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.

Clayton Kershaw might return to the Dodgers’ rotation next week

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Dodgers southpaw Clayton Kershaw is nearing his return to the mound, according to club manager Dave Roberts. Both Kershaw (left biceps tendinitis) and fellow lefty Rich Hill (left middle finger blister) are scheduled to toss simulated games on Saturday; depending on the outcome, Roberts says Kershaw could forgo a minor league assignment and slot back into the rotation by Thursday.

Kershaw, 30, was diagnosed with biceps tendinitis as the team closed out their Mexico Series at the start of the month. He has not made a start in several weeks, but was finally able to resume throwing on Sunday and managed to get through two successful bullpen sessions. Though Dodgers’ ace hasn’t been completely injury-free over his 11-year career in the majors, this is the first significant issue he’s had with his pitching arm so far. The team is expected to take every precaution with the lefty, and will likely limit him to just four innings during Saturday’s simulated game.

Prior to his injury, Kershaw was working on another dominant run with the club, sporting a 2.86 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 9.8 SO/9 through his first 44 innings of the season. While Kershaw, Hill and left-handed starter Hyun-Jin Ryu served their respective terms on the disabled list this month, the Dodgers utilized a combination of relievers Ross Stripling and Brock Stewart, both of whom impressed during their limited time in the rotation.