Wow. We're almost at the All-Star break? Already? How'd that happen? I could swear I was just rubbing in my spring training sunscreen application like 20 minutes ago. But if it's true that we've really chugged halfway through this marathon, you know what that means.
It means it's time for our annual midseason awards gala, which once again is being boycotted by Tina Fey, Fay Vincent, Vincent Price, David Price, Price Waterhouse, Tom House, Paul Householder and pretty much the rest of humankind. So I guess I'll just have to present these awards myself. Ready? The envelopes, please.
National League MVP of the half year
With all due appreciation for the awesome and ridiculously underrated Paul Goldschmidt, this was the easiest choice on the whole board. The Nationals without Bryce Harper this year are the Machine without Florence, the E Street Band without Springsteen. No one else in this lineup has an .800 OPS, a slugging percentage more than .435 or even 10 home runs. Anthony Rendon, Jayson Werth and Ryan Zimmerman haven't spent one day together on the field all season -- including spring training. And meanwhile, the friendly neighborhood 22-year-old right fielder is on pace to crank out 48 home runs, 122 walks, 89 extra-base hits and a slash line of .343/.471/.709. That would merely go down as the greatest season by a player this young in baseball history. Even if we lower some of those bars, just one player in history has ever hit .330 or better, with 40 homers or more, in his age-22 season. That would be Joseph P. DiMaggio Jr. So you know That Year we've been waiting "forever" for Bryce Harper to have? Uh, this is it.
American League MVP of the half year
We knew this would happen one of these seasons, right? Harper and Trout, hogging all the MVP hardware, just the way we envisioned it back when they were called up on the same day in 2012. Except that Harper is only 22. And Trout is still just 23. And we've never had a season -- ever -- in which both leagues' MVPs were as young as these two guys. But we're headed in that direction, all right. Hard as I tried to persuade myself to anoint my preseason MVP pick, Josh Donaldson -- or Miguel Cabrera or Jason Kipnis -- it all comes back to the same undebatable principle: Who's better than Mike Trout? And the answer is still nobody. Donaldson is an energizing force who has changed the face of the Toronto Blue Jays and fills up our defensive highlight reels nightly. But Trout beats him by significant margins in slugging, on-base percentage, OPS, hitting with men in scoring position, production in high-leverage situations, etc. And on the other side of the ball, he plays the heck out of a premium position. So as one friend of mine put it, this is the annual LeBron argument. If you're bored with giving the best player in the sport the MVP every year, then you talk yourself into someone else. Well, sorry. Couldn't do that. Not this year.
NL Least Valuable Player (LVP) of the half year
The Dodgers and Padres have been coexisting, in mutual Southern California bliss, for 46 years now. But to find the last time the Dodgers traded a major league position player to San Diego before they booted Kemp down the freeway last winter, you'd have to go all the way back to April 17, 1969 -- a week and a half into the Padres' first season. Traded by the Dodgers to the Padres that day: a utility guy named Tommy Dean. He went on to hit .176 that year. So judged by that standard, Kemp's first season as a Padre has been awesome. But by just about any other standard, "disaster" would be one fine word that comes to mind. The Padres slapped his portrait on their billboards and tried to sell him as the face of their franchise. Instead, he's turned into the face of their descent into one of 2015's biggest disappointments. At last look, Kemp ranked 142nd in the big leagues, out of 162 hitters who qualify for the batting title, in OPS (.649), 133rd in slugging (.367) and 149th in on-base percentage (.281). And amazingly, he's been even worse away from Petco Park (.231/.272/.363) than he's been at home (.255/.293/.373). But the bad news is, the Padres gave up an All-Star catcher (Yasmani Grandal) to get him. And the really bad news is, the Dodgers were paying all but $3 million of his salary this year. But the Padres are on the hook for $72 million from here on out -- through 2019. Wow. Almost enough to make them miss Tommy Dean.
