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Faux award season is upon us. Pop the popcorn, place your bets and get ready for categories like The Clown Question, Bro Award and The Yasiel Puig Award for Complete Awesomeness. Before we get to the fun stuff, perhaps it's best to pore over the regular honors, too. Enjoy.
AL MVP of the Half: Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers – Chris Davis is having an all-time first half. He may well hit 60 home runs. The last person not on steroids to finish the season with a slugging percentage over .700 was Larry Walker in 1999, and Davis' is .712. It is not easy to put into words how good Davis has been.
Which is why this is so shocking to say: Cabrera has been better. He more than makes up for whatever slugging deficiency he has with an on-base percentage of .457 to Davis' .395. He plays a far more difficult position – and even if he's not very good at third, there's more value in playing there than first base. Coming off a Triple Crown, Cabrera is actually besting himself in every offensive category by a good measure.
I cast my MVP ballot last season for Mike Trout because he was far and away a better player. Not this year. Even if Davis is having a historic season, he still isn't the standard by which hitters go, either. That's in Detroit, wearing No. 24, better than ever.
NL MVP of the Half: Carlos Gonzalez, LF, Colorado Rockies – Were one to rely on Wins Above Replacement, the choice is Carlos Gomez, the dynamic center fielder from Milwaukee. Problem is, WAR weighs so heavily on defensive metrics that aren't altogether reliable.
Scouts, on the other hand, love Yadier Molina. Love. Him. They love how he handles a pitching staff, how he has made himself into an elite hitter, how he barely strikes out. There is indeed a lot to like about him, too.
And there are so many others: America's First Baseman, Paul Goldschmidt, and its third baseman, David Wright. Or last year's MVP, Buster Posey, and 2010's, Joey Votto. Perhaps even a pitcher, among the league's four crème de la crème.
Each is a worthwhile candidate, which is why the support here thrown behind Gonzalez isn't as much half-hearted as it is fleeting. His first half for the Rockies has been spectacular. He leads the NL in slugging percentage by 36 points, and his 24 home runs top the league as well. He plays a reasonably good left field and is a superb baserunner, with 15 steals in 16 attempts. His .304/.369/.619 slash line looks like another Coors Field mirage … except he's actually been better on the road (.329/.380/.646 with 13 homers) than home (.280/.360/.600 with 11 homers).
All of this could change this week, of course. Gonzalez hurt his finger Sunday. He could hit the disabled list, which would open up room for one of his peers to retake the lead. The NL MVP race is that close.
AL Cy Young of the Half: Max Scherzer, SP, Detroit Tigers – The perfect candidate: He appeals to traditional fans with his 13-0 record and statheads with an absurd strikeout rate. He could induce more groundballs, and he could give up fewer home runs, and there are others – Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish – who could thieve the award were the luster of that zero to turn into a one before the break. For now, it's Scherzer's alone, and on a staff with a Cy Young-winning MVP and an $80 million man, that's even more impressive.
NL Cy Young of the Half: Matt Harvey, SP, New York Mets – No disrespect intended to Clayton Kershaw (who's got a better ERA than Harvey), Adam Wainwright (who's got a better strikeout-to-walk ratio), Cliff Lee (who's got more victories) and all of them (who have got more innings). Harvey simply has been better. More dominant with a 10.3-strikeouts-per-nine rate that leads the NL. Stingy with home runs, his rate fifth lowest in the NL. He is Justin Verlander: a complete monster. And while Wainwright especially has an argument in his favor, there is no shame going with Harvey. Wouldn't want to make him mad.
AL Rookie of the Half: Jose Iglesias, 3B/SS, Boston Red Sox – Before Iglesias' 0-for-3 showing Sunday, Yasiel Puig wasn't the only young Cuban defector hitting over .400. As it stands, the 23-year-old is hitting a shocking .395/.446/.507 – shocking because coming into this season his career major league OPS was just .413, and in nearly 1,000 minor league at-bats it was around .625.
Whether it's Nick Franklin, Oswaldo Arcia or Wil Myers, someone is likely to thieve this award from Iglesias. Still, he has cemented himself as a fallback at third base and a strong option at shortstop going forward if Xander Bogaerts grows off the position.
NL Rookie of the Half: Shelby Miller, SP, St. Louis Cardinals – Much like last year, when Wade Miley won the award with full knowledge he'd cede the actual one to Bryce Harper, Miller is but a placeholder for Puig. It's too bad, because he has been brilliant at times and headlines a phenomenal class of rookie pitchers in the NL that also include All-Star-by-Marlins-default Jose Fernandez, the Dodgers' Hyun-Jin Ryu and Atlanta's Julio Teheran.
AL Manager of the Half: Joe Girardi, New York Yankees
– Seriously, have you seen some of the lineups the New York Yankees have used lately? This is one from 10 days ago: Gardner-Nix-Cano-Wells-Ichiro-Almonte-Stewart-Adams-Gonzalez. Where do you even begin with that? Jayson Nix hitting second? Vernon Wells in the cleanup spot? And at DH? David Adams, career utilityman, playing first base? And Alberto Gonzalez? Who is Alberto Gonzalez?
