By Joe Christensen
Good thing Twins hitting coach Joe Vavra is such an unassuming guy. I interviewed him last week for today’s piece about the challenges facing Joe Mauer in a season coming off his first batting title. But his voice isn’t heard in the story, as I structured it to relate the experiences of three other former batting champions: Rod Carew, Tony Oliva and Tony Gwynn.
It felt like I was lining up guests for the David Letterman show. I had Vavra waiting in the green room, but he wound up getting bumped because we found bigger-name guests. Make no mistake, I think Vavra has had a very positive influence on Mauer. Some people wonder why Mauer isn’t developing into more of a power hitter, and Vavra made some interesting points:
“I think when the time comes for Joe Mauer to display power, it’ll evolve over time. The lineup revolves around him, basically. You want your No. 3 hitter to be the best hitter on your ballclub, and be the stable guy. That’s what we’ve got. You start going for power, you’re probably going to lose some of that average.
“He’s certainly capable of hitting 20 to 30 home runs, but just look what he does for the ballclub. What he does helps the 4-, 5-, 6-hole guys, too. If he’s not clearing the bases, he’s getting on base for the guys behind him. The lineup has a lot of positive effects because of what he’s doing right now.”
Keep in mind, besides batting .347 last year, Mauer ranked third in the AL with a .429 on-base percentage. He hit just 13 home runs, and his 84 RBI might seem modest, but he also hit 36 doubles and four triples. His slugging percentage jumped from .411 the previous year to .507. As Carew said, “The kid can hit. I mean … he can hit.”