AL LVP of the half year
We all knew Robbie Cano's beautiful 10-year, $240 million arrangement with the Mariners wasn't going to have a happily-ever-after ending. But if you saw this man as an LVP candidate in Year 2 of this deal, you definitely have more extrasensory powers than I do. Well, halfway through this stunningly mediocre season, the face of this franchise has hit exactly six home runs. And he owns a .292 on-base percentage and a .666 OPS -- which is 200 points lower than his average OPS in pinstripes, in case you were wondering. I suppose Safeco Field, his parasite/acid-reflux issues and lousy batting average on balls in play luck might have something to do with that. But this is about expectations. And disappointment. And Cano and his team are the kings of not living up to any of their spectacular expectations. We've heard way too many scouts and opponents talk about all the at-bats Cano has given away this season. And the fact that he's already struck out nearly as many times (61) as he did all last season (67), while walking just 17 times, tells us that isn't just Cano-hater talk. He's slugging .284 against left-handers and .337 away from Safeco. He's gone .218/.273/.256 with runners in scoring position. And his offensive winning percentage is a shocking .364, meaning a lineup of all Robbie Canos would go 59-103. He was brought to Seattle to be The Man. Instead, he's been the LVP. Who knew!
NL Cy Young of the half year
I can't believe I'm picking against a guy with the Maddux-esque ERA of 1.39 in this category -- especially when that guy (Zack Greinke) has a Cy Young trophy of his own lying around the old den. But the truth is, Cy Scherzer has outpitched Cy Greinke this year, no matter what the ERAs say. Scherzer has a better WHIP, a better strikeout ratio, a better fielding independent pitching, a lower opponent average and one of the four best strikeout-to-walk ratios (143-to-14, or 10.21-to-1) in the history of ratios. He's thrown a no-hitter. He just missed throwing two in a row. And he's overmatching even the best hitters alive. Opposing cleanup men are 8-for-52 (.154) against him, with no walks and 16 strikeouts. Opposing 3-4-5 hitters are 25-for-152 (.164), with two walks and 44 strikeouts. And on the rare occasions when someone actually reaches third base, he doesn't seem real anxious to let them score. (Hitters in those spots: 5-for-30, with 15 strikeouts, one walk and one extra-base hit.) So feel free to get back to me in 2028. But at the moment, Max Scherzer is making that $210 million the Nationals are paying him look almost sane. And who thought that was even possible?
AL Cy Young of the half year
Every year, there's one award like this, one that wakes me up at 4 a.m. and ping-pongs around my brain when I'm supposed to be dreaming of beaches in Maui or something. I don't know how anyone can fairly separate Keuchel, Chris Archer, Sonny Gray and Chris Sale. Gray has the best ERA. Sale has the best WHIP and strikeout ratio. Archer has the most starts allowing one earned run or none. Keuchel leads them all in wins above replacement. There's not a wrong answer in the bunch. And there's no good way to break the tie. Not with numbers anyway. So how about this for a tiebreaker: Winning. "Go back," said one NL scout, "to the importance of the games. I always feel like the biggest awards should go to guys on winning teams." So if we do that, what do we find? It's Keuchel's team that's in first place. And in six starts against the Angels, Rangers, Royals and Yankees -- the two closest contenders in his division and the two other first-place teams in the AL -- he's 4-0, with a 1.41 ERA. His team is 5-1 in those games. And he's averaged 7⅔ innings in those starts. Beyond that, said the same scout, Keuchel is special because "he does more with what he has than any pitcher in the game. He's a modern-day Tom Glavine. He's the least likely to strike you out. But he's the best pitcher." Yeah, and he's got the best beard, too. Good enough for me!
