez and Luis Valbuena, all of whom sit amongst the top-ten in the American League in home runs.
Why is Mauer driving in so many runs this year? He’s hitting the ball when it counts. Mauer has a .382 batting average with runners on base and a .419 average with runners in scoring position. Mauer is also 4-for-5 (.800) with the bases loaded this year.
Mauer’s overall numbers might not grant him a shot at another MVP award, but they are helping the Twins win baseball games. Now a quarter of the way through their season, the Twins woke up this morning with a game-and-a-half lead for the second American League wild card spot and within striking distance of the division lead.
Joe Mauer is still a hitter that pitchers should know and fear. He is even more of a threat with the rest of Minnesota’s lineup playing well around him.