At the end of every baseball season fans, writers, and pundits alike — especially those who root for and cover teams not participating in the playoffs — love to speculate on who will win the various end of the season awards, usually schilling for their homer pick. The most prevalent of these debates always centers on the Cy Young Awards ( for both leagues) and, of course, the MVPs.
It is the "MVP Race" as they call it through roughly the final month or so of the season. Providing constant fodder for the round-the-clock sports coverage, mediums like ESPN constantly track the statistics of the top "contenders" for the awards, using the numbers and their various biases to rank the players like horses in the Kentucky Derby coming down the home stretch for the trophy. The debate even gets philosophical with countless attempts to define what exactly constitutes an "MVP," like it is some great existential question whose answer is known only by some unseen baseball deity. Is an MVP a player who adds the most value to his own team or simply the best player in each league? It ranks up there with "do the ends justify the means" and "Barack Obama's citizenship" as one of the great intellectual debates in history.
Needless to say, there is always a large volume of opinions and rarely a clear cut winner. Every season camps from different locations of loyalty campaign for "their guy," and usually many of these arguments have a certain level of validity. Shockingly enough, it is not a rare occurrence for the voters to pick candidates of whose validity there is actually a strong consensus against (especially in historical retrospect, see Hank Sauer's 1952 NL MVP).
But this season in the American League there should not be one iota of debate or disagreement except by the most blatantly bias of cheerleaders. There is absolutely, without a doubt, a clear cut winner of the MVP, and his name is Joe Mauer of the Minnesota Twins.
Throughout the year Joe has fulfilled every possible definition (and all the facets of those definitions) of the term "MVP." He is easily his team's most valuable player (as he showed after Justin Morneau's injury caused nary a hiccup in the Twins run to the playoffs), especially when his offensive and defensive contributions are considered
He is also, at the very least, one of the top five hitters in the game, batting proficiently for average and increasingly proficiently for power with startling consistency. While for six season Mauer displayed little slugging ability all that changed in 2009 with his 28 dingers and his outstanding OPS, elevating Joe to a completely new plain of existence in the figurative baseball sphere.
The top player considerations for the AL MVP this season have, in a relatively general consensus, consisted of Mauer, Derek Jeter, Ichiro Suzuki, Mark Teixeira and Jason Bay. The merits of each can be argued from one angle or another but here it is illustrative to go right to the stats:
Derek Jeter: .334/18/66 .406/.465/.871
Totaled 212 hits and 30 steals.
Ichiro Suzuki: .352/11/46 .386/.465/.851
Led the AL in hits (225), totaled 26 steals.
Mark Teixeira: .292/39/122 .383/.565/.948
Tied for the AL lead in Home Runs, led the league in total bases (344).
Jason Bay: .267/36/119 .384/.537/.921
2009 All Star
Joe Mauer: .365/28/96 .444/.587/1.031
Won the AL batting title, led the AL in OPS, SLG and OPS.
Derek Jeter had one of the best seasons of his career at age 35, providing first-rate contact hitting, a little more power than usual for The Captain (and the typical leadoff man for that matter), and a highly valuable increase in his speed related production (his 30 steals tied the second highest total of his career). His ability to consistently get on base, perform successful at bats with RISP, and use his speed to score runs (107 RS, 7.3 RC/G) were crucial to the Yankees offensive success in 2009, setting the table (backed by Johnny Damon) for the Bronx Bomber's power surge that followed in the lineup.
Ichiro had essentially the same season as Jeter in nearly every respect. He had a few more hits, a few less steals, a little higher batting average, and a little less power. But otherwise, nearly everything previously expressed about Jeter also applies to Ichiro He gets on base consistently, is a player of refined skill at the plate that hits expertly in every situation, rarely striking out, and nearly always providing his team with a productive at bat. Ichiro has been an MVP candidate every season he has played in the U.S. and deservingly so.
While Jeter and Ichiro are the "contact hitting candidates," Mark Teixeira represents half of the power side of the equation. Smashing 39 home runs in 2009, Mark finished in a tie with Carlos Pena of Tampa Bay for the AL lead. He also racked up an impressive 122 RBIs which also led the AL, placing him atop the league alone. While he did strike out 114 times his OBP is very good (.383) and his batting average (.292) is more than solid for a power-hitter.
To complement his discipline and slugging ability at the plate, Teixeira is also a gold-glove caliber first basemen on the level of a Don Mattingly or a Keith Hernandez. He has already won two gold golves with Texas (in '04 and '05) and shoud likely garner a third to add to his collection in 2009. Teixeira is an all around great player that posted one of the best seasons of his exceptional career, crucial to his team's success and easily one of the top hitters in the AL and arguably all of baseball.
Jason Bay's 2009 played out like that of a Mark Teixeira-light. His .267 avg pales in comparison to Teixeira's .292 but he hit only three less home runs, three less RBIs, and while he did top Texieira by a miniscual amount in OBP (.001), Mark bested Bay in OPS by 27 points. Bay had a very good season, his style is a perfect fit for the demented dimensions of Fenway Park, and he should be a productive hitter in Boston for many years if the Red Sox and their boy-genius are smart enough to get his contract worked out before another team swipes him away.
The fact is, though, that Joe Mauer simply can't be matched in any way. He bested the contact hitters (Jeter and Ichiro) in batting average and OBP, and he beat both of the power-hitting candidates (Teixeira and Bay) in slugging percentage and OPS. And while Teixeira and possibly Ichiro may match Mauer's skill defensively at their own respective positions, catching is arguably the hardest and most physically demanding position in all of baseball (hence the low offsive statistics and longevity of the majority of those who played the position throughout history). And while Mauer only threw out 26% of opposing runners (a career low) his .966 fielding perctage is very good. And more importantly, the way he nursed a young and highly inexperienced pitching staff into the ALDS is a clear demonstration of his importance defensively that cannot be illustrated by statistics.
Jeter, Suzuki, Teixeira, and Bay all had outstanding years that would likely win them an MVP award in many other seasons (and probably the NL this season). But in 2009 Joe Mauer dominated the American League with his bat, improving on his already established contact hitting ability while developing a line drive power-stroke (the 28 home runs were 15 more than his previous career best of 13). And all this after not starting his season until May 1 due to a back injury… to a player who crouches down for nine innings a game.
There is simply no other plausible choice for the award this season (and this is coming from a Yankees fan who loves Jeter). Joe Mauer is the 2009 AL MVP.