Passing Judgment – MLB 1st Half Awards

With the All-Star Game now in our rearview mirror, we can now truly reflect on the first half of the season.  When you look at the standings, there are teams in positions that no one in their right mind could have or would have predicted.  The fact that the Yankees and Rangers sit atop their respective divisions is not surprising in the least.  But to see the Pirates, Nationals, and White Sox leading their divisions is fascinating and great for baseball.  Along with them, the Mets and Orioles overachieving and staying relevant this late into the season is incredible and a testament to their managers and players. 

It is now time to hand out awards and recognition for achievements during the first half of the 2012 MLB season.

National League MVP

Winners (tie): Andrew McCutchen (OF-PIT) and David Wright (3B-NYM).

It may seem like a cop-out to name two winners here, but they both equally and truly deserve this honor.  Remember, the most valuable player doesn’t necessarily mean the player with the best statistics.  This honor goes to players who have the most direct impact on their team’s success, and without them their team would not be where they are. 

The Pirates are an unbelievable 48-37 and in 1st place in the NL Central.  While their pitching has been very good, they have literally been carried by McCutchen all season.  Pittsburgh’s offense in general has been atrocious, but McCutchen has still managed to hit a league-leading .362 with 18 homeruns and 60 RBI.  The fact the Pirates locked him up for six years at $51.5M looks like the deal of the century.  At just 25 years old, McCutchen hasn’t even entered his prime yet, but he is now blossoming in his 4th year in the league.  He could use a haircut, but other than that he has been flawless.

After enduring one of the most tumultuous offseasons a franchise can have, the Mets were expected to sit in the NL East basement and come close to 100 losses.  But despite the Madoff scandal and losing Jose Reyes via free agency, the Mets find themselves six games over .500 and right in the mix for the division title and wild card.  This is almost entirely thanks to David Wright who has emerged as the true leader of the team and carried them most of the year.  Without any protection in the lineup, he still managed to hit .351 with 11 homeruns and 59 RBI.  In addition, his defense has been markedly improved as he is playing Gold Glove-caliber third base. 

American League MVP

Winner: Josh Hamilton (OF-TEX).

This is one instance where the player with the best statistics does deserve the MVP award.  The free agent to be hit .308 with a league-leading 27 homeruns and 75 RBI.  Hamilton has been the anchor of the Rangers’ potent lineup and is leading them towards another AL West crown and potential third consecutive World Series appearance.  He plays a Gold Glove outfield and also hit four homeruns in a game earlier this season.  For the most part, he has stayed healthy all season which is always a concern for him.  He is arguably the most talented baseball player in the game and could be in line for the biggest contract in baseball history.  While he has his own personal demons to deal with, there is no denying his incomparable skills as he is in line for his second MVP award.

National League Cy Young

Winner: R.A. Dickey (SP-NYM).

Despite what Tony LaRussa thinks, R.A. Dickey has been the best pitcher in baseball during the first half of the season.  At 37 years old, Dickey has completely reinvented himself with a unique knuckleball that has baffled opposing hitters all year.  He went 12-1 with a 2.40 ERA and hasn’t lost a game since mid-April.  His 123 strikeouts compared to only 26 walks is incredible given he throws an unpredictable knuckleball.  Also on his resume is three complete games, two shutouts, two consecutive one-hitters, and the Mets all-time record for most consecutive scoreless innings and most consecutive innings without allowing an earned run.  Besides being a great human interest story, Dickey truly deserves this honor.

American League Cy Young

Winner: Chris Sale (SP-CHW).

For a guy who was considered for the closer’s role, Chris Sale certainly has proven that the White Sox made the right choice by putting him in the starting rotation.  At 23 years old, Sale has emerged as one of the best pitchers in the league and made his first All-Star team by compiling a 10-2 record with a 2.19 ERA and a 0.95 WHIP.  It will be interesting to see whether he can maintain this production during the second half, but his emergence as an elite pitcher helped catapult the White Sox into 1st place in the AL Central.

National League Rookie of the Year

Winner: Bryce Harper (OF-WAS).

