Dear AL East Fans: Don't Kid Yourselves, Joe Mauer Is The AL MVP

Dan WadeSenior Analyst IAugust 14, 2009

ANAHEIM, CA - JULY 24:  Joe Mauer #7 of the Minnesota Twins hits his second home run of the game in the sixth inning against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on July 24, 2009 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)

Don't get me wrong, Ben Zobrist is having a great year, Mark Teixiera has proved his worth after a rough start, and anyone who says they don't want Kevin Youkilis on their team is lying. 

But if I have to read another piece about how anyone not named Joe Mauer is going to win the MVP, I'm going to lose my mind.

Yes, I am a Twins fan and will readily admit that bias, but I hope that the preponderance of stats to follow will prove the proposition beyond reasonable doubt.

I want to start with the most subjective thing that makes Mauer valuable: positional considerations.

The rule of thumb here is that players who play up the middle are expected to contribute more defensively than offensively. Hence why players like Chase Utley and Ian Kinsler are so valuable; they provide a substantial offensive contribution, while manning a defensively difficult position.

Mauer's defense is very solid, though a good metric to measure a catcher's defensive contribution has yet to come along. You'll note that UZR doesn't even exist for catchers. He's 19 runs above replacement in the field, which is worth about two wins so far this season.

However, there is one thing a catcher does that simply can't be quantified: calling games.

Rather than make a protracted argument about what Mauer does, I'll simply note that when Scott Baker was struggling during spring training (when Joe Mauer was out with his inflamed SI joint), that part of the problem was that Mauer simply calls entire games. What he calls, the pitcher throws. 

This set up is not too different from the understanding Jason Varitek has with the Red Sox staff; the major difference is that while Varitek is 37-years old, Mauer is just 26.

What sets Joe Mauer apart from, well, everyone, is his offense.

Mauer currently leads the AL in BA by 17, OBP by 20 points, SLG by 41 points, and OPS by 77 points. What's even more impressive is the fact that he's a catcher. He did this after missing the entire offseason due to kidney surgery. Not to mention he missed spring training and a month of the season due to an inflamed SI joint.

Mauer's 21 HR tie him for 18th in the AL along with Paul Konerko, Jim Thome, and Alex Rodriguez. He has racked up 72 RBI, despite the fact that the hitters batting directly ahead of him in the order hit a combined .198.

So, to recap: No one's rate stats compare to his. While Mauer's counting stats fall behind those of Youkilis and Morneau, Mauer hasn't had nearly the same opportunity to put up the gaudy numbers that those two and the other league leaders have had.

This is where two stats, VORP and EqA, prove their worth. Both grade players on the totality of their offensive contribution. VORP is prorated for both position and home park, while EQA is weighed for league difficulty, pitching faced, and home park, but not for position.

Mauer leads all AL players with a VORP of 61.3, meaning Mauer alone is worth six wins offensively. Jason Bartlett is the next AL hitter on the list at 49.9, which is an excellent mark, but well behind Mauer.

Looking at EQA, which boasts a consistent average of .260, Mauer is once again the top of the heap. His .350 mark dwarfs that of Jason Bartlett and Kevin Youkilis, both of whom slot it at .325. In fact, the only player in the whole of baseball who out-performs Mauer is Albert Pujols, and there's no shame in that.

Finally, the question no stat can answer: Is the player in question really that valuable to his team?

It was this litmus test that had people crying foul in 2006 when Justin Morneau brought the hardware home. Most people felt he was the third most valuable player on his own team, behind Mauer and former-Twin Johan Santana.

Mauer doesn't have this barrier. Even though teammates Justin Morneau and Jason Kubel have had good seasons of their own, neither can rank with the catcher from St. Paul.

Perhaps the only thing that could keep someone from voting for Joe Mauer would be their belief that the MVP should come from a winner. While the Twins aren't sunk yet, manning the lifeboats would be a worthwhile endeavor.

To this argument, I would respond that the Twins have been in the hunt all season. And while I strongly feel like they'll fall short at the end, they won't be truly out of it until mid-September. Without Joe Mauer, it is hard to fathom that they would even be contenders at this point, and that shows how valuable he is.

Like I said to open this article, I'd love to have Youk, Bartlett, Zobrist or Kinsler on my favorite team. However, there's no one in the AL I'd rather build my team around than one of the best catchers of all time.


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