What does the phrase “baseball’s best hitter” mean?
Is it simply defined by comparing batting averages of current players? Or do we analyze how each candidate hits in certain situations: with runners in scoring position, behind in the batting count, or when his team is trailing in a game.
Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer had one of those seasons that will put him into the conversation as being baseball’s best hitter. Despite spending the first month of the season on the disabled list, Mauer went on to win his third batting title in four seasons. He led the American League with a .365 batting average, and also mashed 28 HRs and 96 RBI. And oh yeah, he is also the AL’s reigning Gold Glove winner from the catcher’s position.
Catchers aren’t supposed to hit like he does. Mike Piazza won a batting title in 1997 (the first catcher in 70 years to do so), but he was considered to have poor defensive skills.
Mauer is a force behind the dish, as he threw out 30 percent of the runners trying to steal on him this past season. The biggest question in his future will be: Can Mauer still be a productive hitter while catching on an everyday basis.
Mauer has had his share of injuries: a meniscus tear inside his left knee, assorted quad strains, and a serious kidney ailment that was related to a back injury that kept him out all spring training this year. Since his return to the Twins lineup on May 1, Mauer had no ill effects from the back injury and played in every game since June 18. Twins manager Ron Gardenhire did an excellent job of keeping him fresh all season while maintaining his bat in the lineup.
At age 26, Mauer is approaching his peak as an athlete. He contributes to more runs being scored by his team than anyone in the game today. His strikeouts went up this season, which can be attributed to Mauer’s increased aggressiveness at the plate. He didn’t pulled a ball all year for a home run, as 15 of his 26 home runs were deposited into the center field seats and the other 11 went to left field.
The only other players in the history of baseball to hit over .370 with at least 25 HRs going into the final month of the season were Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig, and Joe DiMaggio. Not bad company for Mauer to be associated with.
The question of who is the best hitter in baseball is a good source for an argument between knowledgeable fans. Everyone has their own personal favorites and will argue for them until they’re blue in the face. Joe Mauer is a guy who can flat out hit with a nice compact swing. He has won numerous batting titles, and more importantly, Mauer is the present and future of Twins baseball.
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