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Joe Mauer Could Be a Bust…If You Make Him a Bust

As great a hitter Joe Mauer is and as great as his 2009 season was, he may just be one of the most over-drafted players in fantasy baseball this season.  His premium position gives his value a boost and he is without question one of the best pure hitters in the game, but keep in mind that he has never had a season like 2009 before and he will be moving into a new outdoor stadium that will affect hitters in one way or another.  Will these factors make Joe Mauer a bust?  Only if you let them.
 

Even a regression in AVG would still have Mauer hitting in the .330’s, but there is a chance that his power may not translate as well in the new Target Field.  First of all, on cold days the ball won’t travel as far.  Secondly, there will be wind, though we can’t say for sure which way it will blow on most days inside the bowl of the stadium without actual game data. 

 

Using data from hittrackeronline.com, we can break down his power by location and length.  One thing to note in this data is that Mauer led the Twins in home runs that were classified as “just enough” with 11 and seven of those came at home in the windless Metrodome.

 

 

While the chart clearly shows that Mauer did indeed spray the ball around to all fields for power last season, there is a nice little cluster between the 350 and 400 foot marks down the left field line in which Mauer hit 13 of his 28 home runs.  Are we sure those home runs, all of which landed in front of the 400 foot mark, will translate to Target Field?
 
According to the dimensions listed at the Twins official website, the new left field wall will be four feet closer to home plate.  It will also be eight feet closer in the left-center alley.  The dimensions to center will be four feet closer with the right-center alley staying the same and the right field foul pole being pushed back one foot.  All fences will go from seven feet to eight feet.  Interesting.  This park seems to fit the swing of Joe Mauer perfectly. 

 

In many ways Joe Mauer is comparable to David Wright in the sense that he is more of a pure hitter with power rather than just a pure power hitter.  Mauer’s focus is not necessarily to try and hit home runs, but try and get a good pitch to hit and let his swing drive the ball where it is pitched.  For instance, Mauer’s power isn’t prolific, it’s proficient.  Hit Tracker Online uses two types of distance: “True Distance” and “Standard Distance” (definitions here).  Last season the average true distance for the American League was 396.9 feet and the average standard distance was 394.8 feet.  Joe Mauer’s average true distance of home runs hit was 397.7 feet and his average standard distance was 395.5 feet, both just slightly above the league average.

 

If all things were equal it would seem, given the new dimensions, that Joe Mauer would not suffer from the outdoor park.  But what about that wind?  What about Mauer’s injury past?  What about the rise in his HR/FB rate from 6.5 percent in 2008 to just over 20 percent last season? 

 

One interesting point that was brought up by Dave Cameron of Fan Graphs a week ago is that when Mauer pulls the ball he hits it on the ground 76.5 percent of the time.  The next day, Dave Allen of Fan Graphs followed up with an article showing that Mauer hits for significantly less power the further the pitch gets inside inside.  Which begs the question: Will opponents pick up on this and start pitching Mauer inside more?  If they do, will that decreace his power output or will he adjust?  

 

While it looks like Target Field is fit for Mauer’s swing, there are still a handful of questions that have yet to answer themselves when projecting his 2010 season.  The safe bet is to say that he will regress a little in both AVG and power.  That would still make him the clear cut number one fantasy catcher, but it would also make him a risky first round pick. 

 

In no way does Joe Mauer project to be a bust in 2010.  He should, even with a little regression, still hit for enough power and AVG to be a solid second round pick given his premium fantasy position.  However, given some question marks and unknowns, using a first round pick (I have seen as high as pick number six) on Mauer is unadvisable given the consistent, proven bats that are available.