Faux award season is upon us. Pop the popcorn, place your bets and get ready for categories like Best Fight and the inaugural Clown Question, Bro Award. Before we get to the fun stuff, I suppose we should pore over the regular honors, too. Actually, I suggest you do. Chances are you don't agree with them.
AL MVP of the Half: Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels – Yes, he has played in less than three-quarters of the Angels' games. Just imagine how much of a landslide this would be had he started the year in Anaheim.
When I consider the MVP award, the rationale some of my peers use to vote – winning team, "impact" on record, clubhouse presence – is nothing more than ancillary, used to break a tie. I want the best player, and Trout has been so much better than the field since his promotion that it makes up for those lost plate appearances.
He plays a premium position with aplomb. He steals bases like a cat burglar. He hits for power and average, draws walks and cures cancer with his tears. One of those things isn't true. You know, he could walk more.
Point is, Mike Trout is 20 and has been the best player in the AL for two months. That is silly, stupid, ridiculous and nuts. I hope he celebrates with a Yoo-hoo.
NL MVP of the Half: Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pittsburgh Pirates – Before the Joey Votto apologists come out in full force, a peace offer: Votto is the best hitter in baseball. This selection is no slight against how wonderful he is. Ten times in the last 50 years has a player finished with an on-base percentage as high as his .472. Point acknowledged. Please do not send a battalion of Mounties and people wielding mediocre, watery chili to defend his honor. Thank you.
Now, as for McCutchen, his Pirates' surprise ascent to the top of the NL Central certainly did play into his choice here, as he and Votto are in something of a statistical dead heat. While both Baseball Reference and Fangraphs' Wins Above Replacement metrics prefer Votto, both also ding McCutchen for his defense. That didn't dovetail with what scouts were telling me and what my eyes saw.
Moreover, it ran in contrast to what two general managers said their proprietary defensive metrics told them: McCutchen actually is a good center fielder, easily above-average. And among that, his premium position (center field vs. first base) and his superior speed, the argument that McCutchen makes up for any disparity in WAR is a compelling one.
[MLB Full Count: Watch live look-ins and highlights for free all season long]
Votto is the popular choice. McCutchen is the right one.
AL Cy Young of the Half: Chris Sale, SP, Chicago White Sox – Another against-the-grain choice, and, like the previous one, almost too close to call. The argument for Justin Verlander is compelling: He has thrown the most innings of any pitcher and does so in front of a defense worse than some that ply their trade at Triple-A.
Still, it's not enough to beat Sale. He pitches at a far tougher stadium in U.S. Cellular Field. His strikeout and walk rates are practically identical to Verlander's. His groundball rate is more than 6 percent better. He is allowing fewer home runs. And his ERA is a full half-run lower than Verlander's.
Compound that with the rigors of dealing with the White Sox trying to screw up his season with their ill-conceived plan to shift him back to the bullpen, and Sale has buoyed a team, overcome adversity, piled up excellent numbers and placed himself in legitimate contention.
If Verlander doubles his innings advantage in the second half and finishes with 40 more than Sale, perhaps this is a different conversation. For now, Sale is the winner.
NL Cy Young of the Half: R.A. Dickey, SP, New York Mets – Forget the story. Actually, no. Don't forget the story. Read the story. Because it's fantastic.
Independent of the story, however, is Dickey's season: the 12-1 record, more than a strikeout an inning, less than two walks per nine, the monster groundball rate and the big, bad, 77-mph soul slayer.
Dickey's knuckleball is a marvel, a weapon with beauty and attitude, grace and nastiness. He is like an animal trainer. He thinks – hopes – he's got a hold on it … only he knows it can at any time break free and maul him. Dickey is the Timothy Treadwell of baseball.
Well, until his Grizzly Man moment, this vote is Dickey's.
AL Rookie of the Half: Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels – Duh.
[Big League Stew: Ten best rookie starts of 2012]
NL Rookie of the Half: Wade Miley, SP, Arizona Diamondbacks – This is the best example of a first-half award that won't hold up. I fully anticipate Bryce Harper will win the full-year award. He just hasn't been better than Miley, whose lack of strikeouts are likely to prevent him from keeping a sub-3.00 ERA through the end of the season.
