7-21-10: Say it Ain't So, Joe

Hello again everybody...

Welcome to a Wednesday.

Sorry this is getting up so late, but I was at the Twins game last night and didn't have enough time to really write anything afterward.

So I'm scrambling to throw something together at work. This probably won't be lengthy. This may not be all that deep. But it will be one heck of a rant!

And I'll get to it...

Right after the quote.

”College isn't the place to go for ideas.”
- Hellen Keller (1880 - 1968), American author, political activist and lecturer

Seems a little harsh, but okay. If college isn't the place to go for ideas, then the 3-hole isn't the spot in the line-up to be bunting!

«Read More...»

Which leads me to...

Say it Ain't So, Joe...

Let me take you back to last night...

Twins starter Kevin Slowey had managed to not get lit up for the first time in the last month. Sure he still had the Twins at a 3-1 disadvantage when he left the game in the sixth inning, but that's a surmountable deficit, especially against Cleveland.

So we get to the bottom half of the seventh with the Twins trailing by two. Delmon Young grounded out to lead off the inning. That was followed by singles by J.J. Hardy and Nick Punto. Denard Span kept the merry-go-round going with an RBI single to make it 3-2 Cleveland. Orlando Hudson matched Span with an RBI single of his own to tie the game at three.

And then came Joe Mauer.

The 2009 MVP. The four-time All Star. The three-time Silver Slugger at Catcher. And a three-time AL Batting Champion.

Cleveland pitchers had just given up five straight hits. There were runners on first and second with only one out. The momentum was clearly in the Twins' favor, and the crowd was rocking.

So what did Joe do? He tried to lay down a bunt.

The Twins #3 hitter - the owner of a brand-spankin-new $180 million contract - tried to lay down a bunt.

Are you kidding me?!?!

Yes, third-baseman Jhonny Perralta was playing back at third base. Yes, had Mauer bunted the ball further down the line, the bunt would have been successful. And yes, that would've loaded the bases for Jason Kubel to hit with only one out.

The problem is, none of that matters.

If you're a #3 hitter, you don't bunt there. Not last night, not another night, not ever.

The 3-hole hitter in any line-up is generally their best hitter (in terms of batting average at least). That's because if the top two guys in the line-up get on, you want someone who hits for a high average to be there to drive them in. And if they don't, then you want a guy who can get on base for your best power hitter who usually hits fourth.

At no point was anybody in the ballpark other than Mauer considering a bunt there. Nor should they have been.

So why on earth did he do it?

Here's what he said (courtesy of ):

“I'm not feeling the greatest at the plate right now, and that factors in, but that situation, you get two guys in scoring position with Kubel up and one out, I take my chances with that for sure.”

Really, Joe?

How about this? How about you hit a double in a clutch situation and drive those two runs in yourself? I know, it's a crazy concept. I mean you've only hit 28 doubles so far this year, so why would you be focusing on trying to drive the ball somewhere at a critical point in a game?!

What really surprised me is that he didn't back off his decision at all. Instead of saying something like, “Hey I was trying to do something to catch the defense off-guard, but I probably should've been swinging away there”, he went with:

“Perez on the mound is nasty. He throws a cutter the majority of the time. It'll break away from a lefthanded hitter, and he induces a lot of double plays. So if I hit into a double play, you guys are probably talking about that .”

So apparently he was bunting because he was afraid he'd otherwise ground into a double play.

Think about that. A guy who's a career .324 hitter had his brain break in a key situation because he was afraid of grounding into a double play. That's mind-boggling. And for Twins fans, it's a gigantic red flag.

We've known for a while that Mauer isn't playing 100% healthy. Catchers rarely do. But it's clear that something has been affecting his hitting. Even if you're one of the folks who claim that 2009 was a career year for Mauer, and that he'll never hit at that pace again, you have to grant that his struggles this season are more than just an average correction.

Now, however, I'm not just worried about his physical health, I'm worried about where the heck his head is at:

“I didn't execute it. If I did, everybody's probably like, 'Pretty good idea.' So yeah, I just didn't get it done.”

Well, you're partially right Joe. You didn't get it done.

Lest you think this idea somehow came from the coaching staff, there's this from manager Ron Gardenhire:

“I don't ever tell a hitter what to do. He tried to drag bunt. Ask Joe what his thoughts were.”

And then there was this from third-base coach Scott Ullger:

“I really can't recall a No. 3 hitter doing that. But stranger things have happened. Joe's just trying to help win the game. Whether that's the right thing or the wrong thing, he's just trying to win the game.”

Finally, there's this quote from FSN analyst and former Twins catcher Tim Laudner:

“Ballplayers do stupid things. There's not anybody who's ever been out there that hasn't done something stupid in their career. We've all done it. If you were to ask Joe Mauer right now what kind of play that was, I would hope that he would say: 'That was a really stupid play. I'm the guy that's going to drove that run in. I'm the guy that's going to hit the ball into the gap and hit a double.'”

This from a guy who hit .225 in his career.

If he knows that, than the .324-hitting catcher ought to as well.

Long-term, I don't really expect this to be a problem. Somebody's going to talk to him. Somebody's going to point out that he's got to have a different mind-set in that situation. Next time he's up at a critical juncture, I expect him to swing from the heels. Maybe he'll hit a double, maybe he'll strike out. But I believe one thing is sure, he won't be bunting!

That's going to wrap things up for today.

I'll be back on Friday with an Update column.

Until then, thanks for reading!