The Mid-Season Awards: National League
It’s that time again, as the mid-summer classic brings a much-needed break before we head into the second half of the season. It is always nice at this time to take a quick look at some of the first half accomplishments of the masses. Today, we’ll take a gander at some of my personal favourites from the first half around the National League, followed by the American League on Thursday.
Chase Utley, Philadelphia, 2B: The best in the business at second base has continued his offensive prowess this year and has certainly fulfilled that pre-season top ten ranking. Utley is currently on pace to establish new highs in virtually all offensive categories. Is a 40-homer, 20-stolen base year in the works for 2008?
Hanley Ramirez, Florida, SS: Well, it looks like the shoulder healed just fine this past offseason. A .311 BA with 23 homers, 23 stolen bases and an NL-leading 80 runs scored certainly justifies that top three pick status heading into this year. The Marlins are currently five games over .500 and Ramirez is a big reason for that success.
Ryan Howard, Philadephia, 1B: Okay, the guy can’t hit for average but when you are leading the league in both home runs and RBI, it is certainly something that we can tolerate. Howard has amassed 28 dingers and 84 RBI at the break, demonstrating why he is one of the most feared pure power hitters in the game today.
Lance Berkman, Houston, 1B: The power potential was obvious, but where did those 15 stolen bases come from? Berkman’s previous high was nine, way back in 2004. A .347 BA, 22 homers, 73 RBI and a OPS of 1096 with those surprising thefts, leaves Berkman in a class with very few others this year.
Jose Reyes, New York Mets, SS: The stir that straws the drink for the Mets, Reyes is enjoying a very solid 2008. The power that was missing in 2007 has returned with ten homers to date, and those 32 thefts currently have him sitting in third spot in the NL. The Mets are in a virtual tie for first place in their division, and one of the biggest reasons is the resurgence of a well-rounded Reyes.
Brandon Webb, Arizona, SP: Ranked as one of the top starting pitchers in baseball heading into this year, Webb has done nothing to disappoint in the first half. He is currently the NL leader in wins with 13 at the break. Toss in the fact that he’s also in the top 10 with a 3.23 ERA and 112 strikeouts and you have an elite starting pitcher. If the Diamondbacks are going to be at the top of the heap come October they are going to need more of the same from Webb in the second half.
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco, SP: The kid is for real beyond any shadow of a doubt. Lincecum is currently leading the NL with 135 strikeouts, second with a 2.57 ERA and those 11 wins represent 28 per cent of the total Giant wins this season. For those who believed, the rewards have been huge.
Edinson Volquez, Cincinnati, SP: Volquez was acquired this past off-season for none other than Josh Hamilton. Talk about a win-win trade situation. Volquez broke camp as the fifth starter for the Reds, and has been nothing short of phenomenal this year. Currently, he is sitting with 12 wins, tied for third with 126 strikeouts and leads the NL with a 2.29 ERA. Not too shabby for a guy that went undrafted in most formats this past spring. If you were smart enough to grab him early, I take off my hat to you.
Ben Sheets, Milwaukee, SP: Sheets had a stellar first half. Those ten wins to go along with a 2.85 ERA and 108 strikeouts earned him the start in this year’s All-Star game. Sheets’ skills have never been in question, just the ability to stay healthy long enough to display them. Other than the one scare with triceps tightness in April, Sheets has stayed injury free and is on pace to produce at levels we haven’t seen since 2004. Will this be the year that we actually see 200 innings pitched out of Sheets?
Johan Santana, New York Mets, SP: The only chink in the armor to date has been the rather disappointing lack of wins. Heading into the break with a 2.84 ERA to go along with 114 strikeouts, Santana has adapted to his new league very well. Now if he can get a bit of run support in the second half, both the Mets and your fantasy team will be in very good shape.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Jair Jurrjens, Atlanta, SP: This 22-year-old righthander has been a very pleasant surprise for the struggling Braves. Other than one rough patch at the end of May, Jurrjens has been a very consistent force in the Atlanta rotation. Heading into the break with nine wins, a 3.00 ERA, and 81 strikeouts, Jurrjens has established himself as a solid number two starter on the Braves.
Hiroki Kuroda, Los Angeles, SP: The former starter from the Hiroshima Toyo Carp has fit in very nicely on the west coast. A lack of run support has limited him to just five wins, but his 3.43 ERA and 1.20 WHIP have been very solid. Kuroda bounced back after a two-week stint on the DL because of sore shoulder with that stellar one-hitter on July 7. With a bit of run support, Kuroda could be a big asset down the stretch for the Dodgers.
Geovany Soto, Chicago Cubs, C: Soto has followed up that Pacific Coast League MVP season with a stellar rookie campaign. Currently, he is batting .288 with 16 home runs and 56 RBI and is the front runner in the rookie of the year battle. Manager Lou Pinella has shown an amazing level of confidence in this rookie, going so far as to have him hit in the cleanup slot for the Cubbies.
