AL MVP: Mauer, by a landslide

Jeff Passan
Yahoo! Sports

Editor's note: This column by Yahoo! Sports national columnist Jeff Passan made the case Aug. 25 that Joe Mauer deserved to be American League Most Valuable Player. Mauer was honored Nov. 23.

We wanted to write a few verses, just in case Joe Mauer(notes) has some free time to lay down a track or two, only someone already did that.

So considering the grace with which the Minnesota Twins' catcher plays, perhaps a few poems can better convey the kind of year he's having – and how much of a laugher it is that he's not considered the shoo-in Most Valuable Player in the American League that Albert Pujols(notes) is in the National League.

What about a limerick?

There once was a guy named Joe Mauer
He seemed to get hits every hour
His sideburns were long
His swing was quite strong
Sabermetricians love his power

Um. Maybe not. Perhaps a haiku?

His swing is peaceful
Flowing like an ice-hole keg
Mauer might beat beer

Hmmmm. Let's try some slam poetry.

Listen, I'm a little shy, I really try now not to boast
Only all this stupid nonsense started with a blog post
From The New York Times, that liberal institution
On blast they put a catcher who starts a revolution
Where I win two batting titles
Making pitchers suicidal
Can a doctor check my vitals
Bigger than all of them idols
American, any other style, doesn't really matter
Like a raw bar I just slice 'em up and put 'em on a platter
Can't they see that I'm marquis, that I am the bourgeoisie
And that this week, yes, the baseball world revolves around me


Joe Mauer.

(Getty Images)

1. OK, the point is, Joe Mauer is the AL MVP, and barring his pulling a Carlos Quentin – and there may not be a drop of Quentinian blood in Mauer – it shouldn't be a close race. He leads the AL in batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage, the modern Triple Crown, and if that's not enough, he's among the two or three best defensive catchers in the major leagues. To penalize him for the Twins' blegh season is backward, especially in a year in which no one's performance is close to Mauer's.

Some peers in the Baseball Writers Association of America give first-place votes only to those on first-place teams. That is their prerogative, dunderheaded as such thinking is. Value is a subjective quality, though whoever willfully ignores perhaps the best season ever from the most demanding position can defend their selection until blue in the face and still be dead wrong.

Few realize Mauer's genius because he isn't on ESPN every Sunday night and natural inside-out strokes don't look nearly as attractive as towering blasts to short-fenced power alleys. In fact, take away the pinstriped uniform and Mauer is just …

2. A better Derek Jeter(notes). Yeah, yeah. Such heresy, etc. This is actually quite a heartening comparison, putting the captain and the AL's best player in the same breath. Jeter is hitting for power like he did in his prime. His defense has improved remarkably, according to the same metrics that might as well have poured concrete blocks on his feet the last two years. He remains the Yankees' soul, and on a team as good as this one has been, that means something.

Hopefully, the lifetime-achievement contingent that occasionally rewards an older player with an MVP that should have come years earlier – in Jeter's case, 2006, to Mauer's teammate Justin Morneau(notes) – doesn't strike. Jeter belongs in the discussion. Near the top, in fact. Though so do plenty of others, like Mark Teixeira(notes) and Miguel Cabrera(notes) and one guy who hasn't gotten any run, which is no surprise because …


Michael Young(notes).

(Getty Images)

3. Michael Young has spent his entire career hitting to little fanfare. He has made six consecutive All-Star Games – in 2007 and 2008 more on reputation and positional scarcity – and the move to third base this season seemed like a death wish, particularly with Young's five-year, $80 million contract kicking in.

Turns out he can hit like a third baseman: Young's .329 average and .382 on-base percentage are in lockstep with career highs, and never has he slugged at a .538 clip. His fielding at third base has been rather brutal – not Chipper Jones(notes) bad, but in the same school district – and Young never was the sort of leader who, like Jeter, inspired an excessive extension for some intangibles.

He's just Mike Young, happy to blend in on the most surprising team in baseball – except to one dashing provocateur, that is – and allow others to steal the headlines …

4. With their killer fastballs. Yes, our unrequited crush on the Rangers found a midseason muse in Neftali Feliz(notes), on whose wagon we leapt early.

He hasn't disappointed. Feliz ran his scoreless streak to 11 innings Saturday, the longest in baseball since Aug. 7. (Special honorable mention goes to Cliff Lee(notes), who has allowed one earned run in 25 innings since then – and three earned in 40 innings, for a 0.68 ERA. Et tu, Doc?)

