Joe Mauer in elite company among catchers

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Joe Mauer’s uncharacteristic power display after spending all of April
on the disabled list with a back injury has caused a lot of people to
take notice and finally start talking about him as one of the elite
players in baseball, but lost in his ridiculous .410/.497/.795 hitting
line is that he was a pretty decent player even before this season.

OPS+ measures
a hitter’s all-around offensive performance within the context of
ballpark, league, and era, accounting for the fact that hitting at
Dodger Stadium in 1968 is much different than hitting at Coors Field in
2008. Here are the career OPS+ leaders among catchers with at least 2,500 plate appearances:

Mike Piazza         142
Joe Mauer 135
Mickey Cochrane 128
Bill Dickey 127
Johnny Bench 126
Gabby Hartnett 126
Roger Bresnahan 126
Yogi Berra 125
Ernie Lombardi 125
Roy Campanella 124

Mauer had a 128 OPS+ coming into this season, so he was already on
track to be one of the greatest-hitting catchers of all time. With this
year’s draft on tap for tomorrow night, it’s interesting to note that
eight years ago the Twins passed on Mark Prior–who was basically
Stephen Strasburg before there was a Stephen Strasburg–to select Mauer
with the No. 1 overall pick.

The Indians are unveiling a Frank Robinson statue on Sunday

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The Cleveland Indians will unveil a Frank Robinson statue at Progressive Field on Saturday.

Robinson’s tenure in Cleveland was not long, but it was historic. On April 8, 1975, he became the first African-American manager in Major League history. He was a player-manager. One of the last ones, in fact. He spent two years in that role and then a third year — a partial year anyway — as a manager only. Robinson would go on to manage the Giants, Orioles and the Expos/Nationals, compiling a career record of 1065-1176 in 16 seasons. He is now a top MLB executive.

Robinson was, of course, a Hall of Fame player as well, lodging 21 seasons for the Reds, Orioles, Dodgers, Angels and Indians. He won two MVP awards and hit for the Triple Crown in 1966. Overall he hit 586 home runs – 10th all time – and was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1982. For an inner-circle Hall of Famer with that kind of resume he is still, strangely enough, underrated. I guess that happens when your contemporaries are Willie Mays, Hank Aaron and Mickey Mantle.

Anyway, congrats to Frank Robinson for yet another well-deserved honor in a career full of them.

Hey kids: don’t swing a weighted bat in the on deck circle

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Here’s an interesting article in the Wall Street Journal. It’s about some studies of hitters who use weighted bats or doughnuts on their bats in the on deck circle. Turns out that, contrary to conventional wisdom, using a weighted bat for practice hacks does not speed up one’s swing when one uses a naked bat in the batter’s box. In fact, it slows it down.

There are lots of caveats here. The sample size in the studies are small and they all involve college and high school players, not big leaguers. The results, however, are consistent with previous studies and they do make some intuitive sense. This is particularly the case with batting doughnuts, which add weight to a very concentrated portion of the bat, thereby changing the center of gravity and thus the swing mechanics of the hitter.

Whether this is applicable at large or to higher level hitters or not, I still find it kind of neat. I always like it when people scrutinize ingrained habits and ask whether or not that thing we’ve always done is, in fact, worth doing.