Apologies to: Archer, Gray, Sale, Wade Davis
NL Cy Yuks of the half year
The Philadelphia Phillies' rotation
A radio buddy of mine in Philly asked this question recently: Do the 2015 Phillies have the worst rotation in baseball history? Well, no, actually. But if you subtract Cole Hamels (which is probably about to happen, now that you mention it), it would be in the argument. This group, minus Hamels, has a 6.02 ERA. Yep, 6.02. (That's 243 earned runs in 367 innings pitched.) So if we were allowed to pretend Hamels didn't work there (and I'm sure he'd love not to), that would rank as the fourth worst by any National League rotation in the live ball era. Only the 1999 Rockies (6.19) and two epically bad Phillies rotations from 1930 (6.15) and 1929 (6.05) would beat it. But let's put that what-if thought aside and just consider what this rotation has done. Eight Phillies starters have allowed the hitters they've faced to rack up an OPS of .878 or higher (meaning they've essentially turned the entire league into Albert Pujols). Hamels and Aaron Harang have combined for 22 quality starts. The other nine starters have a total of 12 -- in 54 starts. And then there's this: Between May 23 and Tuesday night, the Phillies played 40 games. Their starting pitchers went 2-23 in those 40 games. And the only two wins came from (A) a guy who hadn't even won a game (0-6) in Triple-A (Adam Morgan) and (B) a rookie they called up to pitch the second game of a doubleheader (Severino Gonzalez) and sent right down after the game! That, friends, is what you call the epitome of Cy Yukkery.
AL Cy Yuk of the half year
I have to admit I came really close to giving the Red Sox's rotation the same tag-team Cy Yuk I awarded the Phillies. And I have a feeling millions of New Englanders would be onboard. But part of the responsibility of being the world's only Cy Yuk voter involves making the tough decisions. And I'm making the tough call that Porcello has risen above his surroundings to the Cy Yuk pinnacle. Or nadir. Or whatever it is. His 5.90 ERA is threatening to end the 51-year reign of Jack Lamabe (5.90) as the highest single-season ERA in the history of the Red Sox franchise. He has allowed a .297/.343/.466/.809 slash line that is frighteningly close to approximating a whole league of Jose Abreus. His ground-ball rate is at an all-time low. Only one pitcher in the entire AL (Ubaldo Jimenez) has allowed more stolen bases than the 13 he's permitted. And his lack of fastball command is alarming. But not as alarming as the fact that that four-year, $82.5 million extension the Red Sox signed him to this spring hasn't even kicked in yet. Well, it seemed like a good idea at the time.
NL rookie of the half year
If this were, like, 1967, I could pretty much guarantee you Pederson wouldn't win a rookie of the year award, or even a rookie of the half year award. Why? Because his batting average is .228. And there has never, ever been a rookie of the year with a batting average that low. Not unless he was a pitcher, anyway. But nowadays, we've learned to recognize that truth and meaning can be found in other places. So let's zip past Pederson's average, and his 102 strikeouts, and look at his 20 home runs, his .365 on-base percentage, his .853 OPS, his 57 walks. We look at the fact that only five players in the entire NL have seen more pitches. We look at his excellent defense in center field. And what we see is a rookie of the half year kind of guy. Which is impressive because there's a fellow running around Wrigley Field named Kris Bryant who is having the same kind of year -- except with a .275 batting average and eight fewer home run trots. If you asked me to bet which one becomes the bigger star, I think I'd take Bryant. But if you ask me which has had the more productive first half, I think the answer is Pederson. Just barely. That Humberto Quintero-like batting average notwithstanding.
AL rookie of the half year
Look, it's crazy to be picking a 20-year-old kid who has played 28 more big league games than I have as the rookie of the year. But I can't help myself, OK? Carlos Correa is going to win this award in five months. Everyone knows that. He's going to be universally regarded as the best shortstop in the American League within 12 months (if it even takes that long). Astros assistant GM David Stearns described him recently as "the most mature 20-year-old I've ever met in my life." And one longtime exec who just saw him for the first time told me this month: "I think he's a Hall of Fame candidate myself." So -- get the impression people around the game are getting a little excited about him? But here's why: He's the first shortstop since 1900 to hit seven home runs in the first 25 games of his career. He's the first 20-year-old in the live ball era to fire 16 extra-base hits in the first 25 games of his career. He's also a Web Gem waiting to happen at short. And as recently as three days ago, he was leading all American League rookies in wins above replacement already -- after four weeks in the big leagues. So is it ridiculous to hand this half-trophy to a player who just showed up? Of course it is -- unless that player is named Carlos Correa.
