Joe Mauer, plate appearances, and hitting .400

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Joe Mauer won Player of the Month honors
for his ridiculous May performance, hitting .414 with 11 homers and 32
RBIs in 28 games after spending all of April on the disabled list with
a back injury. And he’s actually raised his batting average so far in
June.

Mauer went 4-for-4 last night,
making him 26-for-57 (.456) this month while raising his overall
average to .429. Missing the first month of the season leaves him 20
plate appearances short of qualifying for the batting title, but Mauer
has been so amazing that even going 0-for-20 in those imaginary trips
to the plate would leave him with an MLB-leading .381 mark.

Three years ago Mauer became the first catcher in AL history to win
the batting title and the first catcher in MLB history to lead all of
baseball in batting average. Then last year Mauer became the first
catcher in AL history to win two batting titles. And this year he looks poised to become the first catcher, in either league, to win three batting titles.

Or maybe even make a run at .400. Of course, all you need to know about
how hard it is to hit .400 for an entire season is that Mauer has
batted .429 through mid-June and, if he continues to walk at the same
rate, would need to hit .382 over the remainder of the season to get
there with enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title.

He ultimately needs at least 317 more trips to the plate to qualify
for the batting title and the list of players who’ve hit .380 or higher
during a season in which they had 300 or more plate appearances over
the past 50 years looks like this: Tony Gwynn, George Brett, Rod Carew.
Of course, the list of highest career batting averages over the past 50
years also looks like this:

                     AVG
Tony Gwynn .338
Albert Pujols .334
Ichiro Suzuki .334
Roberto Clemente .329
Wade Boggs .328
Todd Helton .328
Rod Carew .328
JOE MAUER .325
Vladimir Guerrero .322
Kirby Puckett .318

With a .429 average in mid-June and a .325 career mark to go along with
the lack of April plate appearances, Mauer is as well-positioned to
make a serious run at hitting .400 as someone can be 66 games into the
season. And yet as Brett, Carew, Gwynn, Todd Helton, John Olerud,
Chipper Jones, Nomar Garciaparra, Larry Walker, and basically everyone
since Ted Williams in 1941 has learned he still has very little chance
of actually getting there.

Shapiro, Murray defend Dellin Betances after arbitration feud

SAN DIEGO, CA - JULY 12:  Dellin Betances #68 of the New York Yankees and the American League pitches against the National League during the 87th Annual MLB All-Star Game at PETCO Park on July 12, 2016 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
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The dust hasn’t quite settled after right-hander Dellin Betances‘ arbitration hearing with the Yankees on Saturday. The case was decided in the team’s favor, awarding Betances with a $3 million salary for the 2017 season instead of the $5 million he initially requested. Yankees’ president Randy Levine held a press conference to voice his outrage over the figure presented by Betances and his agency, saying it had “no bearings in reality” since Betances does not have the elite closer status required for a salary bump of that magnitude.

Needless to say, the comments caused some consternation within Betances’ camp. The reliever publicly addressed the outburst, telling the press that he was prepared to put his differences with the team aside until he heard what Levine had to say. Via MLB.com’s Bryan Hoch:

Players union executive Rick Shapiro and Betances’ agent, Jim Murray, also spoke out in the right-hander’s favor. Shapiro presented Betances’ case during the hearing on Saturday and called Levine’s comments “an absolute disgrace to the arbitration process and to all of Major League Baseball.” In a report from FOX Sports’ Ken Rosenthal, Shapiro added: “The only thing that has been unprecedented in the last 36 hours is that a club official, after winning a case, called a news conference to effectively gloat about his victory – that’s unprecedented.”

Murray spoke exclusively to Rosenthal, accusing the president of effectively bullying the 28-year-old during the arbitration process and claiming that Levine had both mispronounced Betances’ name throughout the hearing and blamed the reliever for “declining ticket sales and their lack of playoff history.” Like Betances, Murray said that the agency was ready to accept the arbiter’s decision and move on before Levine’s decision to air his grievances to the media. “The only person overreaching in this entire situation is Randy,” Murray told Rosenthal. “He might as well be an astronaut because nobody on earth would agree with what he is saying. Even the others in the room would disagree with him.”

Royals will experiment with Alex Gordon in all three outfield spots this year

CLEVELAND, OH -  MAY 7: Alex Gordon #4 of the Kansas City Royals reacts to a fan while on first base during the sixth inning against the Cleveland Indians at Progressive Field on May 7, 2016 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)
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Royals’ manager Ned Yost is shaking things up in 2017, starting with left fielder Alex Gordon. Yost told MLB.com’s Jeffrey Flanagan that “every scenario is open,” and expects to utilize Gordon in right and center field this spring while he figures out where to position Jorge Soler and Brandon Moss.

Gordon, 33, hasn’t manned right field since a three-game experiment with the Royals back in 2010 and has yet to play center field during any regular season to date. The focus, however, isn’t on Gordon’s capabilities. Among the three outfielders, he carries the best defensive profile and appears to be the most versatile of the bunch.

According to Flanagan, Soler and Moss are average on defense and will continue working closely with Royals’ coach Rusty Kuntz as the season approaches. One arrangement could see Gordon in center field, flanked by Soler in right field and Moss in left, though Yost foresees Soler taking some reps at DH if his defensive chops aren’t up to snuff.

While Moss is prepared to see starts at either outfield corner, Yost appears to be set on keeping Soler in right field, at least for the time being. The club is hoping for a bounce-back season from the 24-year-old outfielder, who was acquired from the Cubs in December after batting a lackluster .238/.333/.436 and sustaining a slew of minor injuries throughout the 2016 season.