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It’s time to dispel some myths about Joe Mauer

November 13, 2018

Joe Mauer officially retired from baseball Monday after 15 MLB seasons — all with the Twins, of course. The debate over Mauer’s legacy, and particularly his Hall of Fame credentials, will play out over the course of the next several years.

For now, let’s use the opportunity to examine and hopefully dispel some myths about Mauer’s career.

Myth 1: Target Field contributed to Mauer’s demise.

A popular narrative is that Mauer’s career decline was due in part to the Twins changing home ballparks from the Metrodome to Target Field between 2009 and 2010.

But while the contrast between those two specific seasons can’t be ignored, the overall picture suggests the ballpark wasn’t much of a factor.

OK, first the obvious: Mauer was an MVP with a career-high 28 home runs in 2009, the Twins’ final year in the Dome. He hit 16 of those home runs at home, and fans remember every one of them barely clearing the wall in left field.

In 2010, he dropped to nine homers — with just one coming at Target Field.

But his home run rate at Target Field in his two other healthy seasons there — 2012 and 2013, after “bilateral leg weakness” and before his first concussion — was one every 57 home at bats. From 2004-08, he hit one home run every 52 at bats at the Metrodome.

And his home OPS in 2012 and 2013 was only about 10 points lower than his .882 career mark at the Metrodome, including the 2009 season.

Mauer might have benefited slightly by playing his whole career at the Metrodome, where he was obviously comfortable and used the faster turf to his advantage on ground balls. But in reality concussions, defensive adjustments and eventually age were bigger contributors to his reduced production at Target Field.

Myth 2: Mauer wasn’t clutch.

Pick a stat, any stat. Pretty much all of them dispel this popular notion espoused by fans who expected perfection from Mauer.

He was a career .334 hitter with runners in scoring position, including .378 with the bases loaded. With two outs and runners in scoring position, Mauer hit .321 with a .943 OPS. Mauer was plenty clutch.

Myth 3: Mauer was just as good against lefties as righties.

While it’s true that Mauer, a lefthanded hitter, was pretty good against lefties, there was still a pretty sharp lefty-righty split in his career.

That showed up mainly with power, as he posted a .466 slugging percentage against righties compared to .381 against lefthanded pitchers. Mauer had roughly twice as many at bats against righties as lefties and hit more than three times as many homers against righties.

Myth 4: He never swung at the first pitch.

Mauer even joked during Monday’s news conference about this (in)famous quality. But for his career in 6,930 at bats, Mauer put the ball in play on the first pitch 384 times — with a swing and miss or foul coming on countless other occasions.

Mauer was pretty successful when he did, by the way: He had a .396 career average when he put the ball in play on the first pitch.

Myth 5: He was a postseason failure.

There are some hard facts to ignore here. The Twins never won a playoff game (0-10) in which Mauer played. And he finished with a career .641 OPS in 44 postseason plate appearances.

But guess what? Kirby Puckett had an even worse OPS in his first 10 postseason games. He simply got more chances and was bailed out early by teammates.

Mauer contributed to anemic offenses in playoff losses, but he was far from the sole culprit. He finished his career as a .275 postseason hitter, with at least one hit in each of his last nine playoff games.

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