Who should win this award?  That’s a clown question, bro.  Bryce Harper is one of the most anticipated and hyped players in baseball history given his incredible talent, quick ascension through high school and college, and comparisons to some of the all-time greats.  At 19-years old, Harper was promoted to the Nationals and has fit right in helping the team to a 4.5 game lead in the NL East.  Through his first 63 games, Harper is hitting .282 with eight homeruns and 25 RBI to go along with 43 runs scored and 10 stolen bases.  He has played a solid outfield, despite losing a ball in the lights during the All-Star game.  The sky is the limit for Harper, but he has lived up to the hype thus far and is truly the best rookie in the National League.

AL Rookie of the Year

Winner: Mike Trout (OF-LAA).

This is probably the easiest decision of all the awards.  Trout did receive some consideration for AL MVP, but there is no doubt about this one.  Coming into the season, the Angels had too many aging players in the outfield and not enough spots for everyone after they acquired Albert Pujols and also got Kendrys Morales back.  But after a horrible start to the season, the Angels shuffled things up and promoted Mike Trout to provide a spark.  All he has done has hit a league-leading .341 with 12 homeruns, 40 RBI, 57 runs scored, and 26 stolen bases.  He has helped revive the Angels’ season as they are now within striking distance of the Rangers and are also in play for the wild card.  Trout, 20, could arguably be the MVP, but he is indisputably the Rookie of the Year.

NL Least Valuable Player

Winner: Jason Bay (OF-NYM).

Need I say more?  Tim Lincecum was a close second, but at least he is on the field.

AL Least Valuable Player

Winner: Hector Noesi (SP-SEA).

It may seem unfair to pick on the young Seattle Mariner pitcher, but facts are facts.  Noesi, acquired in the Michael Pineda-Jesus Montero trade, has been just plain awful.  While Seattle pitchers do not get much run support, this cannot be used as an excuse for Noesi who is 2-11 with a paltry 5.77 ERA and 1.32 WHIP. 

NL Manager of the Year

Winner: Terry Collins (NYM).

When you think about doing the most with the least, Terry Collins has to be at the top of the list this year.  After only spending a handful of dollars on mediocre relief pitchers, the Mets entered the season without Jose Reyes and without much in terms of reinforcements.  Collins has helped guide and mentor this young team to a shocking 46-40 record after many, including myself, predicted the Mets would lose close to 100 games.  He has convinced his players that they belong in the big leagues and taught them to play hard, gritty, and competitive baseball.  The team has truly taken on his personality, and for that he is deserving of this honor.

AL Manager of the Year

Winner: Robin Ventura (CHW).

This was a close victory over Buck Showalter and Mike Scoscia.  But Ventura, without any managerial experience, has stepped in and changed the culture and attitude of the White Sox after the controversial Ozzie Guillen era ended.  He has guided Chicago into first place in the AL Central and put them in a position to fend off the Tigers and Indians down the stretch.  Ventura has also helped bring young pitchers like Chris Sale and Addison Reed along and put them in a position to succeed.

NL Surprising Team 

Winner: Pittsburgh Pirates.

The New York Mets certainly are just as a big a surprise this season after going 46-40 during the first half.  But they sit 4.5 games out of first place.  The Pirates, who haven’t had a winning season since 1992, find themselves in first place in the NL Central.  This may sound familiar as they had a similar story going last year.  But this season, there is more reason to be optimistic that they can sustain this pace and compete for the playoffs.  A.J. Burnett has thrived in the small market environment going 10-2 and reviving his career.  James McDonald has emerged as the ace of the pitching staff and become one of the best pitchers in the National League.  The bullpen has been stellar with Joel Hanrahan and Jason Grilli.  And the offense has been led by Andrew McCutchen with occasional contributions from the rest of the roster. 

AL Surprising Team

Winner: Baltimore Orioles.

The Orioles have been a disaster for the better part of the last decade due to poor management and bad leadership.  Buck Showalter, with a proven track record of turning teams’ fortunes around, has done it yet again.  He has stuck with some of his young pitchers and seen them mature, and also turned Jim Johnson into an All-Star closer.  While the Orioles have slipped to seven games back of the Yankees, they were in first place or near the top of the division for most of the first half.  It will be a challenge to keep them competitive down the stretch, but there is no denying the wonderful job that Showalter has done thus far.

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