How much longer Feliz keeps it up rests on his fastball, which dipped precipitously in velocity his last start, from 100 mph to 93 to 97. It might've been the gun. Feliz could've slept wrong. Or perhaps he's just tired, a malady that bedevils all pitchers around this time of year and saps a little juice from their fastball. All pitchers except …

5. Colorado's Ubaldo Jimenez(notes), who may well be the best pitcher no one knows. The 6-foot-4, 200-pound right-hander throws the hardest fastball among major league starters – 96 mph on average, a half-mile more than Justin Verlander's(notes) – and, at 25, is entering his prime.

Since May 1, Jimenez's 2.84 ERA ranks 11th in the major leagues. He hasn't given up more than four runs in a start in almost four months. Every pitcher in front of him, except perhaps J.A. Happ(notes), will get a Cy Young vote this season. Whether Jimenez reaps a few because he's the ace of a team, although for those partial to relief pitchers …


Huston Street(notes).

(Getty Images)

6. Jimenez's teammate, Huston Street, could be worthy. Assumed to be trade bait when the Rockies acquired him in the Matt Holliday(notes) deal, Street stuck around, proved too valuable to pawn off at the deadline and is now an integral part of wild-card-leading Colorado's success. He leads the NL with 32 saves and has blown only one.

How, especially after a down year with Oakland? Street's fastball is stronger, nearly 2 mph so, and he's throwing it more than ever. He also cut back on his slider in favor of his changeup … which doesn't make that much sense considering it's the best in baseball per 100 thrown among those who use it regularly, according to FanGraphs' pitch-type linear weights.

The more important number, for Street and the Rockies, will determine whether they can afford to keep him next season: his arbitration value. Relievers cash in big-time when arbitration-eligible – $5.6 million for Bobby Jenks(notes) in his first eligible year, anyone? – and Street should be no different. On the other hand …

7. Because smart teams lock up their young starting pitchers, the arbitration numbers for them tend to be depressed, making Tim Lincecum(notes)'s upcoming offseason the most intriguing in years. The Giants already have $83 million locked up in Barry Zito(notes) (presuming they buy out his 2014 option) and would need to dole out around that much to buy out all four of Lincecum's arbitration years and another two of free agency.

Whether they go that deep, choose the Cole Hamels(notes) route – paying just for arbitration, which will cost closer to $40 million – or let Lincecum go year to year will be indicative of how new managing partner Bill Neukom plans on running the franchise. Whatever the case, Lincecum will set new standards and be a very rich man, perhaps making more next year …


Russell Branyan(notes).

(Associated Press)

8. Than Russell Branyan has made his whole career. Branyan is a remarkable story: a true journeyman, on his eighth franchise, finally gets full-time at-bats and goes bonkers. The prodigious power has always been around – he hit 24 home runs in his closest thing to a full-time season, with 378 at-bats in 2002 – but the strikeouts and defensive maladies scared teams away.

Well, turns out Branyan isn't all that terrible a first baseman, and that no team has tried him there – he entered this season with more career starts at third base, left field, right field and, of course, designated hitter – defies all reasoning. Because Branyan, always a dynamite fastball hitter, has learned to crush curveballs – second per 100 behind Kendry Morales(notes) – and is finally in line to earn more than the career-high $1.4 million Seattle gave him this offseason.

Seattle wants to bring Branyan back and end the hopscotching of the baseball terrain …

9. That doesn't afflict as many of the best hitters in baseball as you'd think. Of the hitters with the 50 best on-base-plus-slugging percentages this season, 31 have played with just one major league team, included one of the more surprising names: Brian McCann(notes).

Not because of his talent, mind you. McCann is a gifted catcher, one of the three best hitting backstops in the game. It's just that at the end of April, McCann couldn't see.

It was no joke. His left eye got so blurry, he couldn't hit. McCann had Lasik surgery in 2007, it didn't take, and a number of remedies didn't work. His last resort was a special pair of glasses made by Oakley. They worked, he started raking again, made his fourth straight All-Star team, hit his 16th home run Sunday against Florida and pushed Atlanta to within four games of the wild-card lead.

Still, no set of spectacles …

10. Can make him Joe Mauer. Who, by the way, is down to .374 after taking the collar Monday. As David Pinto notes, the chances of Mauer finishing at .400 are somewhere between 1 in 8,800 and 1 in 12,400.

He's got plenty of years to flirt with .400. Now isn't the time for that. For MVP? That would be poetic justice.

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