The muggy heat of July tells us it’s time for the greatest All-Star game in all of sports. But tough questions, like who have been the stars and who have been the flashlights of baseball’s first half, come with that reality. We’ll wait to deal with the flashlights later. Let’s look at the stars.
NL Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton
Unlike much of the American League rookie pool, the National League side is much more convoluted. There are a ton of young players on the NL side who have impressed this year. But Billy Hamilton of Cincinnati deserves the nod. No, it’s not just because of his Matrix-like body contortion to avoid the tag on a routine grounder to first base. Though that definitely didn’t hurt.
What keeps bringing me back to Hamilton is the fact that this kid was struggling huge at the plate early this year. Yet, despite that he didn’t give up, didn’t sit back and simply try to rely on his amazing speed and defense to hold his spot in the majors. Instead, he worked tirelessly to become a better hitter, and is now the owner of a solid .285 batting average. He’s also second in the National League with 38 stolen bases.
There’s every reason to buy stock in this player going forward.
AL Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu
Chicago’s Jose Abreu has made the choice easy much the same way Abreu has made playing the sport of baseball look easy. After completing his 82nd game of the year on Sunday, Abreu lead the majors with 29 home runs, has 73 RBI’s, and is batting .292 on the season.
While much will and should be made of his power numbers, what I marvel at the most is his ability to blend power with hitting for average. The modern hitter, for the most part, is selfish and greedy at the plate. He’s consumed entirely with putting the ball in the stands, while eschewing the art of simply putting the ball in play. But this stereotype in no way applies to Abreu. Sporting a .292 batting average to go along with his 29 round-trippers, Abreu has not only bucked the trend of the modern hitter, but even has some observers drawing similarities between him and the great Frank Thomas, another Chi Sox big man who hit for both power and average.
As it stands, Abreu is on pace to match Albert Belle’s franchise record of 49 homers. Which, means he’s also on pace to tie/break Mark McGwire’s rookie home run record, also at 49. In addition, Abreu also registered his 50th extra-base hit in his 81st game on Saturday, the fewest games it had taken anyone to reach that mark since Ted Williams did it in 80 games in 1939.
Now, is there cause for concern for Abreu in the second half of the season? Yes. The largest number of baseball games Abreu has ever played in a single season is 94. He did this for his Cuban team, Cuban Serie Nacional. So, Abreu will be paddling unchartered waters here very soon. But, what he’s done in his first 82 games is more than enough to make him a lock for AL Rookie of the Year.
NL Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw
Is this much more difficult of a decision than the choice for Abreu as AL ROY? It’s definitely a little more difficult. For one thing, you’ve got close competition. Adam Wainwright, pitching in five more games and 44 more innings than Kershaw, is extremely close to the Dodger ace in terms of raw numbers.
Wainwright has an ERA of 1.83. Kershaw’s ERA stands at 1.78.
But when you look at what these two pitchers have done recently, the scales tip solidly in favor of Kershaw. Over the last 45 innings, Clayton Kershaw has allowed one run. That is the baseball equivalent of taking a scimitar to the knees of MLB hitting. Kershaw has also somehow put together a 126:13 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That would be hard to do on your Xbox. Clayton Kershaw is doing it in real life against trained, professional hitters.
Add on to this Kershaw’s almost perfect no-hitter against the Rockies. Additionally, Kershaw has put up an ERA of 0.74 in his last eight games, and this is pretty much case closed. Wainwright is incredible, and in a normal year he would be the shoe-in for this award. But this is not a normal year, and Clayton Kershaw is no normal pitcher.
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez
A month ago, the field for this award was looking kind of salty. Masahiro Tanaka was laying waste to the competition, Mark Buehrle was on a roll, and Scott Kazmir was in the midst of one of the best bounce-back campaigns we’ve seen in sports. Fast-forward a month, and things look cleared up. Mark Buehrle has cooled off, Tanaka has succumbed to the dreaded UCL tear, and Kazmir, though still good, is quite arguably no longer the best pitcher in his team’s rotation.
But there’s one AL pitcher who has not cooled off, not had his UCL torn, and not been upstaged by a new arrival, and that’s Felix Hernandez. What’s crazy about Hernandez is not only that he’s been dominant, but that he seems to be getting better with age.
From 2011-2013, Hernandez posted ERA’s of 3.47, 3.06, and 3.04, respectively. This year, despite getting closer to 30, his ERA stands at 2.12, which also happens to be under his ERA from his Cy Young winning year in 2010, when he posted a 2.27. Granted, he’s got at least 11 starts to go. But, those are unbelievable numbers. Hernandez is also number one in WHIP, ERA, WAR, second in innings pitched, and tied for second in wins.
Enough said? I think so.
NL Most Valuable Player: Troy Tulowitzki
While the Rockies owner Dick Monfort has been telling fans not to come to the team’s games, and openly questioning whether he should move the team to another city, Troy Tulowitzki has busied himself by giving the Mile High faithful something to cheer about during an otherwise torturous and bizarre season.
Tulowitzki is hitting .345, which is first in the National League. He leads the league in on-base percentage with .435, leads in slugging with .635, leads in OPS with an astounding 1.048, and ties Giancarlo Stanton for the League lead in homeruns with 21.
Few players in baseball have ranked that high in so many key statistical categories without being named MVP. But given those numbers, plus the fact that the Rockies are a dumpster fire, Tulowitzki stands almost as good a chance of being traded as he does winning the MVP.
AL Most Valuable Player: Mike Trout
Another easy call here, Mike Trout is the face and the future of baseball. The only real question here is how many MVP’s Trout will win before his playing days are over? He stands a strong chance of becoming the LeBron James of baseball, as a regular recipient of the award. Though the championships that LeBron has, and Trout covets, might be a little harder to come by.
But we’ll deal with that later! For right now Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. He’s on pace for his third consecutive year with an OPS above .950, something that has been accomplished by only two other players in MLB history as of the time they were 22: Ted Williams (1939-1941) and Jimmie Foxx (1928-1930).
Trout is second in the AL in on-base percentage with .400, second in slugging at .606, and first in OPS with 1.005. There’s literally nothing on the baseball field the guy can’t do.
NL Manager of the Year: Mike Matheny
Expectations are oppressive things to labor under. The expectations in St. Louis are for championships, whether that is realistic or not. Mike Matheny has done as good a job as any working under those conditions. Yes, people are angry at him for over-working the bullpen and mishandling the development of Kolten Wong. But the fact is that Matheny has the Cards down only one game in a tough division, despite a slew of injuries and bad luck. That takes managerial skill and leadership. Look for the Cardinals to be a threat in the second half.
AL Manager of the Year: Bob Melvin
The best team in baseball normally has a really good manager, and that’s certainly the case here. Bob Melvin is in one of those semi-rare positions in baseball where the GM overshadows the manager. People normally assume, not without justification, that 90% of the good and bad things that happen to the A’s are the doing of Billy Beane.
But Bob Melvin is going to get some love here today. Melvin has been managing the A’s since 2011. Since that time, he’s taken a team stocked with talented, but cost-efficient, players to a record of 237-186. That’s seventh best in the majors over that time period.
Melvin, a former catcher, has also been instrumental in guiding Sonny Gray through his first full year as a starter. He’s helped Scott Kazmir rediscover his winning ways, when many thought his best days were long behind him. With the best record in baseball, and recent top-of-the-line pitching additions from the Cubs via trade, Melvin looks to be the right manager at the right time to win Billy Beane the World Series.