Note: A slightly condensed version of this article appears in the Dugout Splinters section of the Twins Official Scorecard being sold outside the Metrodome during the Twins' current series against the White Sox. Please support GameDay by picking up a copy or two if you make it to tonight's or tomorrow's game.
By now, you’ve probably heard many of the arguments propping up Joe Mauer’s MVP worthiness. He leads the AL in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage. He is one of only five players in baseball history to enter the middle of August with a .380 average and 25 home runs. (The other four: Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, Joe DiMaggio.) He is a reigning Gold Glove recipient at perhaps the most important defensive position on the diamond – one where the average player has produced a meager .253/.320/.397 hitting line this season. Even without diving into the more advanced, complex statistics available to us (which further cement his case), it seems clear that Mauer is on his way to completing one of the greatest seasons for a catcher in baseball history, and has quite easily been the league’s best player despite missing the first month of the season.
If the remarkable nature of Mauer’s performance doesn’t sway you, then the unremarkable performances of his competitors should. The most oft-cited rival of Mauer in the MVP race is Mark Teixeira, the slugging first baseman of the New York Yankees whose production is in many ways tough to discern from a number of other players that fall into that mold, such as Kevin Youkilis and Justin Morneau. Tex is currently hitting .283 with 32 home runs and 101 RBI. His numbers don’t stand out above Mauer’s, particularly accounting for positional context, and the arguments in Teixeira’s favor are thin. Leadership? Isn’t Derek Jeter the Yankees’ captain? Clutch-ness? Mauer has been a markedly better hitter with runners in scoring position and has done some of his best work during the month of August while the Twins have been trying to claw back into the AL Central race. I don’t think I’m going out on a limb by stating that Mauer is not the reason the Twins have been losing ballgames.
Virtually every argument in Teixeira’s favor is based on the rest of his team’s performance, which seems awfully misguided when discussing the game’s greatest individual honor. People often emphasize that the award is called Most Valuable Player and not Most Outstanding Player; I’d retort by asking: why is there a difference? A player provides value to his team by producing offensively, excelling defensively and setting an example for his teammates. In all those areas, Mauer has been the league’s best. MVP, MOP, whatever you want to call it… Barring drastic changes in September, it’s Joe Mauer.