Yesterday afternoon, while the White Sox were waiting to hear if Jake Peavy would accept a trade to Chicago, the Twins handed them a 20-1 thrashing that tied for the most lopsided loss in franchise history. Joe Mauer led the Minnesota attack, going 3-for-4 with a grand slam, two doubles, and six RBIs before an early exit.
Mauer missed all of April with a back injury, but has hit .417/.500/.819 in 19 games since coming off the disabled list. If he had enough plate appearances to qualify, Mauer would lead baseball in batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage. He's such an amazing hitter that batting .417 or getting on base at a .500 clip over a three-week stretch probably shouldn't surprise anyone, but eight homers and five doubles in 72 at-bats is totally unexpected.
Prior to this season Mauer had one homer every 46.8 at-bats and an Isolated Power (slugging percentage minus batting average) of .140. So far this year he has one homer every 9.0 at-bats and an Isolated Power of .402. Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, and Mark McGwire are the only players in baseball history who've had a season in which they homered more than once every 9.0 at-bats and posted an Isolated Power above .400.
In other words, the 26-year-old two-time batting champion, career .320 hitter, and Gold Glove catcher whose only real flaw has been mediocre power is suddenly driving the ball like three of the greatest power hitters in baseball history. Naturally fans in Minnesota are giddy about the idea of Mauer adding 30-homer power to his already amazing all-around game and even my initial skepticism is starting to fade a bit. But not totally.
Mauer hasn't become more aggressive by abandoning his ultra-patient approach at the plate and he isn't suddenly pulling the ball consistently. Instead he's still taking tons of pitches and going the the other way with most of the pitches that he decides to swing at, but the fly balls to left and center field just seem to be traveling a little further. All of which makes me think that he's probably not turning into a slugger in front of our eyes.
I'd love to be wrong, of course, but what Mauer is doing seems similar to what Wade Boggs did back in 1987. Boggs then, like Mauer now, was an amazing hitter with an exceptional eye at the plate who posted huge OBPs while being criticized for his lack of power. Through his first five seasons Boggs hit .352/.435/.463 and won three batting titles, but averaged just six homers. In his sixth season, Boggs went off for 24 homers.
Through his first five seasons Mauer hit .317/.399/.457 and won two batting titles, but averaged just eight homers. In his sixth season, Mauer seems well on his way to 24 (or more) homers. Of course, the Mauer-Boggs comparison isn't a perfect one. Mauer has already shown more power than Boggs and he's just 26 years old, whereas Boggs was 29 years old in 1987. That certainly makes him more likely to suddenly develop big-time power, but the situations definitely seem similar.
After his out-of-nowhere power display in 1987, Boggs went back to hitting just five homers the next year, never homered even half that many times again, and finished his Hall of Fame career with single-digit homers in 16 of 18 seasons. Will Mauer follow in Boggs' footsteps, perhaps going deep 25 times this year before settling back into the 10-homer range for the rest of his career? Twinsfandom aside, I'm incredibly curious to find out.