Most Valuable Debate: Figuring Out the AL MVP

John BotelhoCorrespondent IISeptember 22, 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)

The Baseball Writers of America pick the Most Valuable Player in both the American and National Leagues at the end of each season.

The National League MVP looks to be an obvious choice, as Albert Pujols has established himself as the best player in the senior circuit with another Ruthian (or at this point, Pujolsian) type of season. Sure Hanley Ramirez will receive attention for a remarkable offensive year—.353 batting average, 23 HR, 26 SB, 100 RBI, and 95 Runs scored—but with the Cardinals streaking towards the playoffs and Pujols approaching 50 homers, it would be a safe bet that the St. Louis first baseman should clear some room on his mantle.

In the American League, however, the choice isn’t nearly as cut and dry. There’s a slew of Yankees that have catapulted the Bronx nine to another AL East crown after putting together incredible 2009 campaigns, a pair of Twins who have become usual suspects in the MVP race, and several Red Sox who have the Boston fans gearing up for another October filled with baseball.

As a Red Sox fan, I wish I could sit back and announce that my prediction of Jason Bay stepping right in as Boston’s next great left fielder, while winning the MVP was going to be a correct one. Despite being perhaps the most productive player in the hub this year (he’s leading the team in homers and RBI) a midseason funk that helped his average plummet for an entire month will ultimately cost him this honor. If Bay then doesn’t have much chance at winning the award, it would be hard to make any kind of serious argument for the other players on the roster, even if Dustin Pedroia and Kevin Youkilis put together years similar to 2008 (when Pedroia did win the honor).

Having eliminated anyone from Beantown for consideration, we’re left with some pinstripers and the duo that play their home games in the Metrodome. There is a member of each group that has claimed the award in the past and regularly are among the leading vote getters.  Both players have set the bar a lot higher for their own production than the numbers of this year though, and Alex Rodriguez and Justin Morneau will have to sit back as someone else collects the award.

Realistically, we’re left with three candidates that could have a legitimate case for winning the award in the league that features the designated hitter. Mark Teixiera and Derek Jeter have led the way for the Bombers all year, while Joe Mauer stormed onto the season in May following an injury and hasn’t slowed down one bit.

Teixiera has been the Yankees' biggest run producer all season. His 37 homers (10 more than anyone else in New York) and 118 RBI (31 more) clearly establish him as a candidate for the award. What will cost him votes though is that he is a 1B, a position where top end production is expected. Also, compare his line to Jason Bay’s and its eerily similar. In fact the only reason Teixiera is receiving more consideration than the British Colombia native is that his batting average sits about 20 points higher. Even with the severe discrepancy in average though, the players are within five points of each other in OPS (on base plus slugging, a stat that measures the overall productivity of any hitter).

The final two candidates are enjoying career years and will likely each garner a number of first place votes.

Derek Jeter is hitting at a clip of .330 so far this year, good for fourth in the AL and second among shortstops in the MLB. He’s already scored more than 100 times and knocked 17 balls over the fence, while swiping 26 bases. Throw in the fact that he’s one hit away from 200 for the season, and his batting average, on-base, and slugging percentages are all higher this year than his career averages and it's easy to see why many New York fans and media members agree that Jeter deserves to add an MVP to his already impressive resume.

As good as his season has been though, there are a few areas that voters will consider when making their decisions. His OPS is at a very respectable .862. While this mark is near the top of the shortstop totem pole, it still ranks 49th in the MLB and eighth among full-time Yankees hitters. Voters will also recognize that his RBI total could be a lot higher given the productivity of the rest of the Yankees' lineup. The final thing voters will consider is how all of this compares to Mr. Mauer’s 2009 season.

Mauer missed all of April, but there isn’t another negative thing that could be said about his performance this year. As soon as he returned to the lineup, he began hitting for power and average and hasn’t significantly slowed down all year. As impressive as Jeter’s average looks, especially as a shortstop, Mauer’s dwarfs it. Mauer is the only AL catcher to ever win a batting title and looks like he’ll have his third when the season closes. Mauer’s .373 is ahead of Ichiro’s second place total by 19 points. AJ Pierzynski is the second best hitting catcher in the MLB this year at .309, and is the only other one over .300.

Mauer’s offensive production isn’t limited to an absurd batting average. He’s also leading the American League in both on-base and slugging percentage and only ranks behind the aforementioned Pujols in either category. No catcher in the history of baseball has ever lead either league in all three totals.

He’s also crushed 28 home runs and played Gold Glove defense, while keeping the Twins competitive in the AL Central. That last bit of information is probably the biggest indicator of why Mauer deserves the award considering the state of the Twins this year. 

Consider that the Minnesota’s pitching staff has been in shambles; Scott Baker regressed, Kevin Slowey was lost to a season-ending injury before the All-Star break, and Francisco Liriano wasn’t even a shell of what he was a couple years back before an arm injury. Justin Morneau—the Twins only other premier run producer—has essentially been useless since Aug. 15 as he hit just .122 with two homers in a month before having the Twins shut him down due to a stress fracture. Despite all of this, the Twins sit just 2.5 games behind the Tigers for the division lead.

All of this makes the decision pretty clear for me. Joe Mauer should capture his first ever MVP award, while Derek Jeter has to settle for second place in the wake of putting together another Hall-of-Fame season in a Hall-of-Fame career.