First-half MLB awards: Trout, Kershaw leading the way again

MLB columnist
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Every team in baseball reached the halfway point in the season last week, which makes it an appropriate time for Yahoo Sports’ midseason awards. We’ll cut the regularly scheduled pontificating of 10 Degrees and go right to the one certain to cause all sorts of comments-section consternation. Because every time a kind word is lent to the accomplishments of …

1. Mike Trout, the anonymous masses descend and make the same tired crack about how much I love him. To which, as a player at least, I’ll gladly plead guilty. It is impossible to like Trout too much. He warrants every single kind word – and, by a slim margin, the first-half American League MVP award.

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1. Mike Trout
2. Jose Altuve
3. David Ortiz
4. Josh Donaldson
5. Manny Machado
6. Ian Desmond
7. Francisco Lindor
8. Xander Bogaerts
9. Robinson Cano
10. Jackie Bradley Jr.

Trout’s triple-slash numbers (.324/.426/.569) are virtually identical to Altuve’s (.353/.424/.567) in two categories. Both are spectacular basestealers. Both have enviable walk-to-strikeout rates. The difference comes down to Trout playing center field, the third most important position aside from shortstop and catcher, compared to Altuve’s second base.

I’m not one of those who casts his MVP vote based on a player’s team. On the contrary, what Trout has done in spite of the Los Angeles Angels horror show that surrounds him merits plenty of praise. Value does not exist only at the top of the standings. Otherwise …

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2. Clayton Kershaw wouldn’t be the first-half National League MVP. And if anyone wants to make the argument he isn’t, I welcome it, because it’s nearly impossible to make cogently.

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Matt Carpenter
3. Kris Bryant
4. Nolan Arenado
5. Anthony Rizzo
6. Corey Seager
7. Jose Fernandez
8. Noah Syndergaard
9. Jake Lamb
10. Marcell Ozuna

Even as he sits on the disabled list with a bad back and a TBD return date, Kershaw’s first half – 11-2 record, 1.79 ERA, 145 strikeouts and nine walks (!!!) in 121 innings – is fiction posing as reality. Carpenter is the only player in the NL with a 1.000-plus OPS, Bryant the league’s home run king, Arenado its best two-day player. There are others, each with a fair down-ballot argument.

Nobody’s first half came anywhere close to that of …

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3. Clayton Kershaw, though, which made the first-half NL Cy Young Award ballot easier than usual.

1. Clayton Kershaw
2. Jose Fernandez
3. Noah Syndergaard
4. Jake Arrieta
5. Madison Bumgarner

Since the Kershaw pick is obvious, it’s worth discussing the next four, not just for their order but those who don’t appear. Sorry, Johnny Cueto. You are a stud. Jon Lester: You weren’t even on this list before your last start, so worry not. Stephen Strasburg, Jacob deGrom, Julio Teheran – maybe at the end of the season.

As for this order: Honestly, Nos. 2-5 could be flipped any which way. Fernandez is threatening to join some seriously elite company with his 2016; only twice has a starter struck out more than 13 per nine innings – Pedro Martinez in 1999 and Randy Johnson in 2001. Fernandez is currently at 13.1 K/9.

Syndergaard’s strikeout-to-walk rate is goofy, Arrieta hasn’t been 2015 Arrieta but still has been great and Bumgarner is at his finest, again low on the ballot only because he happens to pitch in the NL. Were he in the AL …

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4. Chris Sale would not be the choice for Cy Young. Reality is the AL landscape for pitching is more barren than Edwina McDunnough.

1. Chris Sale
2. Danny Salazar
3. Cole Hamels
4. Steven Wright
5. Aaron Sanchez

The case for Sale is more about volume than anything. His 120 innings lead the AL. His 118-to-24 strikeout-to-walk ratio is elite. The 14-2 record is nice, if shallow. Salazar is really the only other choice, and his 27 fewer innings and significantly higher walk rate simply don’t add up.

Nobody in the AL has the peripherals of Salazar’s teammate Corey Kluber, and yet he has allowed 53 runs and sports a 3.79 ERA, which keeps him off the ballot for now. And should the next 16 starts go as well as his first dozen …

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5. Michael Fulmer may find himself toward the top of Cy Young ballots by the end of the season. For now, he’ll have to settle for first-half AL Rookie of the Year.

1. Michael Fulmer
2. Nomar Mazara
3. Chris Devenski

While a vote for Mazara is understandable, his adjusted OPS is actually below league average, whereas Fulmer’s adjusted ERA is the second best among AL pitchers with at least 70 innings behind only Salazar. Fulmer’s raw numbers – 2.17 ERA, 70 strikeouts and 25 walks in 70 2/3 innings – are plenty good, too, and as far as parting gifts go, this was a nice one for former team president Dave Dombrowski to leave the Detroit Tigers.

