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.

Mariano Rivera elected to Baseball Hall of Fame unanimously

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Former Yankees closer Mariano Rivera deservingly became the first player ever inducted into the Hall of Fame unanimously, receiving votes from all 425 writers who submitted ballots. Previously, the closest players to unanimous induction were Ken Griffey, Jr. (99.32% in 2016), Tom Seaver (98.84% in 1992), Nolan Ryan (98.79% in 1999), Cal Ripken, Jr. (98.53%), Ty Cobb (98.23% in 1936), and George Brett (98.19% in 1999).

Because so many greats were not enshrined in Cooperstown unanimously, many voters in the past argued against other players getting inducted unanimously, withholding their votes for otherwise deserving players. That Griffey — both one of the greatest outfielders of all time and one of the most popular players of all time — wasn’t voted in unanimously in 2016, for example, seemed to signal that no player ever would. Now that Rivera has been, this tired argument about voting unanimity can be laid to rest.

Derek Jeter will appear on the Hall of Fame ballot for the first time next year. He may become the second player ever to be elected unanimously. David Ortiz appears on the 2022 ballot and could be No. 3. Now that Rivera has broken through, these are possibilities whereas before they might not have been.

Another tired argument around Hall of Fame voting concerns whether or not a player is a “first ballot” Hall of Famer. Some voters think getting enshrined in a player’s first year of eligibility is a greater honor than getting in any subsequent year. I’m not sure what it will take to get rid of this argument — other than the electorate getting younger and more open-minded — but at least we have made progress on at least one bad Hall of Fame take.