With this team, this lineup, Joe Girardi has the Yankees eight games over .500 and a half-game out of the final wild-card spot. This fauxward was made for managing jobs like that.
NL Manager of the Half: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates – Enjoy the midseason award. The full-season one won't be his. Why? Well …
The Still Not On the Bandwagon Award: Pittsburgh Pirates – Sorry. Not buying them as a playoff team, even with a 53-34 head start as well as the expanded wild card. They're better than a .500 team, yes, so that two-decade-long spell is over. And their farm system is loaded with high-end talent, so they should be a contender for years to come, even in the scary NL Central.
• The Pirates' pitching is significantly outperforming its peripherals. It's got the highest strand rate and the lowest batting average on balls in play. And even if the Pirates' defensive shifts can account for some of that, their groundball rate is by far the highest in the game, and groundball rate and BABIP are supposed to be inverse. The plain fact: This is not sustainable. Not even close.
• The Pirates' hitting isn't very good. Their .310 on-base percentage is in the bottom 10 in baseball. Their slugging percentage is just outside of the bottom 10. Only the Astros and Braves strike out more. They steal a lot of bases, but they also get caught more than a quarter of the time. There are holes, and they're rather significant.
• The Pirates' fielding has been excellent. That includes notoriously stone-handed Pedro Alvarez. Dubiousness is warranted.
Fight of the Half: Dodgers vs. the World – First it was the Padres. Then the Diamondbacks. They've got to brawl with the Giants at some point on sheer principle. And if ever they need a reason to rumble with the Rockies, we've got three words: Troy Tulowitzki's mullet.
Defensive Play of the Half: Peter Bourjos, CF, Los Angeles Angels – Before everyone goes crowning Manny Machado's insane throw Sunday the play of the first half, please remember: It would've been merely a great play if he had fielded the ball cleanly in the first place.
There are no such do-overs on home run-robbing catches. We tend to romanticize them in the annals of great defensive plays, and with good reason: They are the diamonds, the platinum and the gold. They are almost always the domain of the fielding freaks, whereas even the biggest infield butcher can stumble his way into a diving stop and throw a guy out. And while Bourjos' won't go down in the all-time annals, it had all the elements of what makes a great fielding play. He ran an absurdly long way, nearly 20 steps to the fence. He single-handedly disproved the title of a wonderful '90s movie. He banged into the fence before the ball arrived, which meant his equilibrium was shaken and his outstretched left arm simply along for the ride. And he caught the thing. Brought it right back over the fence, almost a year to the day his teammate Mike Trout had done so against the very same batter, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy.
Bourjos' catch barely beats Aaron Hicks' pair of outfield robberies, the latter of which included a tip of the cap from the hitter, Carlos Gomez, who himself is one of the game's best center fielders. Other runners-up: Victor Martinez with a crazy no-look flip, Adrian Gonzalez playing extra smooth on a play at home and Yasiel Puig going all Vlad Guerrero/Dave Parker/Bo Jackson from right field.
Pitching Performance of the Half: Homer Bailey, SP, Cincinnati Reds – As difficult as it was to look past Shelby Miller's one-hit, 13-strikeout, 27-straight-outs gem, Bailey wins because he actually threw a no-hitter.
Their games were equally rare. There have been eight other one-hitters with no walks and at least 13 strikeouts and nine other no-hitters with one walk and at least nine strikeouts – including Bailey's first. Miller did beat Bailey on Game Score, but the knowledge around the fifth inning or so that Bailey was pitching a perfect game and after the seventh that he still held a no-hitter exacerbated the physical strain of every pitch with mental anxiety.
When it's a tie – and it might as well have been – always go with the no-no.
Hitting Performance of the Half: Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit – Jose Bautista's 4-for-4, two-homer game May 22 has its merits. His Win Probability Added of 1.054 is the 36th-best game since 1916. He gave the Blue Jays a 1-0 lead with his first hit, tied the game with his next, a home run, tied it again in the ninth inning with a homer and won it in the 10th with his fourth hit. WPA represents individual contributions to a game, and the gaudy number covered Bautista's well.
Still, to overlook Cabrera's three-homer, 4-for-4 masterpiece three days earlier isn't right. Cabrera singled his first time up, then homered the next two. Texas manager Ron Washington didn't want to be the guy who gave up the all-timer game – he had seen Josh Hamilton's legendary four-homer performance in 2012 live – so he intentionally walked Cabrera the next time up. By the time his final plate appearance came along, Washington no longer was afraid of Cabrera – and he promptly hit homer No. 3.
