I planned to also try and do a mid-season recap/review of the Twins, but that might be a bit of a downer–they are, after all, 11 games back in a very mediocre division with a decent offense, a good enough bullpen, and a historically bad starting rotation. They won’t be contending this year, but for the rest of the league, I’d like to look do what everyone likes to do now–first-half awards. Let’s start with MVPs.
AL MVP: Mike Trout, OF, Angels
Really, I’m not sure this selection is too difficult. Most writers have seemed to quickly comprehend just how insane Trout’s season at the age of 20 is. Outside of Alex Rodriguez in 1996, Trout is on pace for the best season by a 20 year-old ever. Trout is hitting .341/.397/.562 (168 OPS+, .423 wOBA, 172 wRC+, .361 TAv) with 12 HRs and 26 SBs. With his high quality defense in the outfield (mostly center fielder, though he’s started 19 games and played 39 in the corner this year) and his amazing legs, it’s not surprising that he’s leading the AL in fWAR (4.8), WARP (4.3), OPS+ and VORP (37.3). His .361 TAv leads both leagues. His rWAR (4.6) ranks second in the AL to Brett Lawrie (5.0), but most seem certain that rWAR has overrated Lawrie’s defensive contributions (to the tune of 3.6 defensive WAR–side note on baseball-reference: 6 of the Top 10 position players by rWAR did not make the All-Star team, with Lawrie, Austin Jackson, Josh Reddick, Jason Kipnis, Shin-soo Choo, and Edwin Encarnacion the victims)
Trout’s hitting line is buoyed by a .392 BABIP, but with his otherworldly speed suggests that there is little reason Trout can’t maintain a high BABIP. His BA may fall a little, but I’m not sure Trout is in for much regression in the second half. Trout is a pretty easy call for first-half MVP. He’s really been a revelation so far and as much as people want to link him with Bryce Harper, Trout has been the more impressive player–the fact that he is doing it at 20 is mere icing on the cake. Yes, Josh Hamilton had an amazing start and is still hitting .308/.380/.635 (.417 wOBA, 161 OPS+, .337 TAv), good for WAR scores of 3.2 rWAR/3.8 fWAR/3.3 WARP, but he’s just not quite the player Trout has been.
Apologies to: Hamilton, Robinson Cano, Justin Verlander, Austin Jackson
NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen, CF, Pirates
I’m not being swayed here by the “Pirates are in first, so McCutchen should be MVP” narrative, though I’m sure he’s the best hitter in their lineup by a mile–they have a collective .300 OBP after all. No, I’ve more convinced by the premise that the various WAR statistics have underrated McCutchen’s defense due to his position–something that has occurred over the years with another center fielder that generally passes the “eye test,” Curtis Granderson. The metrics took a liking to McCutchen’s defense last year, but are not as keen on them this year–to the point of suggesting he’s a subpar fielder again.
First, let me get one thing out of the way: Joey Votto is the best hitter in the majors. His .451 wOBA/186 OPS+ and 5.0 fWAR lead everyone, with his 4.5 rWAR second. My honest sense is that by the end of the season, Votto will be the MVP anyways–I think he’s more likely to keep this up (his BABIP is at .408, but it’s .358 for his career). I’m also pretty keen on rewarding someone with a .471 OBP as well as someone who, somehow, has hit a total of zero infield fly balls (pop-ups) this year and just one in three years. Read that again. On the other hand, McCutchen actually leads Votto in VORP (42.1 v. 35.9) and TAv (.359 v. .355) and his 185 OPS+, 4.4 rWAR and .438 wOBA are right there. That’s what you get when you hit .362/.414/.625 and play center field.
But you know he is also right there? David Wright. Somehow he remains underrated (I look at Wright and see a career headed for the Hall of Fame, but I suspect many, many fans and writers disagree), but Wright leads the league in VORP (43.6) and rWAR (4.7) with his .351/.441/.563 line. Wright’s 4.9 fWAR, .418 wOBA, .350 TAv, 4.6 WARP, and 177 OPS+ all sit at the top of the league with Votto and McCutchen. An argument could be easily made for Wright as well–the Mets are a surprise too, though that is once again not a very convincing line of argument.
In the end, I’m going with McCutchen because I believe that the race is currently very close and that the metrics underrate McCutchen’s defensive contributions enough to currently make up the difference. I’m not sure that McCutchen’s average will stay so sky high (.407 current BABIP, .324 career) and his power may regress some too (21.4 % HR/FB ratio right now, 11.7 % career), which could mean Votto, Wright or someone else are deserving of the reward at the end of the season. But the season McCutchen has had so far has been something to witness. The odds are that he slows down, like his surprise team, but why not celebrate his accomplishment so far?
Apologies to: Votto, Wright, Carlos Ruiz, Michael Bourn, Ryan Braun, Zack Greinke
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, SP, Tigers
If Verlander leads the league in the various WAR measurements, it’s for a good reason: he’s a extremely effective workhorse. He leads the league in innings pitched (132 2/3 innings) and complete games (5). He, as mentioned, leads in WAR for pitchers too–4.3 rWAR, 3.8 fWAR, and is just behind Zack Greinke in VORP (26.6, leads AL) and Stephen Strasburg and Greinke in WARP (2.8).
He lags behind Chris Sale and Jered Weaver in ERA+ (159, vs. 194/193) and ERA (2.58, v. 1.96 for Weaver, 2.19 for Sale, 2.43 for C.J. Wilson), but only Wilson is even in the Top 10 for innings pitched. Verlander is second in the league to Colby Lewis in BB/K ratio (4.3), so it’s unsurprising with his 8.68 K/9 rate that his FIP (2.94) and xFIP (3.31) are not disproportionately high compared to his ERA. Yes, the .246 BABIP is low, but he had a .236 BABIP last year, and in fact, he has only allowed in 2009 a BABIP above .300 in a full season’s work. Batters may simply get weak contact off of Verlander–it may be a special skill, like Matt Cain and keeping flyballs in the park.
