The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Ed Thoma

September 29, 2008

MVP? Think Mauer, not Morneau

Just as in 2006, Justin Morneau’s September at-bats at the Metrodome are accompanied by a fan chant of “M-V-P.”

Just as in 2006, the broadcasters riddle their accounts of the games with speculation about the slugger’s chances of winning the award, and the beat writers opine about it in their Sunday columns.

And just as in 2006, the focus on Morneau overlooks the fact that there is a better candidate for the title of Most Valuable Player in the very same lineup: Joe Mauer.

Morneau has the advantage of superior numbers in two of the Triple Crown categories. He hits more home runs and he drives in more runs. His batting average, while not high enough to contend for the batting title, sits comfortably above the .300 line.

At a quick glance, it’s his stat line that jumps out.

But that’s only part of the story. The deeper one digs into the numbers, the more obvious it becomes that Mauer is as productive a hitter as Morneau — and far more important when the Twins are in the field. Here I could cite Mauer’s superiority in a collection of esoteric stats such as Runs Created per 27 Outs, Offensive Winning Percentage and Win Shares. These are statistics invented by Bill James that will never be part of the baseball public’s consciousness but do a far better job of evaluating a player’s production than the simple counting stats.

But I know this from arguments in 2006: The people who don’t already know about the sabermetric stats aren’t going to be convinced by them, and the few who do know about them don’t need to be convinced of Mauer’s superiority.

So let’s look at it this way: Morneau, by the measurement of On Base Plus Slugging, is the fourth-best first baseman in the American League, behind Kevin Youkilis, Jason Giambi and Miguel Cabrera. He also ranks behind Aubrey Huff and Jim Thome, who would be first basemen if they didn’t have the DH rule to hide behind. (Well, Thome might be retired, but that’s another matter.)

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