NL manager of the half year
Mike Matheny, St. Louis Cardinals
There's no perfect formula called How to Be the Best Team in Baseball. But I'm pretty sure of this: You're not supposed to keep losing your best players and keep winning games. But apparently nobody briefed the Cardinals. And nobody briefed their even-keeled manager on the perils of operating without the Opening Day starter (Adam Wainwright), two more high-end starters (Lance Lynn and Jaime Garcia), the cleanup hitter (Matt Adams), the No. 3 hitter (Matt Holliday) and the center fielder (Jon Jay) for extended periods of time. But this team has lost all those theoretically irreplaceable cogs, tunnel-visioned its way beyond an FBI hacking investigation and never stopped looking like, well, the Cardinals. So I asked Matheny a couple of weeks ago whether he was amazed by that. His reply: "I don't put limits on what we can do. I think it's just that mindset, that we believe we can get better. And if each guy buys into that, we just keep going." But remember this: Nobody buys in unless the manager sells it as eminently buyable. And so far, Mike Matheny has been the salesman -- and manager -- of the year.
Apologies to: Joe Maddon, Matt Williams, Clint Hurdle, Bruce Bochy
AL manager of the half year
A.J. Hinch, Houston Astros
All right, raise your hand if you expected the Astros to have the second-best record in the American League right now. No, not you, Mr. Luhnow. I'm talking about the rest of the planet. There you go. Before the season, 88 ESPN baseball geniuses made their astute predictions for this season. And how many of us picked the Astros to win the AL West? Right. Zero. So there may be many reasons for what's happened since. But don't underestimate the impact of the manager. A.J. Hinch may not have fared real well in his first gig as a big league manager, with the 2009-10 Arizona Diamondbacks. But he's gotten it right with this team. This group needed a leader who had as keen a feel for people as for the data that makes his team's engine hum. And this guy, said one of his cohorts recently, is a "great balance of baseball and analytics, in that order." Which is the reason we're handing him this esteemed half-trophy, over some incredibly formidable competitors.
Apologies to: Kevin Cash, Paul Molitor, Ned Yost, Jeff Banister
Injuries of the half year
First prize: We believe in keeping these injuries clean. But Milwaukee Brewers second baseman Scooter Gennett took that just a little too literally in April. He was taking a shower after a game in Pittsburgh, reached for the body wash and sliced up his hand on the body-wash holder. Hey, at least he came clean about it afterward!
Can't believe it! Literally trying to grab some body wash in the shower (post game in Pittsburgh) and... https://t.co/TO1j6BRuQH— Scooter Gennett (@Sgennett2) April 20, 2015
Second prize: We now know that eating beans is good for you. But beanbag chairs? Not so much. You can ask Oakland A's reliever Fernando Abad. The San Francisco Chronicle's Susan Slusser reports he was trying to ease into one of those beanbag chairs just last week, but the beanbag had other ideas. So Abad didn't stick the landing, hurt his tailbone and was unavailable for several days. Should have sprung for the recliner.
Third prize: Time to stop taking those between-inning, toss-the-ball-around-the-infield routines for granted. A couple of weeks ago, a Taylor Featherston throw went whooshing past the glove of Albert Pujols and conked Robinson Cano on the head. While he was sitting in the dugout. If he and Featherston can't get an Advil endorsement out of that, something has gone totally amiss.
Fourth prize: It's become apparent, as we watched Chris Sale turn into the swing-and-miss champion of the world, that he can't be stopped by mortal men with bats in their hand. So what did stop him this year? His truck, of course. He missed his regularly scheduled Opening Day start because he was unloading the back of that truck in spring training, landed funny and fractured a bone in his foot. Suddenly, we're awash in nostalgia for Jeff Kent.
Fifth prize (tie): As long as we're delving all the way back to spring training, can't overlook (A) Corey Hart cutting his foot trying to get into a hot tub and (B) Kevin Pillar straining his oblique -- by sneezing. And gesundheit to you, too.