Joe Mauer, MVP voting, and historic awesomeness

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There’s been lots of talk lately about Joe Mauer’s chances of winning the AL MVP, but let’s ignore how 28 newspaper writers might cast their ballots in six weeks and focus instead on the historically awesome season that the Twins’ catcher is having.
Mauer went 3-for-5 with two homers last night, making him 33-for-63 (.524) with seven homers, six doubles, and 19 RBIs in 15 games since his batting average dropped to a season-low .355 on August 1. He leads baseball with a .383 batting average overall and leads the AL in on-base percentage (.448), slugging percentage (.653), OPS (1.104), and Runs Above Replacement (65.0).
Despite spending all of April on the disabled list he’s up to 25 homers, 77 RBIs, and 237 total bases, each of which rank among the AL’s top 10. Oh, and he’s also the league’s reigning Gold Glove catcher and has thrown out 30 percent of steal attempts this year. He’s been the best, most valuable player in the AL this season whether the 28 people with an actual vote on such matters recognize it or not, but beyond that he’s having a truly historic season.
What makes Mauer’s performance so amazing is that throughout baseball history catcher has been the position with the worst offensive production. This year is no different, as MLB backstops have managed a measly .256/.321/.398 line and .719 OPS that rank as the worst from any position. In fact, shortstop is the only other spot with an OPS below .750. Not only is Mauer the best hitter in the league, he’s the best hitter in the league and a very good defender at the least-offensive position on the diamond.
Catchers just don’t hit like this, which is why Mauer is on track for his third batting title in five seasons after no catcher in the history of the American League ever managed even one before he came around. He’s also at or near the top of almost every all-time catcher leaderboard, including batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. Here are the top five for each of those four categories:

                  YEAR      AVG                            YEAR      OBP
JOE MAUER         2009     .383          Mickey Cochrane   1933     .459
Babe Phelps       1936     .367          Mickey Cochrane   1935     .452
Mike Piazza       1997     .362          JOE MAUER         2009     .448
Bill Dickey       1936     .362          Johnny Bassler    1924     .441
Mickey Cochrane   1930     .357          Chief Meyers      1912     .441
YEAR      SLG                            YEAR      OPS
JOE MAUER         2009     .653          JOE MAUER         2009    1.101
Mike Piazza       1997     .638          Mike Piazza       1997    1.069
Gabby Hartnett    1930     .630          Bill Dickey       1936    1.045
Bill Dickey       1936     .617          Gabby Hartnett    1930    1.034
Mike Piazza       2000     .614          Mike Piazza       2000    1.012

Not only does Mauer have the highest batting average, slugging percentage, and OPS in baseball history for a catcher, Mike Piazza is the only guy from the past 70 years to even appear on those lists. Mauer is on track for one of the single greatest catcher seasons in baseball history and has clearly been the best player in the AL this year. If in six weeks the 28 newspaper writers with a ballot for the MVP don’t recognize just how amazing he’s been, then perhaps we should just stop caring so much about what they think.

Rangers avoid arbitration with Mitch Moreland

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First baseman/outfielder Mitch Moreland and the Rangers have avoided arbitration by agreeing to a one-year, $5.7 million deal.

Moreland requested $6 million and the Rangers countered at $4.675 million, so the two sides settled on the player-friendly side of the midpoint.

Moreland bounced back from an injury wrecked 2014 season to have a career-year in 2015, hitting .278 with 23 homers and an .812 OPS in 132 games. Arbitration eligible for the final time at age 30, he’s set to be a free agent next offseason.

Tiger Stadium redevelopment group loses $50K because of its preference for artificial turf

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Craig Calcaterra
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We’ve posted frequently on the topic of the old Tiger Stadium site. If you’ve kept up with it you know that the site, nearly overgrown with weeds and strewn with trash before being rescued by a group of volunteers called the Navin Field Grounds Crew, is now being slated for redevelopment by the Detroit Police Athletic League.

The PAL is committed to keeping a baseball field as part of the development, but they are also, quite unfortunately, committed to putting artificial turf down over the bit of Earth where baseball legends once walked and ran.

Backlash to the plan has begun, however. Not just from people like me or the Navin Field Grounds Crew, who are opposed to fake grass, but to an actual donor to the Detroit Police Athletic League:

With an annual contribution of $50,000 to Detroit PAL’s programs, the Lear Corporation has been a major benefactor of the nonprofit for years. But in light of PAL’s controversial plan to redevelop the Tiger Stadium site with artificial turf, Lear’s CEO is speaking out.

Matthew Simoncini says that Lear is withdrawing its financial support of PAL for its mishandling of this delicate issue.

“I believe the [PAL] plan is severely flawed [and] a terrible use of resources,” says Simoncini. “[It] does not preserve this site and provides [an] unsafe playing surface for the children,”

I’m guessing $50,000 is not the sort of money that will seriously hinder a real estate redevelopment plan, but it’s good to hear someone with a stake in all of this voting with their wallet. Here’s hoping more do and that, eventually, PAL understands that there are some things more important than saving some money at the front end of a project.

Evan Gattis undergoes surgery for hernia; recovery is 4-6 weeks

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Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images North America
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Evan Drellich of the Houston Chronicle shares the bad news

One of the Astros’ big bats won’t be taking hacks when the Astros hold their first full workout on Feb. 23.

Astros designated hitter Evan Gattis recently underwent surgery to repair a hernia, the Chronicle has learned, taking away most of his spring training at a minimum. The recovery is four to six weeks but fortunately for Gattis and the Astros, the injury is not considered severe.

Gattis was working hard on his overall conditioning this winter, even telling MLB.com’s Brian McTaggart in late January that he had already dropped 18 pounds. It sounds like the big slugger might have gone a bit overboard with those workouts, and now he is in real danger of missing the first couple weeks of the 2016 regular season.

Gattis batted .246/.285/.463 with 27 home runs and 88 RBI in 153 games last season for the Astros. The 29-year-old is arbitration-eligible for the first time in his career and has a hearing with the Astros scheduled for February 16 to determine his salary for 2016. He requested $3.8 million and was offered $3 million when figures were exchanged a little over three weeks ago.

Suddenly the Astros’ front office might have a new talking point for those arbitrators.

Seung-Hwan Oh finally receives his work visa, will be on time for Cardinals camp

Screenshot 2016-02-09 at 8.01.48 PM
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At last check, new Cardinals reliever Seung-Hwan Oh was still awaiting a work visa from the United States Embassy in South Korea and there was some worry that he might not be able to arrive on time to spring training in Jupiter, Florida.

But that is now officially a non-story.

Derrick Goold of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that Oh has recieved his work visa and is expected to report to Cardinals camp next week along with the rest of the club’s pitchers and catchers. Oh might even show up a bit earlier than the Cardinals originally asked him to, per Goold.

Oh saved 357 games in 11 seasons between Japan’s Nippon Professional Baseball and the Korea Baseball Organization before inking a one-year contract with St. Louis this winter. He also registered a stellar 1.81 ERA and 772 strikeouts across 646 total innings in Asia, earning the nickname “The Final Boss.”

Oh is expected to work in a setup role this year for Cardinals closer Trevor Rosenthal.