Monday, July 7, 2014
MLB Midseason Awards
Major League Baseball is just past the midway point of the season. The All-Star Break is coming up very soon and as usual the season has been filled with plenty of surprises (Milwaukee is in first in the NL Central) and plenty of happenings that cannot be described as surprising whatsoever (the Cubs are in last in the NL Central).
While there are still plenty of games to play, it is fitting to look at who is on track for a few of the various awards that will come out at season's end.
AL Rookie of the Year
It's going to be really hard for voters to choose between Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka. Abreu leads Major League Baseball in home runs, runs batted in, slugging, and as of Saturday morning was on an 18-game hitting streak.
But Tanaka leads baseball in wins and is in the top five in the AL in strikeouts, ERA, innings pitched, WHIP, win percentage and complete games. At this point in time, I would reluctantly give the nod to Tanaka, but really both deserve this award. Is it possible Tanaka will win the Cy Young, but not Rookie of the Year?
NL Rookie of the Year
The Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton has been a blaze of speed this season. With 35 stolen bases and a batting average of .277, you may think there's not much there, but who else are you going to be looking at in the National League?
AL Manager of the Year
While the Blue Jays have slowed down a bit lately, John Gibbons is my pick for the first half of the season. Whether or not he deserves the award will be determined in the second half of the season I suppose. If the Blue Jays can manage a playoff berth, I'd say Gibbons takes the prize. Gibbons managed the Blue Jays from 2004 to 2008 and rejoined the club in 2013. His success has thus far been minimal with no playoff appearances in a rather difficult AL East.
If Gibbons and the Blue Jays tank, look no further than Bob Melvin with the Oakland A's. Since coming on in 2011, Melvin has led the A's to two division championships, but has thus far failed to advance past the ALDS. The A's currently have the best record in baseball and have made some of the strongest moves to ensure a solid run in the playoffs. I don't know if Melvin will win Manager of the Year, but he may very well win the World Series, which I think he'd appreciate more anyway.
NL Manager of the Year
Need we look further than the Milwaukee Brewers and Ron Roenicke? Roenicke has had to put up with a lot of crap (Ryan Braun) and after finishing 23 games out of first place in the NL Central in 2013, the Brewers are now currently four games ahead of the defending NL champion Cardinals. Roenicke is certainly the winner for the first half of the season. But in a division where four teams are above .500 and three of the teams below the Brewers made the playoffs last season, they still have plenty of work to do.
AL Comeback Player of the Year
Whether entirely deserving or not, the name recognition will likely put Albert Pujols in position for this award. Pujols only played 99 games in 2013 and through 83 games so far, his numbers are strikingly similar. Yet a fuller season with 30-35 home runs and over 100 runs batted in should be enough to satisfy a few voters – even if his batting average is only .260 and his OBP is actually worse than 2013.
Michael Pineda could have been the guy, but another injury setback makes it unlikely that he'll garner enough playing time to win the award in 2014 and will be its expected frontrunner in 2015. There aren't a lot of other significant choices for this award. Pujols is likely to take it. The days of batting .300 are behind him, but hopefully he improves his average and OBP so as not to be quite so embarrassing.
NL Comeback Player of the Year
In the middle of 2010, during an MVP type year, Justin Morneau suffered a concussion while playing for the Minnesota Twins. He hasn't been the same ever since. But he looks more like his old self now than the previous four years. Batting .315 and on pace for over 100 RBI, Morneau looks quite comfortable. The Rockies dismal standings shouldn't affect Comeback Player of the Year — unlike Tulowitzki below.
A case is easily made for Josh Beckett as well who is having his best year since perhaps 2007. In 2012 and 2013, Beckett managed a record of 7-19 with an ERA approaching 5. In 2014, he's 5-5 win an ERA of 2.37. I'm inclined toward Morneau, but Beckett is also a fine choice.
AL Cy Young
As I mentioned above, Tanaka looks pretty stinking good. But there are a lot of pitchers in the running at this point. Felix Hernandez, Chris Sale, Mark Buehrle, Yu Darvish, Rick Porcello, and David Price on a better team could all be contenders. At the half-way point though, it's between King Felix and Tanaka. I'd lean toward Tanaka, but really, either choice should make a person happy.
NL Cy Young
I think Adam Wainwright is the guy here, though not without contenders. Wainwright is tied for the most wins in the NL, has the best ERA, and the highest WAR among pitchers. Zach Greinke, Alfredo Simon, Johnny Cueto, and Julio Teheran all have cases to plead, but Wainwright looks to be the favorite at the midway point.
Mike Trout is having a typical MVP caliber season, though he has not yet won the award, 2014 is very likely his year. The Angels are 3.5 games behind the Oakland A's in the AL West, but the Angels are atop the AL wild card standings. Trout's average and stolen bases are down a touch, but his home run and RBI numbers are up (and likewise his slugging and OPS). Runs scored is right on target with last year (109). A WAR of 5.2 has him nearly a full game ahead of Oakland's Josh Donaldson (4.4). Miguel Cabrera is having a good year, but has fallen off in most every category from the previous two years when Cabrera edged Trout for the MVP. That won't happen again this year. Trout will have his day. (Though let's not forget that MVP voters often get distracted by power numbers and Jose Abreu, Edwin Encarnacion, and Nelson Cruz are all having impressive years).
Troy Tulowitzki currently has the most Wins Above Replacement (5.3) in Major League Baseball. He is currently batting .350 with an on-base percentage of .441 and slugging away at .608. He and is on pace for 34 home runs, 88 runs batted in, and 123 runs scored. The Rockies have arguably the best offense in Major League Baseball ... and arguably the worst pitching staff in Major League Baseball. The Rockies are already 13 games out of first place in the NL West and 11 games back in the wild card. Only Arizona (by half a game) is worse than the Rockies in the National League. Despite Tulowitzki's exceedingly impressive year, it's doubtful he'd be chosen as MVP because of the dismal nature of the Rockies pitching staff. Not fair, I'd vote for Tulo, but I think we have to look elsewhere for who might actually receive the award.
Jonathan Lucroy looks like a very plausible MVP candidate — though not a flashy one. A catcher who hits for average, Lucroy is playing like Joe Mauer circa 2008. With a WAR of 4.4 and currently the best team in the National League, he should garner a few votes in the NL MVP race. So I'd put my vote in for Tulo, but Lucroy is probably a more realistic choice midseason. Other players to consider include Giancarlo Stanton — leading the NL in home runs and RBI — as well as Andrew McCutchen and Adam Wainwright.