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.

Oh good, it’s “Yasiel Puig is a showboat” season

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With the Los Angeles Dodgers punching their ticket to the World Series, Yasiel Puig is now going to be the subject of commentary by people who tend not to care about Yasiel Puig until it’s useful for them to write outraged columns or go on talk radio rants about baseball deportment.

We got a brief teaser of this last night when, after scoring the Dodgers’ ninth run on a Logan Forsythe double, TBS analyst Ron Darling criticized Puig for his “shenanigans” and “rubbing it in.” Never mind that his third base coach was waving him home and that, if he didn’t run hard, he was just as likely to be criticized for dogging it. In other news, baseball teams don’t stop trying in the fourth inning of baseball games, nor should they.

That was just an appetizer, though. The first real course of the “Puig is a problem” feast we’re likely to be served over the next week and a half comes from Phil Mushnick of the New York Post, who wrote it even before the Dodgers won Game 5 last night:

If you were raised to love baseball and to recognize the smart, winning kind from everything less, the Dodgers’ Yasiel Puig is insufferable. As the sport is diminished by professionals who disregard the basic act of running to first base as a matter of style, Puig, an incurable home-plate poser, often makes turning doubles and triples into singles appear effortless . . . In the postseason, Puig continues to behave as if he’s in the Home Run Derby. He even seems to relish his high-risk flamboyant foolishness despite frequent backfires.

This may as well be a fill in the blanks column from 2013 or 2014, when “Puig is a flashy showboater who costs his team more than he gives it” columns were all the rage. It ignores the fact that Puig, commonly dinged for being lazy, worked his butt off in 2017, particularly on defense, to the point where he has a strong case for a Gold Glove this year. It also ignores his .455/.538/.727 line in the NLDS sweep of the Diamondbacks and his .389/.500/.611 line against the Cubs in the NLCS. In the regular season he set career highs for games, homers, RBI, stolen bases and almost set a career high for walks despite having seventy fewer plate appearances than he did back in 2013 when he walked 67 times. He’s not the MVP candidate some thought he might be, but he’s a fantastic player who has been a key part of the Dodgers winning their first pennant in 29 years.

But the dings on Puig from the likes of Mushnick have rarely been about production. They’ve simply been about style and the manner in which he’s carried himself. To the extent those issues were legitimate points of criticism — particularly his tardiness, his relationships with his teammates and his at times questionable dedication — they have primarily been in-house concerns for the Dodgers, not the casual fan like Mushnick. On that score the Dodgers have dealt with Puig and, by all accounts, Puig has responded pretty well. An occasional lapse to be sure, but nothing which makes him a greater burden than a benefit. I mean, if he was, would be be batting cleanup in a pennant-clinching game?

So if the beef with Puig is not really about baseball, what could Phil Mushnick’s issue with him possible be?

I, for one, have no idea whatsoever.