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Archive for the ‘Joe Mauer’ Category

In 2009, Joe Mauer won the AL MVP award, the Gold Glove for defensive excellence and the AL batting title, he was considered one of baseball’s brightest stars. Just as quickly as he gained notoriety, though, his career went downhill after he suffered a series of concussions. Those concussions quickly led to reduced offensive productivity and defensive reliability.

This year, that’s changed. Joe is back with a vengeance. And then some. Joe’s health (and swing) are back. He’s the Twins’ most consistent hitter. He’s become the American League’s best defensive first baseman. This past weekend, the Twins’ opponent was the Toronto Blue Jays. Toronto’s first baseman, Justin Smoak, has had a good year, hitting 38 home runs. He’s considered one of the best defensive first basemen in all of baseball. What I saw this weekend in that matchup was the difference between a highlight reel guy (Smoak) and a consistent professional (Mauer).

In Sunday’s game, Smoak didn’t make the defensive play on a Jason Castro base hit. Dick Bremer, the Twins TV voice for a generation, called it a 7-hop bleeder. It was a ball that should have been caught. Castro likely would’ve beaten out the infield hit. Instead, the ball got through and the Twins runner, Eduardo Escobar, went from first to third on the hit.

Prior to this year, Kent Hrbek was the Twins’ best defensive first baseman of my lifetime. He spoke once about his mindset defensively. He said that his first instinct was to be like a hockey goalie by not letting the ball get past him. After that, his goal was simple. Save the extra base. Save runs. Sometimes, it meant he stole outs and rallies from the other team. Before that, though, he didn’t let the ball get past him.

This year, Joe Mauer has used his 6’5″ frame and his athleticism to not let balls get past him. His range (statistically) isn’t that impressive. Ask his infielders whether Joe’s range has saved their bacon and they’ll tell you that he’s saved them lots of throwing errors. Ask Joe’s pitchers whether he’s saved them outs. They’ll tell you that he’s been the glue that’s held the infield together. Whether he’s making a diving backhanded stop or picking a short-hopped throw, his teammates, pitchers and coaches will tell you that he’s the most consistent defensive first baseman in the league. In fact, this year, Joe Mauer has committed 1 error all season. His fielding percentage over 937 chances is .999.

The Joe Mauer of early in his career is back. The elite-level defensive play has returned. His offensive productivity is back. Perhaps the most overlooked statistic is Joe’s batting average with runners in scoring position, aka RISP, is .321, one of the highest batting averages in the league. Consistently, he puts together great at-bats.

Minnesota has some impressive young 2-way talent. It’s impossible to not think of Eddie Rosario and Byron Buxton when that’s the subject. Still, Joe Mauer’s quiet leadership and productivity have been instrumental in making the Twins a highly competitive team with a very good shot at making the playoffs.

Anyone who’s known me knows that I’m unabashedly a sports fanatic. Those people know that my first love is professional baseball. This afternoon, I saw Dawn Mitchell’s interview of Erin and Dan Murphy:

They’re neighbors of Twins great Tony Oliva. They started “the Official Tony Oliva Fan Group”, which they say “was started in 2011 by a group of 12 fans in a suburban kitchen.” Their “mission is to get Minnesota Twins Legend Tony Oliva inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.” It’s great to see them putting this campaign together. It’s a disgrace that Tony Oliva isn’t enshrined in Cooperstown already.

Tony Oliva is one of a handful of dominant players I’ve had the privilege of watching in person. The best way I know how to illustrate Tony’s dominance is to explain that Rod Carew thought of him as his hitting instructor. While they were teammates. Rod Carew won the AL batting title 8 times. His best season was 1977, when he was the AL MVP. He won it by hitting .388, the highest batting average at the time since Ted Williams hit .388 in 1957.

What other player or coach could Rod Carew turn to that knew more about hitting than he did? That’s right. The only other player with that type of credibility was Tony Oliva.

Let’s take it a step further. In 1964, Tony became the first rookie to lead the league in hitting. That year, Tony finished with a .323 batting average. In 672 at-bats, Tony struck out just 68 times or once every 2 1/2 games. If you’re thinking that’s decent for a slap hitter, you’re right. That’s pretty good for a slap hitter. Tony Oliva wasn’t a slap hitter, though. That year, Tony finished with 43 doubles, 9 triples, 32 home runs, 374 total bases and a .557 slugging percentage.

