The Twins don’t have a bad offense. It could be considered inconsistent, but heading into Friday’s they’ve scored 553 runs — tied for 10th in the majors with Houston, a team they coincidentally will face starting tonight in a three-game series at Target Field.
But there is one somewhat strange thing about this year’s Twins: in spite of Joe Mauer’s overall struggles, he’s hitting .354 with runners in scoring position … yet his RBI pace (54) is so sluggish that it compares to last year (55) in almost an identical number of plate appearances (520 this year to 518 last year) even though he hit .290 with RISP a year ago.
It prompted me to take a deeper look into the numbers, and this stood out: Mauer has batted, as a percentage, with fewer runners on base than in any season in his career (excluding 2004, when he had just 122 PAs) and the only other season he hit less often (again by percentage) with runners in scoring position was 2013.
Here’s a year-by-year breakdown since 2004:
Mauer this season has come to the plate with a runner on base just 40.4 percent of his plate appearances; compare that to last season when it was 46.5; four other season in his career when it topped 48 percent; and his career mark of 46 percent … and the picture starts to become more clear.
Sure, Mauer would be driving in more runs in general if his overall numbers were better (he does, after all, have a career-low OPS+ right now). But in fairness, his RBI total is at least somewhat circumstantial. In terms of raw numbers instead of percentages, he has batted 21 fewer times with runners in scoring position and 31 fewer times with any runner on base than he did in 2014, again with the PAs being nearly identical.
A big part of the problem: Twins leadoff hitters have a .299 OBP this year, and their No. 2 hitters are at .303 (whereas last year those numbers were .328 and .358). Compound that with the fact that Brian Dozier, who has typically hit ahead of Mauer, is the team leader with 26 homers (not at all a problem, but a thing that clears the bases), and it’s not hard to see why Mauer has had fewer chances.
Given the same number of chances he had even a year ago, with that robust .354 average with RISP that he has this year, it’s not crazy to think that Mauer would have another 10 runs batted in and be in the mid-60s — not far off from Trevor Plouffe’s team-leading 70.