Best Use of Technology: Drew Sheppard, GIF master – This is not simply a plug. (Plug: Drew now does his GIFfery at Big League Stew.) It is more recognizing how lucky baseball fans are these days. It's not just MLB.tv or smartphone apps or sabermetric insight or widespread scouting reports. It's that we can see Yu Darvish throw five pitches at once and Cabrera hit six home runs simultaneously.
The Victor Conte Award: Tony Bosch, Biogenesis founder – Want the greatest proof performance-enhancing drugs aren't going anywhere? Players worth upward of a billion dollars thought it was OK to use a fake doctor who operated out of a strip mall and kept notes on a criminal conspiracy. Players could walk into any college chemistry lab, find the most brilliant student and offer him a million dollars a year to play Walter White with PEDs, but nooooooo. They'd rather lose their reputations and, in some cases, careers on account of this guy. Shameful in a dozen different ways.
The Clown Question, Bro Award For Awesome Turn of Phrase: Brian Cashman, GM, New York Yankees – Anybody who tells a man he owes more than $100 million to "shut the [expletive] up" gets the award renamed in his honor. Come 2014, this will be The Brian Cashman Just Told You to Shut the [Expletive] Up Award.
Greatest Foray Into Social Media: Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees – Now that Instagram has 15-second videos, the possibilities are endless. I'm particularly looking forward to the tutorial on 21st-century centaur art.
The Alex Rodriguez Award For Frightening Long-Term Contract: The Los Angeles Angels – Between Albert Pujols' 10-year, $240 million deal and Josh Hamilton's five-year, $125 million contract, the Angels' plan was simple: Commit money into the late 2010s in hope of securing at least one championship in the middle of the decade. The prospects of the latter seem increasingly unlikely, while the former is downright scary no matter how much TV money funnels in. Pujols, 33, is hitting .246/.320/.415. After this season, eight years and $212 million remain on his deal. Hamilton, 32, is hitting .228/.288/.405. He's owed $107.6 million over the next four years. At least Rodriguez produced early in his final mega-deal. This, compounded by a 8½-game deficit in the AL West, looks more hopeless by the day.
Most Annoying Little Brother: Elvis Andrus, SS, Texas Rangers – This was perfect, you know. It was perfect because it was so textbook. Every older sibling in the world has had that moment where the younger one isolated a weakness and exploited it for all it's worth. Because Adrian Beltre's Krypton happens to be his head – yes, it's still weird after all these years that a grown man reacts with such virulence when another person so much as lays a pinky on his skull, but let's just accept it and move on – and because Elvis Andrus is the best kind of troll, it is a wonderful thing they share the left side of the Rangers' infield. Moments like this one, when Andrus left a mound meeting after touching Beltre's head, avoided a left-footed kick and then had to do the same to a projectile – Beltre's freaking glove – remind us that these are still, in many ways, children playing, and sometimes that's not such a bad thing. As great as Beltre's overreaction is, it's not the best part. No, that belongs to Andrus, who doesn't run away from his crime like any true perpetrator would but slowly slinks away, knowing he is owed whatever punishment Beltre metes out. Little brother never wins completely.
Good Lord You Strike Out A Lot Award: Chris Carter, DH, Houston Astros – Carter pinch hit Sunday and struck out. One could get nearly 2-to-1 odds that a Carter at-bat would end that way. He has struck out 120 times in 281 at-bats this year. In overall plate appearances, he is at a staggering 36.8 percent, almost 1.5 percent higher than Mark Reynolds in his legendary 223-strikeout season of 2010. It's not like Carter is a dud; he averages a home run every 9.5 at-bats he doesn't strike out, and his .784 OPS is second among Astros regulars. He's just a microcosm of baseball today, where you can strike out an absurd amount of the time and be an All-Star. (Hello, Pedro Alvarez and a 33.9 percent K rate.)
The 200-plus-strikeout season is a rarity, achieved just five times. Among Carter, Alvarez, Mike Napoli, Dan Uggla, Jay Bruce, Colby Rasmus and, of course, Reynolds and Adam Dunn – all with 100-plus already – along with nine others at 90 or more, we could see at least five at 200 this year alone.
The Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics Award: Outfielder A and Outfielder B
Hat tip to the great Dirk Hayhurst for this one:
Outfielder A is Colby Rasmus. At 26, he is regarded as an underachiever.
Outfielder B is Adam Jones. At 27, he will start for the AL All-Star team in center field.
(* – Defensive Runs Saved is an advanced defensive metric. The other widely regarded one, Ultimate Zone Rating, also has Rasmus as a significantly better fielder than Jones.)
The Yasiel Puig Award For Complete Awesomeness: Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers – He can do this and look like a model while someone more than 600 home runs ahead of him takes on the creepy air of a mortician. He can get thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double time after time, and it's cool because he is cool. Puig is going to make the All-Star Game despite fewer plate appearances than Omar Infante in 2010, and it's going to infuriate the baseball establishment that believes an All-Star berth shouldn't be tied to the small sample size that he has thus far aced, and the best part is that he's going to walk into New York and steal the whole damn show, because that's what he does.
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