AL Manager of the Half: Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles – Not only are the Orioles significantly better than prognosticators – myself included – figured, they are ahead of Boston, Tampa Bay and Toronto while sporting the division's only negative run differential. This does not bode well for the future. It does speak to Showalter's job of manufacturing close wins while surviving after blowouts, an impressive quality for a manager who has mellowed and grown.
NL Manager of the Half: Terry Collins, New York Mets – Speaking of mellowed and grown, Collins, it turns out, is like the new Joe Torre, someone whose arrival in New York was mocked but actually was the perfect fit for his new team. The Mets, like the Orioles, should fade in the NL East. They have neither the talent nor the inclination to trade for it quite yet. But they're building something interesting, and if the Wilpon family ever climbs out from its debt and re-engages itself on the Mets, this is a franchise worth watching – and a manager, too.
Defensive Play of the Half: Mike Trout, CF, Los Angeles Angels – This was tough. Was it Trout robbing J.J. Hardy of a home run last week or Gregor Blanco saving Matt Cain's perfect game with a diving catch? Here's the breakdown:
Actual play: Trout, and it's not even close. Because Trout is such a freakish athlete – built more like a running back, at 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, than a ballplayer – he can make something like a 3-foot-tall vertical leap and a Go-Go Gadget arm extension over a major-league fence look easy. And that's what he did. Slow the Trout catch down and it's obvious just how amazing the deed is. Blanco made a really nice catch that others make hundreds of times a year.
Timeliness: Blanco, and it's not even close. That's the thing: Hundreds of players may make that sort of catch, but not in the seventh inning of a perfect game in the monstrous outfield at AT&T Park. Blanco's flair for the dramatic is to be lauded.
That said, Trout's style points are just too big for Blanco's catch-plus-context to match. Seriously, look at it again and relish it. None of the other great plays – Justin Ruggiano's catch, Brandon Phillips' between-the-legs flip, Mark Buehrle's annual bit of begloved wonderment – can match Trout's.
Fight of the Half: Joe Maddon and Davey Johnson, managers, Tampa Bay Rays and Washington Nationals – A glob of pine tar on Rays reliever Joel Peralta's glove set off a war of words that exceeded any brawl imaginable. It was majestic.
Johnson, aware from Peralta's time with the Nationals that he used pine tar, asked for umpires to check his glove. Peralta was ejected and suspended for eight games.
[Big League Stew: Dusty Baker and Tony La Russa trade shots over All-Star picks]
Maddon called Johnson "cowardly."
Johnson shot back that Maddon was "a weird wuss" and said he didn't care that Maddon had "a Tweeter" (!!!) and that he could reach more people than Johnson.
The two later sat down with Mrs. Jones and discussed how they could be nicer to each other. Neither complied and they fought on the playground later that day. Johnson used a foreign substance to gain the upper hand. Maddon tweetered about it later.
Pitching Performance of the Half: Matt Cain, SP, San Francisco – His 14-strikeout perfect game was better than Phil Humber's humble nine-strikeout affair. It's safe to say Cain's performance was among the best of all time. In fact, it's probably also fair to pair either of Dickey's one-hitters – the first with zero walks and 12 strikeouts, the second with two walks and 13 Ks – comfortably alongside Humber.
Hitting Performance of the Half: Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers – On May 8, Hamilton went 5 for 5 with four home runs and a double. It's pretty much impossible to do better.
The Clown Question, Bro Award For Awesome Turns of Phrase: Bryce Harper, OF, Washington Nationals – The bro did it, you know. If Harper merely had accused a reporter of asking a clown question when he inquired as to Harper's beer of choice, it would've been another answer among a million from him this year. The bro, however, sent the entire thing into viral mode. How one obnoxious three-letter word changed the entire landscape of the answer I'm not quite sure. But it did. And, bro, it was wonderful.
Stop Swinging, Please Award – To more than a quarter of the major-league shortstops: Starlin Castro, Alexei Ramirez, Mike Aviles, Erick Aybar, Ian Desmond, Alcides Escobar, J.J. Hardy and Willie Bloomquist had eight of the 15 worst walk rates in the major leagues.
The Screw You, Luck Award: Jose Bautista, RF, Toronto Blue Jays – Now, it's commonplace for extreme fly ball hitters to have lower batting averages on balls in play than other hitters. Still, a .205 BABIP is bordering on cruel. And considering Bautista still is hitting .243/.360/.551, it's frightening to think the sort of second half he could have should his luck catch back up to his skill.
