Baseball’s Best Of The First Half
Wednesday - July 09, 2008
It’s the halfway point of the baseball season and time for the usual mid-season awards. God save us from irrelevance. All stats as of July 3.
Managers of the Year
Baseball and the state of Florida go together like chewing tobacco and Pastelitos. With a combined home attendance that would rank 11th in the Major Leagues, the Tampa Bay Rays and Florida Marlins are the least seen biggest surprise stories of the year - minus the Mets’ 3 a.m. firing of manager Willie Randolph. Joe Maddon’s Rays have pulled the worst-to-first turnaround and have proved with a three-game sweep of Boston, that they are no streaky team days away from a second-half collapse. Tampa is led by its pitchers, who are fourth in ERA, third in WHIP and fifth in saves. For a team that has averaged 63 wins over the last six seasons, it’s a near miracle. Florida’s about-face is nearly as impressive. The Marlins finished the 2007 campaign 20 games below .500 and survived the loss of their best player, Miguel Cabrera, and all-time winningest pitcher, Dontrelle Willis. Manager Fredi Gonzalez has kept pressure on the Phillies with a pitching staff boasting the league’s third-worst team ERA and a team batting average ranked No. 11.
AL Rookie of the Year
With 15 home runs and a name strangely similar to the San Antonio Spurs’ most photographed season ticket holder, Evan Longoria has been a big part of Tampa’s plan to unseat Boston and New York. And he’s done pretty well. Longoria leads rookies in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS. Boston’s Jacoby Ellsbury has given Boston outfield speed and production at the top of the line-up (55 runs scored, 35 stolen bases) they have been looking for since the departure of Johnny Damon. Joba Chamberlain has done well for himself (2-2, 2.22 ERA in 52.2 innings pitched) but his value has been artificially inflated by typical New York hype. Longoria wins. His team has the best record in baseball and he plays a critical position while taking over for Cabrera.
NL Rookie of the Year
Kosuke Fukudome became a cult hero in Chicago when he hit a game-tying home run in the season opener and a game-winning double two days later. Since then he hasn’t done anything to question that devotion with 56 runs, 52 walks, a .290 batting average and a .397 on-base percentage. Fortunately for the Cubs, Fukudome has gotten help from fellow first-year player Geovany Soto. The 25-year-old catcher has put up the offensive numbers (31 runs scored, 23 doubles, 13 home runs, 50 RBI and a .287 batting average), but it is his ability behind the plate that has really impressed Cubs’ pitchers and manager Lou Pinella. As good as both these players have been, they aren’t team leaders. Jair Jurrjens leads the Braves’ starters in ERA, is tied with Tim Hudson in victories - with three fewer losses - and is second in strikeoutsper-inning.
AL Cy Young
The American League has not had a reliever win the Cy Young since Dennis Eckersley did so with the A’s in 1992. Mariano Rivera could be the next. Although the Bronx Bombers are sitting in third place, seven-and-a-half games behind Tampa, the right-hander is having one of the best seasons of his career. At the break he has 22 saves with a 0.96 ERA and 42 strikeouts against only three walks. Cliff Lee has been nearly perfect (11-1) for the under-achieving Indians and has walked just 17 batters in 111.2 innings. He’s sixth in strikeouts (90), second in ERA and has a batting average against of .236. Justin Duchscherer’s 1.91 ERA is worth mentioning as is Francisco Rodriguez’s 34 saves and 1.93 ERA, but this is a two-horse race with Lee grabbing the lead after registering 29.7 percent of his team’s total victories.
NL Cy Young
Brad Lidge has been the National League version of Mariano Rivera (19 saves, 0.79 ERA), but like his AL counterpart, he’s a third wheel on a twin-tire vehicle. Brandon Webb’s league-leading 12 wins is also worthy of note, but it’s a virtual tie between two good pitchers on two bad baseball teams. Tim Lincecum has won 25 percent of the Giants games, and Edinson Volquez has done the same for the Reds. They occupy the first two National League spots in ERA and strike-outs, have identical WHIPs and have kept opposing hitters near the Mendoza line. Give the nod to Lincecum. He’s won 90 percent of his decisions while playing on a slightly worse club than his nearest competitor.
As the Cy Young awards have come down to two pitchers, the American League MVP is down to two teams - Chicago, with Carlos Quentin and Jermaine Dye, and Texas, with Josh Hamilton, Ian Kinsler and Milton Bradley. Quentin is tied for third in home runs (19) and RBI (61). He is seventh in OPS and runs scored and 11th in slugging percentage. His teammate has matched his home runs, is tied for seventh with 57 RBI, ninth in runs scored and has a .301 batting average. Texas counters with Hamilton joining the 19 home run club while driving in a league-best 82 RBI. Kinsler is No. 1 in runs scored (74), second in batting average (.323) and fourth in stolen bases. Milton Bradley is hitting .320 average with league-topping marks in on-base percentage, slugging and OPS. It’s Kinsler by a nose. The second baseman is the complete player. He hits for average, has speed (23 stolen bases and third in triples), hits for power (27 doubles and 13 home runs) and has even driven in 50 runners from the lead-off spot.
Chipper Jones (.391), Albert Pujols (.348 and 26 strike-outs), Chase Utley (23 home runs, 66 RBI) and Dan Uggla (23, 58) can all make cases for the award that sits firmly on Lance Berkman’s mantle. Houston is five games under .500, and without Berkman they’d be looking up at Pittsburgh. All he has done is lead the league in runs (74), slugging percentage (.692) and OPS (1.140). He is second in doubles (27) and RBI (68), batting average (.358), third in home runs and on-base percentage and has even stolen 12 bases.
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