That’s what a dominant hitter does. Tony Oliva fits that description perfectly. After his playing career, he worked with another Twins outfielder that turned into a great hitter. His name was Kirby Puckett. Kirby started as a slap hitter. He didn’t hit his first home run until his second season. After Tony suggested Kirby start lifting his front leg, Kirby started hitting home runs while hitting for a high average.

When good hitters hit a hot streak, their batting average for 5 games might shoot up to .450 or so. When Tony Oliva, Rod Carew, Kirby Puckett or Joe Mauer got locked in, their batting average for a series looks like the batting champion’s batting average in a slow pitch softball league. We’re talking about these gentlemen going 15-for-17 in a 4-game series or 11-for-12 in a 3-game series.

It’s time for the baseball gods to smile on Tony O. If Cooperstown doesn’t have room for a 3-time batting champion who played in 8 All Star games while winning a Gold Glove for defensive excellence, then Cooperstown’s reputation deserves to take a hit.

Add in the fact that Tony’s been one of baseball’s best ambassadors for the last 30+ years and that he’s worked with Twins hitters since the 1970s. Those credentials deserve to be enshrined in Cooperstown, NY.

That’s where you come in:

The Hall of Fame announced on October 30th that Tony Oliva and 9 others (Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Gil Hodges, Bob Howsam, Jim Kaat, Minnie Minoso, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills) will be considered for election into the Hall of Fame. The Veterans Committee is considering the Golden Era (1947-1972) players and will be judging them based on their Record, Ability, Integrity, Character, Sportsmanship and Contribution to the team.

The 16 Voters are: Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; baseball executives Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson; and veteran media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby. The vote will take place on Monday December 8th 2014 in San Diego CA at the Baseball Winter Meetings.

The best way to influence the voters is by writing them a letter. Click HERE to find out more information!

Please consider sending a letter or postcard to the Hall of Fame telling them why Tony Oliva should be inducted into the Hall of Fame!

Let’s get Tony into the Hall of Fame. He’s earned it and then some. While we’re at it, let’s get Jim Kaat in, too.

This afternoon, the Twins took another step towards proving that they’ll be a force to be reckoned with in the AL this October. While it’s true that the Twins pitching staff still has to prove that they can put win streaks together with well-pitched games, 2006 phenom Francisco Liriano’s performance today has Twins pitching coach Rick Anderson smiling.

After a bumpy start, Liriano settled into a grove, striking out eight Red Sox hitters in an efficient 7 innings of work. After throwing 37 pitches the first two innings, Liriano used a mere 97 pitches total for his 7 innings. That’s an impressive average for a ground ball pitcher. It’s just short of fantastic for a pitcher with 8 strikeouts.

Once Liriano got command of his fastball, the Red Sox hitters started taking more defensive swings. They weren’t getting around on Liriano’s fastball, which was routinely timed at 93-95 mph. That made them all the more susceptable to Liriano’s slider, considered by some to be among the best in the game.

What the Twins have lacked in pitching consistency has been more than made up for by the Twins’ hitters. Today, the Twins’ backups combined with Jason Kubel, Justin Morneau and Michael Cuddyer for a 15 hit attack. included in this year’s Twins’ reserves is Jim Thome. Today’s batting order was Span, followed by Orlando Hudson, Joe Mauer, Justin Morneau, Michael Cuddyer, Jim Thome, Jason Kubel, J.J. Hardy & Nick Punto.

It’s worth asking these questions: When was the last timt the Twins had a 7th hitter as dangerous as Jason Kubel? Or an eighth hitter as dangerous as J.J. Hardy?

Beyond the potent lineup & Liriano’s dominant pitching, one thing hasn’t gotten the recognition that it deserves: the Twins’ defense. This is another stunning fact. Thus far this season, the Twins have played 10 games & committed just 1 error. The Twins are the only AL team that still hasn’t allowed an unearned run this season.

The final mind-blowing stat that Twins fans should smile about is that they’ve won their first 3 series this year against the Angels, White Sox & Red Sox. Last year, those teams had a combined winning percentage of .558. The Twins lost their season opener to the Angels, then reeled off 5 straight wins before losing in Chicago. Now they’ve won the series against the Red Sox in impressive fashion.

People are noticing. Now it’s a matter of sustaining a high level of play for the rest of the season. With this lineup and with the Twins’ defense & pitching, this should be a fun season to be a Twins fan.

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