On Tuesday night, Minnesota Twins legend Joe Mauer was announced as one of three inductees into the Baseball Hall of Fame with 76.1% of the overall vote. It was a well-deserved feather in the cap of lifelong Twin, former AL MVP, three-time batting champion, and all-time thorn in the Detroit Tigers' side.
In his 15-year career, Mauer went up against the Tigers in 216 games and took 807 at-bats, hitting .305/.385/.431 against Tigers pitching. He was a tough at-bat for any pitcher, but he saw the Tigers more than any other team in his entire career-- and, clearly, they could never quite figure him out.
During Tuesday's Hall of Fame announcement broadcast on MLB Network, Tom Verducci shared an anecdote involving Mauer and future Hall of Famer/former Tiger Max Scherzer. After five years of playing in the same division, Scherzer had never once struck Mauer out swinging, so he developed a cut fastball with the sole intention of getting the best of Mauer. He still uses the pitch to this day.
Former Detroit Tigers RHP Max Scherzer developed entirely new pitch just to strike out Joe Mauer
Mauer and Scherzer went up against each other 39 times throughout Mauer's career. Scherzer was only ever able to strike him out four times, and only once did he get him swinging. All told, Mauer got two extra-base hits off of Scherzer, one home run, and six RBI for a final batting average of .270 against him. That stands in stark contrast to Scherzer's career opposing batting average of .220.
Last year, Scherzer used his cutter 10.4% of the time and it accounted for 34 strikeouts, coming in second only to his fastball, which struck out 45 batters. Its use has increased over the last few years as his fastball has lost some velocity, and the cutter garnered the lowest xBA of all of his pitches by far in 2023 (.130 expected batting average against).
Mauer retired at the end of 2018 and Scherzer is still trucking, but the old rivalry still has clear lasting effects. He might've terrorized the Tigers throughout his Twins career — he broke up an Aníbal Sánchez no-hitter in the ninth in 2013, hit a pinch-hit homer in 2018 to lift the Twins over the Tigers 5-4, and then there are just his career numbers against the Tigers. However, there is something to be said about a player who regularly faced the likes of Scherzer, Justin Verlander, and Zack Greinke with the rival Royals, and still managed to hit the way Mauer did.
Scherzer is a lock to join Mauer in the Hall of Fame as soon as he's eligible, and it'll be thanks, at least in small part, to Joe Mauer and the cutter that Scherzer developed just for him.