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.

Rays lose, clinching postseason berth for Athletics

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The Rays lost 4-1 to the Yankees on Monday night, which clinched a postseason berth for the Athletics just as they began their own game against the Mariners. For the 94-62 A’s, it’s their first postseason appearance since 2014 when they lost the AL Wild Card game to the Royals.

Major League Baseball celebrated the Athletics’ achievement by tweeting this fact: The A’s are the first team since 1988 to make the postseason with baseball’s lowest Opening Day payroll ($66 million).

Yay?

John J. Fisher, who has owned the A’s since 2005, has a net worth approaching $3 billion. The Athletics franchise is valued at over $1 billion. Yet the A’s have never had an Opening Day payroll at $90 million or above and have consistently been among the teams with the lowest payrolls. The cultural shift towards embracing analytics has allowed the A’s to get away with investing as little money as possible into the team. Moneyball helped change baseball’s zeitgeist such that many began to fetishize doing things on the cheap and now the league itself is embracing it.

What the fact MLB tweeted says is actually this: John J. Fisher was able to save a few bucks this year and the A’s still somehow made it to the postseason.

The Athletics’ success is due to a whole host of players, but particularly youngsters Matt Olson, Matt Chapman, Sean Manaea, Daniel Mengden, Lou Trivino, among others. All are pre-arbitration aside from Manaea. When it comes time to pay them something approaching what they’re actually worth, will the A’s reward them for their contributions or will they do what they’ve always done and cut bait? After reaching the postseason in 2014, the A’s traded away Josh Donaldson, Brandon Moss, Jeff Samardzija, and John Jaso. Each was a big influence on the club’s success. Athletics fans should be happy their favorite team has reached the postseason, but if the team’s history is any precedent, they shouldn’t get attached to any of the players. Is that really something Major League Baseball should be advocating?