When Joe Mauer's first swing of the 2009 season sent a ball sailing over the left field wall in the Metrodome, one got the sense that this was going to be a special year. Mauer missed the entire month of April due to a back injury, but in a way that might have been a blessing because his absence made local fans all the more appreciative of what he brought to the table once he finally was able to take the field. Even with a month's worth of missed games, there is no taking for granted what Mauer was able to accomplish this season, and fortunately the BBWAA voters saw it the same way as they awarded the Twins catcher with his first American League MVP award yesterday.
It had been widely assumed that Mauer would capture this honor ever since he batted .354 in September/October to put the finishing touches on a dazzling season and help launch his team to an improbable postseason berth, but yesterday it became official. Mauer becomes the fifth Twins player to win an MVP award, and the second in the past four years.
By now you're probably familiar with the numbers, but let's break them down again quickly. Mauer hit .365/.444/.587, leading the league in all three categories to capture the so-called "Sabermetric Triple Crown." He overcame a historical lack of power by bashing 28 home runs -- more than double his previous career high -- and drove in 96 runs while scoring 94 times. He walked more than he struck out (76/63). He hit .377 against right-handed pitchers and .345 against lefties. He posted a 1.067 OPS with runners in scoring position. It was a remarkable offensive season from just about any angle, and he did it all while putting in over 900 innings at the most demanding defensive position on the field. And while one can use the missed time early in the season as a mark against him, it's worth noting that Mauer was essentially an iron man after coming off the DL, resting less frequently than he ever has in the past and even catching both games of a crucial double-header late in the year. Even though he missed the entire month of April, Mauer played in 138 games and made 606 plate appearances; over the four seasons prior, he had averaged 131 games and 566 plate appearances.
Anyone with a working brain would have recognized Mauer as the AL's best player this year regardless of how the MVP voting results played out, but nevertheless it was quite encouraging to see Mauer place first on 27 of the 28 ballots while Mark Teixeira and his league-leading RBI total did not get one first-place vote. The ability of the BBWAA voters in this instance to look past traditional stats that tell you less about the performance of an individual player and more about the performances of his teammates, as they did with the Cy Young voting, represents refreshing progress.
Of course, the one downside to Mauer's capturing this award is that it will do nothing but strengthen his case at the negotiating table. And that is where our attention must now turn, because the Twins No. 1 priority at this point should be making sure they get their MVP locked up long-term.