For Unto Us a Batting Champ Is Born
He has two batting titles. He has a Gold Glove. He has his own theme song. And since today is his 26th birthday, I’m going to make the case that Joe Mauer might be, if not the best, certainly one of the most irreplaceable players in any position in the league.
Mauer has consistently ranked near the top of the league in two of the best measurements of a player’s value to his organization: VORP and Runs Above Average. Last season, Mauer was fourth in the league in VORP, and his 43.0 RAA was the best for a catcher in either league. He’s also ranked in the top five pretty consistently throughout his career, with his worst year coming in 2007, when he was limited to 109 games due to injury. However, the problem with both VORP and RAA as statistical measures is that they both weigh each plate appearance exactly the same. For example, a solo homer when the team is up (or down) by ten runs is equal to a walk-off home run, when one clearly affects the outcome of a game more than the other. Thankfully, we also have Win Probability Added, which takes such things into account. Last season, Mauer’s 4.88 raw WPA led the entire league, and once again, he ranks near the top pretty consistently.
Of course, one of the biggest problems with all of those metrics is that they only measure offense and fail to account for a player’s defensive contributions. While there are some pretty good metrics for evaluating defense, each have their own limitations and there is little consensus as to which metric is really the most accurate. Basically, all of these defensive metrics attempt to measure a position player’s defensive contributions by determining how many runs per game he saves, and despite their limitations, they are pretty good at evaluating defense for most position players. Except for catcher, that is. Since so much of a catcher’s defense depends upon the pitcher, it’s really difficult to determine just how many runs per game a catcher actually saves. But it’s interesting to note that, whichever metric you use, Mauer once again consistently comes out near the top for catchers, and a good case could be made that he is one of the best defensive players at any position in baseball. He is also very good at throwing out baserunners (about 36% of them), though he isn’t the best in the league. I sometimes wonder if his reputation sort of precedes him and guys are simply less likely to run on him in the first place, which in and of itself might be more valuable than his actual ability to throw runners out.
One has to wonder why Joe Mauer is so consistently overlooked as an MVP candidate, even though he puts up better numbers than anyone else on the team (and most of the league, especially when adjusted for position) and is arguably one of the best defensive catchers in baseball. Justin Morneau is often considered the most dangerous hitter in the lineup, but other than his power numbers, Morny isn’t significantly better than Mauer in most offensive categories (he’s actually a bit worse in some of them). And while Morny is certainly a very good hitter, his career numbers are actually pretty average for a first baseman. This is an issue that has been explored in depth by other, smarter Twins bloggers (and Joe Posnanski), so I’m not going to go into much detail on the subject. I tend to think that voters (and opposing teams) are dazzled by Morneau’s raw power and all of the RBI he racks up and tend to undervalue Mauer’s ability to simply put the ball in play with runners in scoring position.
The Twins have Joe Mauer locked up until after the 2010 season, and there is a lot of debate among fans as to whether or not it would be worth the estimated $150 million to keep him. Although Mauer is much more durable than people give him credit for, he plays a physically demanding position and doesn’t have the greatest health history. He missed much of his rookie season with knee surgery, missed most of 2007 with leg problems, and so far has missed the first few weeks of this season with back problems. Having said all that, I do think the Twins would be wise to extend Mauer’s contract. Yes, it’s a lot of money for a small-budget team to risk on a player with his health history, but his bat has been so invaluable in the lineup that I think it is a risk worth taking. Even if the Twins end up moving him to a position where he would be less injury-prone, like third base, Mauer is athletic enough that he should make the transition successfully. And though a 3B who hits .317/.399/.457 certainly isn’t as valuable as a catcher who does, it’s possible that Mauer’s power numbers might improve if he were in a less physically demanding position. But there’s also the distinct possibility that, with the move into the outdoor stadium, his health will no longer be such an issue. Either way, signing Mauer to a long-term contract would be in the best interest of the organization.
- There’s the Kevin Slowey we know and love: Twins defeat Angels 9-2
Kevin Slowey rebounded from his awful first couple of starts, in which he gave up ten earned runs on twenty-three hits in 11.1 innings. Slowey was coming off of his worst start of the season on Monday night, when the Blue Jays smacked him around for five earned runs on thirteen hits in 5.1 innings. Other than one mistake to Torii Hunter in the second, Slowey managed to shut down the Angels for seven innings, giving up just two earned runs on six hits and striking out five. Of course, it helps that the offense managed to provide some much-needed run support, b
eating up the Angels’ bullpen for nine runs in two innings.
And um, I guess until the pitching staff has a game like this one, maybe I should stop complaining about them so much. Yikes.
Jason Kubel had another good night at the plate, going 4-for-5 with a double and 2 RBI. This is his second consecutive four-hit game, and the first time a Twin has had back-to-back four hit games since Mauer did it against the Dodgers in 2006.
Lefty reliever Craig Breslow continued to struggle with his command, walking the first batter he faced, but settled down and pitched effectively enough to keep the Angels of the scoreboard in the eighth. Juan Morillo made his debut with the Twins in the ninth, and his 94 mph was as good as advertised. Morillo has been working with pitching coach Rick Anderson on his command, and whether or not he’s put his control issues behind him is still a huge question, but he certainly wasn’t having any problems finding the strike zone last night. He retired the first two batters he faced before giving up a harmless single to Juan Rivera.
Oh, and as much as I love both baseball and hockey, even I think that this is an abomination.