The Jeneba Tarmoh Award For Not Showing Up to the Race: Detroit Tigers – We keep waiting … and waiting … and waiting … and you get it. It's the halfway point of the season, and the Tigers, who were supposed to run away with the AL Central, remain AWOL.
The good: Austin Jackson's breakout, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander being Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander, Joaquin Benoit pitching like someone who should be closing. And that's about it. Prince Fielder hasn't played like a $214 million player, Alex Avila has been banged up all year, Brennan Boesch and Jhonny Peralta have been awful, Max Scherzer and Rick Porcello are stuck in perpetual should-be-but-aren't mode, the bullpen is mediocre and the defense is tougher to find than the Higgs boson.
There's half a season left. If I were betting today, I'd still bet the Tigers win the AL Central. But then I've never been a good gambler.
Cool Breeze Award: Josh Hamilton, OF, Texas Rangers – Hamilton really is a modern-day baseball gunslinger: swing first and ask questions later. Hamilton's 230 swing-and-misses put him ahead of Adam Dunn, Carlos Pena, Dan Uggla and Danny Espinosa in the wind-power industry. Hamilton is atop plenty more categories across baseball (though not home runs anymore, as Bautista has overtaken him). Among the more inauspicious: 318 swings out of the strike zone and only 78 called strikes taken.
The Flaccid Swing Award: Tampa Bay Rays – One-third of the Rays' lineup provides a majority of the bottom five among qualified hitters in line drives: Sean Rodriguez (a major league-worst 22), B.J. Upton (24) and Carlos Pena (25). Ichiro alone has more than the three of them (74).
The Spoiler Award: Gregor Blanco, OF, San Francisco Giants – Blanco deserved some kind of an award after he got jobbed by Trout. How about this: 45 percent of the time he swings, the ball goes foul. Second: teammate Buster Posey at 44.5%. The real winners: Giants fans who like souvenirs.
The Brothers In Name Only Award: Rickie and Jemile Weeks, 2B, Milwaukee Brewers and Oakland A's – Of all the 158 hitters who qualify for the batting title, Rickie sees the most sliders: 26.6 percent of pitches thrown to him. The hitter who sees the fewest? Little brother Jemile, of course, at 7.6 percent.
The Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics Award: Pitcher A and Pitcher B, SP
Pitcher A is Tim Lincecum. His ERA is 6.08.
Pitcher B is Yu Darvish. His ERA is 3.59.
The Close Shave But No Cuts Award: Cliff Lee, SP, Philadelphia Phillies – Nearly 40 percent of Lee's pitches go inside, and he has yet to hit a batter this season. Gavin Floyd, on the other hand, locates less than a quarter of his inside and has hit a major league-high nine batters.
The Nibbler Award: Shaun Marcum and Yovani Gallardo, SP, Milwaukee Brewers – Here's a guess: Brewers pitching coach Rick Kranitz encourages his pitchers to go away. Marcum leads the major leagues with 64 percent of his pitches outside and Gallardo is second with 63.2 percent.
The Likeliest to Dethrone Joey Chestnut Award: Bartolo Colon, SP, Oakland Athletics – Just think of all the stem cells he could harvest from that new fat.
The Deadliest Field Award: Kauffman Stadium, Kansas City, Mo. – Took out Mariano Rivera. Four Royals pitchers have undergone Tommy John surgery this season already. Beware, All-Stars.
The Mariano Rivera 2.0 Award: Kenley Jansen, closer, Los Angeles Dodgers – The Dodgers' monster reliever is a converted catcher who switched over because of his arm strength. The move worked in particular because of his feel for the cut fastball, which he throws more often than anybody in baseball: 89.7 percent of the time.
The Oliver Perez Award For Underachievement: Justin Smoak, 1B, Seattle Mariners – Failed prospects litter baseball's graveyards, and none is as disappointing as the misnamed Smoak Monster. Perhaps we should call him the Smoak Stack, as he wheezes out the sorts of performances that are carcinogenic to winning. Going over the numbers is too depressing. They're just bad.
The David Eckstein Award For Overachievement: Oliver Perez, RP, Seattle Mariners – Ironic, huh?
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