Even though I don’t think he’s the award winner right now, I would like to point out how good Sale has been for the White Sox. Sale’s 2.19 ERA/2.58 FIP/3.24 xFIP are fantastic numbers, as is his 8.59 K/9 rate, 2.19 BB/9 rate, 4.2 rWAR/3.5 fWAR/2.4 WARP and 22.2 VORP. Given that Sale is just 23, it’s a frightening prospect for Twins fans how good he could be for years. He’s right behind Verlander and in front of Felix Hernandez and Jake Peavy for the Cy Young right now. Oh yeah, Peavy has been pretty good for the Southsiders too.
Apologies to: Sale, Hernandez, Peavy
NL Cy Young: Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals
Given that I took Verlander over Sale, maybe I’ll be looking like a hypocrite here. After all, due to his innings limit, Strasburg has only 99 innings. And he’s only 9th in ERA, so how effective could he have been? Well, he still leads the league in strikeouts, with 128–the major league lead. That’s a 11.6 K/9 rate. Pair that with his sensational control (4.57 K/BB ratio) and you have a dominant pitcher. It’s not surprising that Strasburg’s FIP (2.50) and xFIP (2.61) sit even lower than his ERA (2.82). His fWAR (3.1) sits third in the NL to Greinke and R.A. Dickey while he leads the league in WARP (3.1) and VORP (29.7). Not surprisingly, those two are Strasburg’s biggest competition.
I believe that I could easily rewrite my answer here to be Dickey–I too love his story and would love to see a knuckleballer win the Cy Young for the first time ever. And it wouldn’t really be a wrong decision. Dickey has more innings (120 2/3), his FIP/xFIP have been outstanding (2.76/2.86, 2.40 ERA), as has his K rate (9.23 K/9) and control (1.95 BB/9), giving him a NL-leading rWAR (3.6) and a fWAR (3.2) just behind Greinke’s. His 2.1 WARP and 17.6 VORP are very good as well. A 126 K/23 BB ratio by a knuckleballer is unheard of.
Greinke is a little harder to make the argument for if you don’t buy all the deeper numbers. His ERA (3.32) is fairly high and he (though it was insane) didn’t even make the All-Star team. His 126 ERA+ isn’t standout either and neither is his rWAR (2.4), though I question rWAR’s reliability with pitchers if Matt Belisle is among the Top 10. On the other hand, his K rate (9.0 K/9) and BB rate (2.11/9) are right up there with his competition, and with the combination of strikeouts and groundballs (53.8% rate), his FIP/xFIP numbers are on top of the league (2.35/2.76). Too bad his BABIP (.335) isn’t cooperating for the second straight year, though one should observe that it’s been a little higher (.311) than average throughout his career. The counter, of course, is that he played with bad defenses all his career, so you can’t really blame that on him. Hence, Greinke sits first in fWAR (3.6), second in VORP (27.9) and WARP (3.0). He’s not the winner right now, but he is rightfully in the conversation.
Strasburg beats out the competition, albeit narrowly, with his sheer dominance despite more limited innings. It will be interesting to see just how much the Nationals and Davey Johnson limited him in the second half while the Nats go after a playoff spot. If Strasburg reaches 185 innings, this award could be his. Even with a limit on individual starts, he can dominate enough to be the most valuable starter around, but if he’s not in the rotation in September, Dickey, Greinke, and even his teammate Gio Gonzalez might pull in front of him.
Apologies to: Dickey, Greinke, Gonzalez, Johnny Cueto
AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout, OF, Angels
Obviously if he’s going to win the MVP, he deserves this award.
Apologies to: No one really, but it is worth noting that Yu Darvish has had a pretty good rookie season, with a 10.3 K/9 rate and solid overall numbers (2.3 rWAR/2.2 fWAR/1.6 WARP, 3.59 ERA/3.68 FIP/3.67 xFIP) in a hitters’ park despite some control issues. Too bad he’s not even close in value to Trout.
NL Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
Actually, this award is pretty close, unlike the AL one. Starting pitchers Wade Miley and Lance Lynn have been just as valuable as Harper. Todd Frazier, Zack Cozart, Andrelton Simmons, and Norichika Aoki have been around as valuable as well. Since they are so close right now, I’ll take Harper simply because 19 year-old players don’t play this well–ever.
A .282/.354/.472 line (.360 wOBA) seems good, but not great, but consider the following list:
Player wOBA OPS+ TAv OBP SLG
Harper .360 123 .287 .354 .472
Griffey Jr. .333 108 .281 .329 .420
Rodriguez .291 73 .230 .280 .408
Beltre .288 72 .238 .278 .369
Mantle .360 117 .297 .349 .443
Foxx .412 130 ? .393 .515
Ott .419 139 ? .397 .524
Conigliaro .385 137 .299 .354 .530
This is a list of age-19 seasons for several Hall of Famers, future Hall of Famers (including Beltre, yes, who is on the cusp now and with a few more very good seasons, he’ll cement it) and a guy like Conigliaro, who’s career was derailed by a horrible freak injury. As Dave Cameron noted at the end of May, Harper could find his season on the Top 10 all-time for 19-year olds, of which only two others played in the modern era (Conigliaro and Ott). Right now, he’s basically hitting like the Commerce Comet at age 19 and that’s a pretty significant thing. In a otherwise close race for this award, there is no reason that can’t play the deciding factor. It’s unclear to what extent Harper will keep this up, but for now, we should celebrate the historic nature of his achievements. This may be the start of a all-time great career.
Apologies to: Wiley, Cozart, Simmons, Lynn, Aoki