Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer was named the American League MVP earlier this week. It is now almost impossible to find someone who doesn't acknowledge Joe Mauer's greatness, but as recently as this spring I've found myself having to defend Mauer and his credentials as a number three hitter.
My case was based on the uncanny statistical similarity between Mauer and another great number three hitter for the Twins, Hall of Famer Rod Carew. Both Mauer and Carew broke into the majors at age 21. Through their first 5 seasons (that is, up to but not including Mauer's MVP season) they produced the following numbers:
Mauer 561 2059 653 128 14 44 325 301 30 .317 .856
Carew 585 2201 675 107 26 23 306 225 46 .307 .764
Mauer and Carew have similar numbers with Mauer showing more power and Carew more speed. (Carew's stolen base numbers increased considerably after his first five seasons and Mauer's home run power looks to be doing the same.)
Rod Carew won the AL MVP award in 1977, his eleventh season. Joe Mauer won the award this year, his sixth season. Once again, their MVP season numbers are similar with a power edge to Mauer and a speed edge to Carew:
Mauer 26 138 523 191 30_ 1 28_ 94_ 96_ 4 .365 1.031
Carew 31 155 616 239 38 16 14 128 100 23 .388 1.019
At this point in their careers, an edge would have to be given to Mauer. His power is more valuable than Carew's speed. Mauer also gets a big edge defensively. But, it should be remembered that after his fifth season, Carew continued to improve -- winning the batting title in six of the next seven seasons.
One area where I hope their careers differ: Carew left the Twins for greener pastures a year after winning the MVP award.