November 23, 2009


It's a shame that the voting wasn't unanimous, because there should be no doubt that Joe Mauer was the American League's most valuable player this season. After spending all of April on the disabled list Mauer put together a five-month stretch that ranks among the greatest performances by a catcher in the history of baseball, hitting .365 with a .444 on-base percentage, .587 slugging percentage, 28 homers, 59 total extra-base hits, 76 walks, 94 runs, and 96 RBIs in 606 plate appearances.

Prior to 2006 no catcher in the AL's century-plus history had ever won a batting title, but Mauer now has three in the past four seasons. This year he also led the league in on-base percentage and slugging percentage, becoming the first catcher in either league to win the sabermetric triple crown and the first AL hitter from any position to do so since George Brett in 1980. His batting average is the highest of all time for a catcher and his adjusted OPS+ of 177 ranks second behind only Mike Piazza at 185 in 1997.

Among catchers only Piazza and Johnny Bench can even claim to have had a season within the same stratosphere as Mauer. He batted .377 against righties and .345 against lefties; .388 at home and .345 on the road; .373 in the first half and .358 in the second half, .377 in wins and .352 in losses; .350 with the bases empty, .385 with men on, and .367 with runners in scoring position; .354 with none out, .379 with one out, and .360 with two outs; .367 at night and .362 during the day.

Despite sitting out the entire first month Mauer easily led the league in Value Over Replacement Player, producing 91 more runs than a replacement-level catcher. Derek Jeter ranked second, 73 runs better than a replacement-level shortstop, and Mauer bested every other AL hitter by at least 30 runs of VORP. He also won his second straight Glove Glove, logging 939 innings behind the plate in just five months to rank fifth in the league for the whole season, pushing his overall value significantly higher.

All of which is why it's a shame that one of the 28 voters declined to give him a first-place vote, robbing Mauer of the chance to become just the 10th unanimous MVP in league history and the first since Ken Griffey Jr. in 1997. Ultimately the award is the same every year, but through the eyes of history not all MVPs are equal and Mauer warranted that little added distinction for leaving no doubt with anyone save for voter Keizo Konishi of the Kyodo News that he was the league's best player.

Mauer thoroughly dominated the old-school stats, newer mainstream numbers, and advanced metrics alike while adding to his already unmatched offensive value with superior defense at the game's most demanding position. By comparison, when Justin Morneau won the MVP in 2006 he failed to lead the league in any major categories, placed just seventh in batting average and eighth in OPS, and ranked 13th in VORP while playing unspectacular defense at the game's most offense-driven position.

In my opinion Morneau is among the more undeserving MVP winners in recent memory, but whether or not you agree with that admittedly unpopular stance among Twins fans it seems obvious that there's a difference between what he did in 2006 and what Mauer did this year. A unanimous vote would have preserved that difference for all time, but then again Mauer was so amazing that tomorrow or 100 years from now no one should need 28 (or 27) writers to them he was the MVP. Some things are just true.

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