As Joe Mauer looks to put the finishing touches on his MVP season, and Carlos Pena goes down for the season, I realized something the other day: Had Mauer not missed a month of the season, he'd be in contention for the Triple Crown.
It kind of boggles the mind, but you know what? It's not as crazy as it sounds, as long as you remember I said "contention," not "a lock to get it."
We'll start with the average portion of the test.
This is sort of the wild card, because there's no way to know what he would have hit in April, or what the residual effect of playing those extra games would have done to him as the season progressed. Catchers have a nasty habit of wearing down.
That being said, Mauer hit .347 while playing 140 games a few years ago, so it's not like this .363 average is coming from nowhere. While it might not have been as high, I can't imagine it being so low that he wouldn't be close to Ichiro's .354.
Yeah, you say, but what about his power numbers?
Well, with Carlos Pena done at 39, the bar isn't unreasonably high. Mark Teixeira is second at 35 and projected to hit 40 at his current pace—although lefties in Yankee Stadium can always go off.
No one else is likely to top 40. (Yes, I know, if we're playing the "what if game" with Mauer's injury, shouldn't we play it with Pena's? Yeah, maybe, but what the heck.)
Mauer's got 26, and his power is streaky. After 11 home runs in May, he hit seven combined in June and July, then ripped eight in August. He has yet to homer this month.
If we were to simply take his season average, we see he hits a home run roughly every 4.5 games, which would have given him an extra five home runs in the month of April, putting him at 31.
As for his RBI total, if we again plug in his season average for the 22 games he missed, we'd see another 17 RBI, giving him 99 on the season. Teixeira is the current leader at 106.
I understand he may not have played every day in April (although, given the number of days off the Twins had that month, it's not inconceivable), we can't project the wear and tear, and my mathematical method is pretty basic. But if you want advanced statistical analysis, ask Rob Neyer.
But at the end of the day, it's possible, had he not been hurt, for Mauer to be somewhere in the range of eight home runs (with the gap only able to close) and seven RBI behind the league leaders. A long shot, yes, but not so impossible to be dismissed out of hand.
The fact that Mauer's injury cost him a shot at it this season is doubly frustrating, because no AL slugger is having the kind of mind-boggling season we're accustomed to. (Draw your own conclusions.)
Who knows if he'll have this chance again, let alone hit for the power needed. Injuries are a cruel mistress, and sadly, it looks like they took Mauer's shot at baseball immortality...for now.