August 19, 2009

Joe Mauer, MVP Votes, and Historic Awesomeness

There's been lots of talk lately about Joe Mauer's chances of winning the AL MVP, but rather than focus on how 28 newspaper writers might cast their ballots in six weeks let's concentrate on the historically awesome season that the Twins' catcher is having. After collecting six hits and three homers in the first three games of the Texas series, he's 33-for-66 (.500) with seven homers, six doubles, and 19 RBIs in 16 games since his batting average fell to a season-low .353 on August 1. Yes, a season-low .353.

He leads baseball with a .380 batting average and tops the AL in on-base percentage (.448), slugging percentage (.648), OPS (1.095), Runs Above Replacement (65.0), and percentage of runners driven in. Despite spending all of April on the disabled list he's up to 25 homers, 77 RBIs, and 237 total bases, each of which ranks among the AL's top 10. Oh, and he's also the league's reigning Gold Glove catcher and has thrown out 30 percent of steal attempts this year while making great plays behind the plate.

Mauer has been the AL's best, most valuable player whether or not the 28 people with an actual vote on the award recognize it, but beyond that he's having a truly historic year. What makes his performance so amazing is that throughout baseball history catcher has been home to the worst hitters. This year is no different, as MLB backstops have managed a measly .256/.321/.398 line and .719 OPS that rank as the worst from any position. In fact, shortstop is the only other spot with an OPS below .750.

Not only is Mauer the best hitter in the league, he's the best hitter in the league and a good defender at the least-offensive position on the diamond. Catchers just don't hit like this, which is why Mauer is on track for his third batting title in four seasons after no catcher in the history of the league ever managed even one before he came around. He's also at or near the top of almost every all-time leaderboard for catchers, including batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS:

                  YEAR      AVG                            YEAR      OBP
JOE MAUER 2009 .380 Mickey Cochrane 1933 .459
Babe Phelps 1936 .367 Mickey Cochrane 1935 .452
Mike Piazza 1997 .362 JOE MAUER 2009 .448
Bill Dickey 1936 .362 Johnny Bassler 1924 .441
Mickey Cochrane 1930 .357 Chief Meyers 1912 .441

JOE MAUER 2009 .648 JOE MAUER 2009 1.095
Mike Piazza 1997 .638 Mike Piazza 1997 1.069
Gabby Hartnett 1930 .630 Bill Dickey 1936 1.045
Bill Dickey 1936 .617 Gabby Hartnett 1930 1.034
Mike Piazza 2000 .614 Mike Piazza 2000 1.012

Mauer currently has the highest batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS in baseball history for a catcher, ranks third all time in on-base percentage, and Mike Piazza is the only guy from the past 70 years to even appear on those lists. Mauer is on track for one of the single greatest catcher seasons in baseball history and has easily been the AL's best player. He has a 1.100 OPS when no one else is at even 1.000 and, as an aside, his batting average is higher than Mark Teixeira's on-base percentage.

Mauer has clearly contributed more runs to his team than anyone else in the league, he's having one of the greatest seasons of all time for a catcher, and the only other players in baseball history to have a .380 batting average with at least 25 homers this late in the season are Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio. If in six weeks the 28 newspaper writers with an MVP ballot don't recognize just how amazing he's been, then perhaps we should stop caring so much about what they think.

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