Why Joe Mauer, Not Derek Jeter, Should Be the AL MVP
Does Yankee shortstop Derek Jeter really deserve the AL Most Valuable Player Award over Twins catcher Joe Mauer? Allen Barra writes about “The Case for Derek Jeter, MVP” in the Wall Street Journal. But that case seems to be based on – surprise! – intangibles more than statistics. Barra writes:
“The Yankees currently have the best record in the major leagues, and many observers think the primary reason is Mr. Jeter, who, at age 35, has rebounded from a subpar 2008 season to one of his best years ever.”
Well, this Yankee fan observer does not believe that Jeter is the “primary reason” the team is on top. To be sure, he is having a heck of a season, but here are some other noteworthy achievements in Yankeeland this year:
* CC Sabathia has won 16 games, leading the AL, and has so far earned every penny of his $161 million, 8-year contract
* Mark Teixeira has garnered some MVPesque numbers of his own, with his sixth straight 30+ homer, 100+RBI season; he’s currently leading the league in RBIs
* Mariano Rivera is having another phenomenal year, with an AL-leading 38 saves in 39 save opportunities
* Phil Hughes has been the lights-out eighth inning reliever the Yanks have coveted for years
* Johnny Damon is in the midst of a career renaissance, thanks in no small part to the new Yankee Stadium being perfect for his swing (17 of his 24 homers are at home)
* Catcher Jorge Posada, at age 38, has 20 homers and 70 RBI in just 93 games
* Nick Swisher, who was supposed to be a part-time player, has hit 23 homers, and has a .370 OBP
And that’s not even including the at-times-brilliant pitching from A.J. Burnett, Andy Pettitte, and Joba Chamberlain, Melky Cabrera’s three walkoff hits, and the solid relieving job Alfredo Aceves has done. I’m sure I’m forgetting other contributions, but from top to bottom, this has been the best team the Yanks have put on the field in years.
There’s even reason to wonder if Jeter is even the MVP of his own team. The only two offensive categories he leads the Yankees in are batting average and stolen bases. Alex Rodriguez has a higher on-base percentage, Robinson Cano has more hits, and Johnny Damon has more runs scored. Jeter is eighth on the Yankees in homers, sixth on the Yankees in doubles, fifth in triples, fifth in walks, seventh in OPS, eighth in RBI, and tenth in slugging percentage. The Yanks have a record-tying seven players who have hit 20 homers this year, but Jeter isn’t one of them.
Meanwhile, Joe Mauer, despite missing the first month of the season due to injury, isn’t just leading his team in most of their offensive categories. The catcher is, as Barra notes, “leading the American League in batting (around .370), on-base percentage and slugging average.” Jeter doesn’t lead the league in a single category.
The reason Mauer’s team is still contending in the playoff race at all is thanks to him; he is more valuable to the Twins than Jeter is to the Yankees. All that, plus having perhaps the best season for a catcher ever, should make him the AL MVP. Look at the disparity in numbers:
G AB R H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS
128 540 95 178 17 61 .330 .396 .474 .870
G AB R H HR RBI AVG OBP SLG OPS
108 417 80 153 26 80 .367 .435 .612 1.046
But while Barra acknowledges Mauer’s statistical superiority, he also quotes writers who point out more, as he puts it, “subjective arguments” for Jeter. Marty Appel compares him to fellow Yankee captain Thurman Munson. They both lead by example and performance, Appel says. “They helped make their teams better just by being there. No one ever slacked off with either of those guys on the field.”
Yeah, it’s not like the Yanks ever lost to their most hated rivals in the playoffs after being up 3-0 in the series with Jeter as captain or anything. Or that Jeter’s teammate Carl (American Idle) Pavano was a malingerer who let bruised buttocks, among other dubious ailments, keep him from pitching. Oh, wait.
Besides, the Yankees’ more fun atmosphere this year has arguably contributed to the team’s never-say-die attitude (and their own intangibles) this year. This chemistry, exemplified by kangaroo court, whipped cream pies, and wrestling belt awards, has absolutely nothing to do with Jeter, but with new players like Sabathia, Burnett, and Swisher.
In another argument for Jeter’s candidacy, Mike Ozanian of Forbes.com tells Barra: “Jeter has been the anchor on a team that could have been derailed by injuries to key players like Alex Rodriguez. Winning has to count for something.”
Let’s look at the numbers. The Yankees went 13-15 without an injured A-Rod. During those 28 games, Jeter hit just .275, with 4 homers and 12 RBI. Some anchor.
And since A-Rod has returned to the lineup, the team has gone 73-33. By Ozanian’s standard, A-Rod, not Jeter, should be MVP.
Barra also cites the Yankees’ history of winning since Jeter became the shortstop in 1996, calling him “the linchpin for six pennant and four World Series winners.”
Wouldn’t Jeter also be the “linchpin” for that worst collapse in baseball history as well, and for the team not winning a World Series since 2000, despite having the biggest payroll? Or does Jeter only get credit for the good stuff on his watch? Besides, I thought Barra, a writer I usually like, would have a better argument than what I call the “shut up, he’s got four rings” pro-Jeter defense.
Dave Fleming of Bill James
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