The All-Star Game is tonight, and after it we’ll have a dearth of baseball to watch until Friday, so there really isn’t all that much for me to write about this week. As such, I’ll be deciding who’d win each of Major League Baseball’s most prestigious awards if they handed them out at the halfway point too. I know it’s what everybody else is doing, but the last thing the world needs is more All-Star Game coverage.
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
If the award was for the American League’s best player, there’s no question it would go to the Ranger’s Josh Hamilton. Hamilton leads Trout (and the majors) in slugging (.635), OPS (1.016), runs created, and offensive winning percentage. If you’re into more traditional statistics, Hamilton’s got 27 home runs and 75 RBI to Trout’s 12 and 40. But alas, this is the award for the league’s most valuable player, not its best. Which, by the way, is why Peyton Manning should have been the NFL MVP for the past decade, including the year he got hurt. Nay, especially the year he got hurt. Do you think a good team goes 14-2 and 10-6 then just up and drops to 2-14? But I digress.
So what makes Trout so valuable, so Manning-esque, if you will? Well, the Texas Rangers are 52-34, 18 games over .500. Hamilton’s been a tremendous part of that, don’t get me wrong, but the people of Texas also have 7 other All-Stars to thank. And when Hamilton got off to an indescribably hot start in April and May, the Rangers went 31-20, giving them a winning percentage of .608. Since, ol’ Josh has cooled off, to say the least, hitting .214 with six homers in June and July. But don’t tell the Rangers, because I don’t think they’ve noticed yet. Texas has gone 21-14 over that stretch, which makes for a winning percentage of .600. The Angels, on the other hand, have four All-Stars, including Trout, and a record of 48-38. “48-38, that’s not bad at all,” you say. But wait, the Angels were 6-14 before calling Trout up from Triple A. Since he joined the team, they’re 42-24. If the only Angel games that counted were those that included Trout, they’d be 18 games over .500 too.
Then, there’s the stats. Sure, Hamilton’s got the lead in those other things. But Trout is hitting .341, and has an OBP of .397. He also leads the AL with 26 stolen bases. Those numbers have been an enormous factor in his scoring 57 runs in 64 games. The AL runs leader, Ian Kinsler (who plays for the Rangers, by the way), has 63, but he’s played in 20 more games.
NL MVP: Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
As much as I desperately want to give this one to David Wright, the nod has got to go to McCutchen over both he and Joey Votto for many of the same reasons Trout won over Hamilton. Find me one sportswriter who predicted the Pittsburgh Pirates would be in first place at the All-Star break. Just one. You can’t, and while some might say no one saw the Pirates coming, the truth is no one saw McCutchen coming, because they’re one and the same.
Andrew McCutchen is the Pittsburgh Pirates’ offense. Sure, they’re in first place, but they rank 21st in runs scored, 22nd in batting average, and 29th in on-base percentage. A team that’s tied for last in the National League in the most important stat in baseball is in first place (take that, Billy Beane!), and the reason why wears number 22.
McCutchen’s .362 batting average is the best in the league, and he’s in the top 5 in home runs and RBI. But more important are his ranks relative to the rest of the Pirates. He leads the teams in hits, runs, RBI, average, on-base percentage, slugging, stolen bases, and home runs. Frankly, I’m not only concerned that the Pirates wouldn’t be a first place team without Andrew McCutchen, but that they would simply cease to exist.
AL Cy Young: Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels
This just might be the closest contest on the list. It’s really a toss-up between Weaver, Justin Verlander, and Chris Sale, but my coin kept coming up Weaver. Verlander might be more exciting, with his 128 strikeouts to Weaver’s 73, but there’s no doubt Weaver’s been the better pitcher overall. The 29 year-old righthander has the majors’ best ERA (1.96) and WHIP (0.90).
As if that wasn’t enough, Weaver threw a no-hitter on May 2, and he’s only given up more than 3 earned runs twice this season. If you take away his May 13 outing against the Rangers, in which he went 3.1 innings, and gave up 10 hits and 8 earned runs, Weave would be 10-0 with a 1.25 ERA and a whip of 0.816. And c’mon, everybody gets one.
NL Cy Young: R.A. Dickey, New York Mets
Little could please me more than to announce that R.A. Dickey will be taking home the imaginary trophy for mid-season NL Cy Young. Unless of course you didn’t know the Mets got their first no-hitter this year. Oh, you’d heard? Alright, moving on.
Yes, that’s right! At the tender age of 37, born again knuckleballer R.A. Dickey has become not just an elite pitcher, but the best pitcher in the National League this season, and don’t you dare say otherwise. Dickey has fluttered his way to a 12-1 record, a 2.40 ERA, and a .093 WHIP. That’s not all, he’s got 123 strikeouts in 120 innings pitched and needs to whiff just 11 more batters to match his career high.
Let’s put those numbers in perspective, shall we? Dickey leads the NL in WHIP, wins above replacement, wins, complete games, and games with double digit strikeout totals. He also went a full month without giving up an earned run, and in June, he pitched two consecutive one-hitters.
Now, guys who’ve thrown knucklers have been given plaques in the Hall of Fame (Phil Niekro, Hoyt Wilhelm, Ted Lyons), and one, Dutch Leonard, even started an All-Star Game in 1943 (Dickey should have been the second, but if we walk down that road I’m not sure we’ll come back). But a knuckleballer has never, not once, won a Cy Young, so let’s hope Dickey keeps this up and turns my imaginary trophy into real brass.
AL Rookie of the Year: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
When your MVP is a rookie, it logically follows that he’ll be rookie of the year as well. Mike Trout as AL Rookie of the year is perhaps the only no-brainer on this list. Seriously, it’s not even close.
I’ve already told you all about Trout’s stats and how important he is to his team, so instead let’s discuss something else: the rarity of a player winning both the MVP and Rookie of the year in the same season. If this were to happen to Trout (which it probably won’t, but these are the mid-season awards damn it), he’d be just the third man to accomplish the feat. Only Fred Lynn (1975) and Ichiro Suzuki (2001) have done it before. And Ichiro wasn’t really a rookie, the dude was 27 and already had nearly a decade of professional baseball under his belt when he showed up stateside.
NL Rookie of the Year: Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
You could certainly make the case for Diamonbacks lefty Wade Miley and his 9-5 record, 3.04 ERA, 1.09 WHIP, and 70 strikeouts, but weighing the pros and cons of this one always leaves me centered on one thing: Bryce Harper is 19 years old. Did that not hit you hard enough? How about this? Bryce Harper was born in 1992. Yep, that did it.
Sure, Miley is having a great year for any pitcher, let alone a rookie, but he’s doing it at age 25, right around the time pitchers are supposed to be coming into their own. But again, Harper is 19, and statistics indicate hitters peak between the ages of 27 and 29. He’s only going to improve over the next 8-10 years, likely bringing a good deal of woe to my Mets while he’s at it, but for now we’ve got to just stand in awe at the single best teenage player in Major League history.
Yeah, I said it. Harper is hitting .282 with 8 homers, 10 stolen bases, 25 RBI, and 43 runs scored in 63 games. Only two players in history have equaled or surpassed Harper’s .282/.354/.472/.826 line while still in their teenage years. They were Mel Ott (a future hall of famer) in 1928 and Tony Conigliaro in 1964. But neither was led a first place team in both average and on-base percentage, as Harper does with the Nationals, nor were they asked to routinely play a position entirely foreign to them before getting to the bigs, as Harper does in center field.
A knuckleballer has never won a Cy Young and a teenager has never been rookie of the year, but if things keep going as they have been, both those things are going to change.
Follow the writer on Twitter @NateKreichman.