Kosuke Fukudome, Chicago Cubs, OF: There is always concern when looking at the offensive potential of Japanese players coming to MLB. Fukudome has delivered pretty much as promised for the Cubs. He has batted virtually everywhere in Chicago lineup, but seems to have settled in nicely at the top of the order. His offense has been steady with seven homers, 36 RBI and 59 runs scored in the first half. Toss in the eight stolen bases and the stellar defense and the Cubs have to be very happy with their free-agent acquisition this season.
Joey Votto, Cincinnati, 1B: Thank goodness someone in Cincinnati, namely Dusty Baker, realized that Scott Hatteberg wasn’t the answer. Votto has been very solid with 13 homers and 40 RBI in the first half. The one area of concern to date would be in the area of stolen bases where he only has four this season. With 40 thefts over the past two seasons in the minors, you had every right to expect a bit more. So hopefully Votto posts stolen base totals more in line with his history as he settles into the Red lineup in the second half.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Ryan Ludwick, St. Louis, OF: While it’s hard to say he’s a Comeback Player of the Year candidate (which, by it’s very nature suggests this player was once good), Ludwick certainly deserves a nod as a major surprise. Coming off a solid second half last year, he has built on that momentum with the Cardinals in 2008. With 21 homers and 65 RBI at the midway point, Ludwick has already established career highs. A June slump saw the Cardinals move him into the two slot and he broke out with homers in five out of the seven games leading up to the break. For those that gambled on Ludwick as an end play this spring, the rewards have been huge.
Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs, SP: Last year at this time, Dempster was struggling in his role as the closer for the Cubs. Shifted back into the rotation this season, it’s been a fantastic transition as Dempster has ten wins, a 3.25 ERA and 104 strikeouts so far this year. Where are those strikeouts coming from, not to mention the improved hit rates? He has only allowed 97 hits in 124 2/3 innings pitched this season. Dempster hasn’t posted numbers like we’re currently seeing since that solid 2000 season. The decision to move this Canuck into the rotation and shift Kerry Wood into the closer role has been a huge factor in the Cubs surge to first place this season.
Kerry Wood, Chicago Cubs, RP: Has Wood finally found his niche in life? The oft-injured starter has moved into the bullpen and half way through the year is not only healthy (which is amazing in and of itself), but is also currently just one save behind the NL leader with 24. Heading into the season, the Cub bullpen was a huge question mark, with multiple closing options, but Wood has been a most effective solution.
Ricky Nolasco, Florida, SP: Hopes were very high heading into the 2007 season for Nolasco after a very solid rookie campaign. The inflamed elbow injury cost him virtually all of the last year, but he has rebounded with a great start to 2008. Currently sitting at ten wins with a 3.70 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, Nolasco has become a very solid contributer for an overachieving Marlins team in 2008.
Jason Bay, Pittsburgh, OF: Kudos to the slugging Canuck and those that believed he’s bounce back this season. It would appear that 2007 was an aberration and with 19 HR and 53 RBI to go along with a .287 BA at the break, Bay has rebounded with a vengeance. In 2007, Bay drew 59 walks in 538 at bats. This year, he’s already at 56 walks in only 341 at bats. Rediscovering the strike zone has put Bay on pace for a virtually identical year to his stellar 2006 campaign.
BUST OF THE YEAR
Brett Myers, Philadelphia, SP: At least he’s coming off a quality start heading into the break; too bad it was for Double-A Reading. When you allow 24 homers at the break, it will have a tendency to translate into disappointing numbers. The conversion back to the rotation has not gone well at all, but if Myers can find a way to get the long ball under control, he could be a decent second half option.
Andruw Jones, Los Angeles Dodgers, OF: Jones was signed this past offseason to a two-year deal worth $36.2 million. It’s hard to believe that he is less than two years removed from a 41-homer, 129-RBI season. When you report to camp at a rumoured 240 pounds and follow that up with a .164 BA-, two-homer and ten-RBI first half, one would have to question whether Jones has the motivation to continue playing the game. It would appear that new hitting coach Don Mattingly is going to have his hands full in Los Angeles.
Aaron Harang, Cincinnati, SP: A consensus top 15 starting pitcher heading into the season, Harang has stumbled badly in the first half. A 4.76 ERA and a 1.40 WHIP to go along with that ugly 3-11 record is definitely not what we’d call “ace” calibre numbers. Harang was placed on the DL just prior to the break with a strained forearm and let’s hope the rest allows him to bounce back in the second half.
Troy Tulowitzki, Colorado, SS: For those that invested in Tulowitzki following his tremendous 2007 rookie campaign, odds are pretty good you’re not at the top of your league standings this year. When the stat line reads three homers and 16 RBI combined with a .166 BA, it just doesn’t get much worse.
Chris Young, Arizona, OF: Let’s face it, none of us were really counting on a .300 batting average, but five stolen bases in the first half? When you bat near the Mendoza line you better deliver in those other categories, and so far he simply hasn’t.