Mauer Should Be Celebrating

When the Minnesota Twins stepped onto the field at Yankee Stadium for Game 1 of the American League Division Series last month, they were heavy underdogs to the eventual world champion New York Yankees. A series victory for the Twins would have been considered a huge upset.

The tables have turned when it comes to the American League MVP award, which will be announced Monday.

Twins catcher Joe Mauer is the front-runner to win his first MVP award. The other candidates – namely Derek Jeter and Mark Teixeira of the Yankees – have great seasons. In many other seasons, they would have a legitimate chance.

But quite honestly, I’d be shocked – absolutely shocked – if Mauer didn’t win the award. In fact, I think when the voting is revealed Monday, the results will show it wasn’t even that close.

Let’s review the top three candidates:

  • Jeter: A very popular candidate, especially since he’s never won an MVP award. But as I told a colleague last week, this shouldn’t be a lifetime achievement award. He hit .334 with over 100 runs scored and improved defense when compared to past seasons, according to FanGraphs. He also stole 30 bases, which was nearly a career high.
  • Teixeira: He hit .292 with 39 homers, 122 RBIs and 114 runs scored, posting a .948 OPS. That’s incredible run production, making him in my opinion the top candidate from the game’s top team.  But an argument could be made that Alex Rodriguez is the more valuable player, when you consider how much Teixeira struggled when Rodriguez was out of the lineup in April.
  • Mauer: Led the American League in batting average (.365), on-base percentage (.444) and slugging percentage (.587), something that hasn’t been done since George Brett did it. And he plays the most defensively and physically demanding position in the game. I mentioned in a previous blog post that Ted Williams was the only hitter in the last 60 years or so to hit .380 with 30 homers in a season. Mauer was 15 batting points and 2 homers away from accomplishing that.

I think what should help Mauer the most is when you compare him to his fellow catchers. When you compare Teixeira to other first basemen, his numbers aren’t that much better than Kendry Morales of the Los Angeles Angels. Jeter was only slightly better statistically that Jason Bartlett of the Tampa Bay Rays at the shortstop position.

But Mauer? Who else compares to him? From what I can tell, the next highest OPS among catchers in the AL is by Victor Martinez of Boston, and he also plays first base. Martinez, by the way, posted a .861 OPS, which is very respectable, but far less than Mauer’s league-leading 1.031.

In all likelihood Monday, Mauer will be joining an exclusive group of Twins players to win AL MVPs. The only other Twins to win are Zoilo Versalles in 1965, Harmon Killebrew in 1969, Rod Carew in 1977 and Justin Morneau in 2006.