The MLB 2010 Best First Half Player Debate… Mauer’s All-Star Burns Brightest

Read the opposing arguments from Babe Ruthless and Bleacher Fan.

Major League Baseball’s 81st All-Star game is nearly upon us. Can you believe it? I know, it seems like just yesterday that it was only the 56th. While the majority of the sports media concentrates very hard on dissecting the snubs from the All-Star rosters, The Sports Debates is doing something a bit different – and we hope, a bit interesting. Rather than churn out three more columns on guys that should have made the team but didn’t, we’re identifying the absolute best player from all of the All-Stars.

While I would have loved to take Joey Votto in this argument, he did not even make the team (yet). That snub, combined with zero pitchers from the MLB best San Diego Padres staff, was almost enough to derail today’s topic. Fortunately, our commitment to being different stayed on track… just like nothing can derail Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer from getting his due as the best of the best for the 2010 mid-summer classic.

Some of you may recall the article I penned a few weeks ago arguing that if I were forced to start a MLB team from scratch I would start with Joe Mauer over Albert Pujols – and anyone else. I will not rehash that entire article here in this space. We all know at this point that Mauer is supremely talented on offense, defense, and as a strategic thinker behind the plate. We all further recognize that the demands of playing catcher in the major leagues is much more difficult compared to the other positions on the diamond… but so is the importance of the job and its influence on a team. Those realities alone cements Mauer as the best player at the toughest position in the game, and therefore the all-star among All-Stars.

But, there are some additional feats from Mauer already in 2010 that reinforce the notion that his star shines the brightest.

In what is traditionally a glorified popularity contest, Mauer still attracted the most votes from the millions of voters that decide the All-Star starting line ups. In fact, Mauer’s 5,372,606 votes was the third highest vote total of all time. Amazingly, Mauer’s homegrown Minnesota charm has reached well beyond the confines of the land of a thousand lakes. Traditional baseball fans find a player like Mauer very appealing and easy to root for because he always performs to expectations, and he “plays the game the right way.” In other words, he would not do what Hanley Ramirez did yesterday and watch his dribbler hit in front of the plate without moving. Mauer would hustle out of the box, and right into the hearts of baseball fans across the country.

It is true that Joe Mauer is not putting up the type of stats that earned him an AL MVP last season. But, that would be extremely difficult to do, as he hit .365 with 28 home runs and 94 RBI. What makes Mauer special is that, at baseball’s toughest position, he remains extremely good, and very consistent. He leads the AL with 24 doubles in 2010, he is still batting over .300, and he’ll finish with great stats all around as the leader for one of the top teams in baseball. True to Mauer’s persona, he does nothing terribly flashy. He just does his job extremely well. Here is a cool, but rather unsexy but telling Mauer stat – 16 percent of the guys on base when Mauer is at the plate score. Mauer is consistently reliable, whether he is at the plate or behind it.

Another fun and telling stat about Mauer’s first half performance this season – his pitching staff has a combined ERA of 3.91 under his guidance. Perhaps it is altogether too idealistic of me, but I would like to think that fans all over the country grasp the depth and breadth of Mauer’s talent, and are not distracted by the superficial home run and RBI stats. Those stats are, of course, important. But a game is won and lost often in the details that Mauer handles with such aplomb.

Mauer admits that he has played the majority of this season a bit banged up. He missed a week in May with a bruised heel that has painfully nagged him throughout the season. Yet he is still putting up solid numbers, and still playing the game the same way… never failing to handle the details.

Now, some may argue that Mauer is not the best of the best. Certainly Mauer does not measure up statistically with players like Pujols. But, between the level of responsibility he has on the field – and in the clubhouse – he performs like few others throughout the history of the game – and definitely out-performed anyone through the first half of this season.

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