Of course, same as with the Cy Young, a full handful of candidates in the NL outrate everyone in the AL. In fact …

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6. Corey Seager would appear about as high on the AL MVP ballot as he does in the NL, where he more or less has wrapped up the first-half Rookie of the Year.

1. Corey Seager
2. Kenta Maeda
3. Aledmys Diaz

The second and third slots went to Maeda, a rotation stabilizer who after a rough patch in May has become a reliable six-inning pitcher, and Diaz, whose blazing start tapered into something a little less impressive but still strong. Trevor Story’s 19 home runs almost certainly will get him on most ballots. His 105 strikeouts in 293 at-bats helped disqualify him from this one. Diaz nabbed his spot just ahead of Steven Matz, whose peripherals portend good things so long as his elbow doesn’t conspire against them.

Winning Rookie of the Year, mind you, doesn’t always portend greatness …

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7. Wil Myers can attest. The two seasons after he took the award were a mess of injuries and disappointment. So to see him finally fulfilling the promise – .286/.353/.536 with 19 home runs, 13 stolen bases and a warranted All-Star slot – makes him the perfect choice for NL Comeback Player of the Year over teammate Melvin Upton Jr.

The AL offers a finer palate of comebacks. CC Sabathia, out of rehab and back into the New York Yankees’ rotation, is a great tale of perseverance. Michael Saunders, finally healthy and raking, has stabilized Toronto’s lineup. The clear first-half AL Comeback Player of the Year, though, is Ian Desmond, who shook off an awful 2015, weathered the disappointment of turning down a $100 million-plus contract only to end up with a one-year, $8 million deal with the Texas Rangers, switched from his career position of shortstop to center field and has put up a .321/.374/.526 line while looking like he has been in center his whole career.

Considering the stakes and history, it’s one of the more impressive performances in years. Not quite to the level of what …

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8. Joe Maddon’s Chicago Cubs were doing over the season’s first two months, but still. The Cubs came back to earth in June and started July with three straight losses before a win on the Fourth, which left their projected record at 103-59. So, yes, despite the issues of late, Maddon remains the choice for first-half NL Manager of the Year.

1. Joe Maddon
2. Bruce Bochy
3. Dusty Baker

Like Maddon, the Giants’ Bochy has sloughed off injuries to guide his team to the top of its division with a commanding advantage in the wild-card race should the Dodgers continue to play well. Despite the plaudits from players, Baker does not exactly inspire homilies on his strategic acumen. His vote is more for the correlative effects of his arrival than the causative ones, and yet Baker’s players swear by his ability as a motivator, and that, remember, is one of Maddon’s chief qualities. It would be unfair to deny Baker praise for one thing simply because he doesn’t necessarily display another, more quantitative one.

Handicapping a Manager of the Year race essentially involves looking at the top of the standings. It’s how …

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9. Jeff Banister gets the nod for first-half AL Manager of the Year: His Texas Rangers have been the league’s best team.

1. Jeff Banister
2. Terry Francona
3. A.J. Hinch

Now, the Rangers certainly have gone through their trials and travails. Yu Darvish hit the DL three starts into his Tommy John surgery comeback. Starters Derek Holland and Colby Lewis are out. Same with relievers Keone Kela and Tanner Scheppers. And with their patchwork rotation, the Rangers just keep winning. Not 14 in a row, like Francona’s Cleveland Indians, but enough for Texas to stretch its AL West lead over the resurgent Houston Astros, their greatest threat, to 7½ games. It can’t be understated how even-headed Hinch kept Houston during its miserable April that looked primed to torpedo the Astros. April for …

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10. Mike Trout was a bit substandard: a .909 OPS, just one stolen base, a few too many strikeouts. Then came May (.340/.445/.613) and June (.333/.426/.576) and July thus far (.364/.533/.545), and Trout reminded the thing that makes him so transcendent is also what gives the masses Trout fatigue.

Consistency is so boring. The same … thing … again … and … again … and … again. It doesn’t matter whether his team is good or bad. Nor whether he’s facing aces or scrubs. Fastball, curveball, changeup, cutter, splitter, slider, high, low, inside, outside, pipe shot – cool. Mike Trout at 24 – yes, he’s still just 24 – is like Mike Trout at 20, only with minute evolutions, slight improvements, like he’s a software engineer patching his own bugs.

It’s trite to call a human being a robot because our vulnerabilities and fallibilities are not some programming error, and yet Mike Trout is the closest thing baseball has to it now. Whether that means he’s MVP for a second time or snubbed for a fourth time isn’t all that imperative. He’s the same as ever, and for anybody who enjoys greatness, that’s more than enough.

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