Boy, remember when Justin Morneau used to hit home runs at the Dome - - sometimes 30 in a season - - and it always felt like Joe Mauer was on base ahead of him?? I think my memory is a little faulty, and I'm probably waxing nostalgic about the 2004-2009 seasons, but Morneau's production was pretty impressive during this period of Twins history.
Last Thursday, in the bottom of the first inning against the Yankees and CC Sabathia at Target Field, Morneau hit a bomb down the right field line, that appeared at first glance to be a home run. Joe Mauer was at first base, and the pair rounded the bases. It reminded me of the good old days, when M & M were healthy and productive. Of course, that particular home run was overturned on review, Gardy was tossed, and Morneau subsequently went down on strikes. It's been that kind of a season for the Twins: any positive energy they would have had after taking an early 2-0 lead over one of the best pitchers in the game, and against a team with which they have struggled mightily, was completely negated. The wind (apparently gusting toward right field) was taken out of the sails.
This got me thinking, though: When was the last time Justin Morneau hit a home run when Joe Mauer was also on base? The answer is July 3, 2010. Thanks Baseball-reference.com. Otherwise stated, we're closing in on 14 months since Morneau has homered in Mauer. That's staggering, really. It's not as surprising, however, if you are at all familiar with Mauer and Morneau's significant, serious and (sometimes) suspect injuries the last two seasons. This got me thinking about other 3-4 baseball combos, and the pair that came to mind was Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun, two Milwaukee Brewer studs competing for the playoffs this year. By comparison, the last time Prince Fielder hit a home run that drove in Ryan Braun was Saturday, August 20 -- this past Saturday.
As of today, Justin Morneau has hit 185 home runs in his career; 181 of those coincide with a time period when Joe Mauer was also a big-leaguer. 40 times out of those 181 home runs, Joe Mauer has been on base. This corresponds to approximately 22 percent of Morneau's total home runs. I don't know whether that is a high, low, or simply average statistic (keep in mind this is just rough information; as we all know, there have been many, many times where one or the other of M & M was on the disabled list, thus negating the possibility of Morneau homering in Mauer). On first glance, though, it seems like an impressive figure to me.
Prince Fielder has been batting behind Ryan Braun since May, 2007. They have formed a lethal 3-4 combination in the Brewers' batting order. They are what Twins fans wished M & M would have become, or, more accurately, would have continued to be. Since 2007, Prince Fielder has hit 48 home runs that drove in Ryan Braun (and others, of course). That's a pretty impressive number. In fact, Fielder and Braun have accomplished this 10 times already in 2011. Keep in mind that, on his own, Ryan Braun has already homered 24 times this season. In fact, here are his home runs by year, beginning with 2007 and ending with 2010: 34; 37; 32; 25. As the numbers suggest, there have been many situations wherein Braun has already cleared the bases with his own display of power, and yet Fielder has -- somewhat regularly -- been able to drive in Braun with home runs of his own. Out of 175 home runs since Braun was also on the big league club, 48 of Fielder's home runs, or 27 percent, have scored Braun. So that's approximately a 5 percent higher clip, which is even more notable considering Braun's significant home run and base-clearing power. I take from this that Braun and Fielder are both exceptional hitters, and regularly display power with men on base. We could use some of that across the Mississippi this year.
There isn't a grand point to this post, and that point certainly isn't to level more criticism at Morneau and Mauer. If anything, I really just want them both to succeed next year. I was watching the Brewers-Mets on FOX Saturday baseball this past weekend, and of course Braun and Fielder both played important roles in what ended up being a very interesting game. I don't want to say that I'm jealous of B & F (that doesn't sound nearly as good as M & M), but I am envious that they have stayed healthy enough and have been productive enough to have put together some monster seasons. I'll be writing more about Milwaukee this week. I think they're my NL team to root for this year . . . .