By Ryan Mayer
The first half of the MLB season is officially in the books as we have hit the All-Star break. Now that the teams have the next four days off – outside of that whole All-Star game thing tonight – let’s take a look back at the first half and hand out awards. Some of these are bound to change based on second half performances or slumps, but for now these are the guys that take home the hardware.
MVP – Clayton Kershaw SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
What? A pitcher? How can someone who only plays once every five days be the most valuable, Ryan? Here’s how. When Kershaw pitches the Dodgers are 14-2 this season. Everybody else? 37-38.
Look, I get the argument against pitchers for this award. But, Kershaw has been next level dominant even for him this season. Before going on the DL with a back injury, Kershaw posted a 1.79 ERA in 121 innings with a strikeout to walk ratio of 16 to 1. No, that last number is not a misprint.
Want to get even more ridiculous? Okay, let’s go.
Kershaw’s ERA+ of 220 is a full 14 points ahead of the next pitcher (Madison Bumgarner). His FIP, which stands for fielding independent pitching and is a good indicator of the areas of the game a pitcher can control, is lower than his ERA at 1.70. That means his ERA is actually slightly above what it would be expected to be based on his performance alone this year.
If Kershaw returns to full health and continues this level of dominance, he should be MVP. Let’s just move on.
Cy Young – Clayton Kershaw SP, Los Angeles Dodgers
One more stat for you just for fun, Kershaw has yet to go less than six innings this season. Even in his “worst” starts he has made it through the 6th and has given up more than two earned runs just twice, which is fewer than the number of shutouts (three) he has this season. Nothing against the other candidates, but c’mon now.
Rookie of the Year – Aledmys Diaz SS, St Louis Cardinals
This award has some strong candidates. Trevor Story looked like the best candidate out of the gate with his prodigious power run. The production has continued with 21 homers but, the .260 average, while respectable, is well behind two of the other leaders. Corey Seager of the Dodgers has been fantastic in his first true rookie season (he was a September call-up last year) posting a .297/.357/.521 slash line with 17 home runs and 42 RBI.
Diaz, though, has been the surprise of the season. He only got his chance because of an injury to Jhonny Peralta in spring training, but he has seized the opportunity and not looked back. Like his fellow shortstop in Seager, Diaz has raked in his debut season posting a .315/.380/.526 slash line with 13 homers and 48 RBI.
You could tell me Seager deserves it more and I wouldn’t argue with you. These guys are neck and neck at the moment for this award and it will be fun to watch in the second half if they both continue to perform at this level.
Manager of the Year – Dusty Baker, Washington Nationals
Yes, yes I know. The Cubs and Giants have a better record than the Nationals (by win%) at the break. Yep, that’s fine and if you want to take Joe Maddon or Bruce Bochy for this spot, go for it. For my money, I’ll go with Baker who has taken a talented Nationals team that was an unmitigated disaster last season and gotten them back on track. The Nationals are six games up on the defending NL-champion Mets and have won nine of the 13 meetings between the two teams this season. Those nine wins against the Metropolitans are one more than the Nats had all of last season (8-11). Baker’s been a steadying influence on this group and it’s showing in their performance so far.
MVP – Jose Altuve 2B, Houston Astros
The diminutive Astros second baseman seems somehow forgotten when we talk about the best players in the game. He’s led the league each of the past two seasons in hits, but, because he doesn’t really hit the long ball (22 combined last two years) he tends to escape the minds of many. Well, Altuve is once again the league leader in hits, but he’s seemingly added power to his game this year as he’s already hit 14 at the break. Combine that with an absurd .341/.413/.542 slash line and you’ve got an MVP. Houston has turned things around in a big way since a slow start to the year and is looking dangerous once again heading to the second half. Altuve is a big reason why.
Cy Young – Danny Salazar SP, Cleveland Indians
The Indians have been the darlings of the American League for the past month now and it’s easy to understand why. They went on a 14-game winning streak and feature the nastiest rotation in the league this side of the Mets (when healthy). The best of their pitchers has been Salazar and oh boy has he been good. He leads the AL in WAR for pitchers (3.8), is 2nd in ERA (2.68), is sixth in strikeouts and owns ERA+ of 171 (3rd). His final first half start against the Yankees notwithstanding, Salazar has been very good for an Indians team that is running away with the AL Central (6.5 games up on Detroit).
Rookie of the Year – Michael Fulmer SP, Detroit Tigers
In case you’re unaware, the youth movement in baseball is real and the rookies are strong in both leagues. Last year’s newcomers were incredible, and this season hasn’t been anything to sneeze at either. There are plenty of good options here for position players with Tyler Naquin, Nomar Mazara and Dae Ho Lee and all three deserve their due. But, Fulmer has been the best player on his team by WAR (3.4) and is one of the better pitchers in the AL with a 2.11 ERA in 76.2 innings and an ERA+ of 200. That’s impressive. Especially when you consider that prior to this season, Fulmer had never pitched above Double-A. He’s come into the break strong winning his last two starts and giving up just one earned run in 13 innings.
Manager of the Year – Jeff Bannister, Texas Rangers
Bannister has led the Rangers to a six-game division lead at the break and a 54-36 record despite the fact that the Rangers have played a ludicrous 64 of their 90 games against teams with records above .500 and they’ve gone 42-22 in those games. Yep, you read that correctly. The Rangers are a full 20 games above .500 against winning teams so far this season. Considering the fact that 71 percent of their games have come against those winning teams, it seems the Rangers are very, very good at beating good opponents, which tends to bode well for you come postseason time. Bannister will have to continue to navigate the injury minefield as Colby Lewis is done for the year and Yu Darvish/Derek Holland are both on the 15-day DL. Could the team fall off? Sure, but right now? Bannister’s my pick.
Ryan Mayer is an Associate Producer for CBS Local Sports. Ryan lives in NY but comes from Philly and life as a Philly sports fan has made him cynical. Anywhere sports are being discussed, that’s where you’ll find him.