Of all the stunning, staggering and stupefying storylines from baseball’s bizarre first half — imagine someone telling you in April that by the time the all-star break came, the Dodgers would be bankrupt, Social Security qualifiers Jack McKeon and Davey Johnson would be back in the dugout after lengthy absences, and the Pittsburgh Pirates would be a game and a half out of first place — the head-spinningest of all might be this:
There is more star power on a list of the worst players in baseball than on a list of the best.
Consider: Any list of baseball’s worst players in the first half must include Adam Dunn (.166 average, 110 strikeouts through Wednesday), Dan Uggla (.183, .256 on-base), Chone Figgins (.183, .475 OPS), Miguel Tejada (.236, three homers), Jayson Werth (.218, .694 OPS), Justin Morneau (.225, .619 OPS), Derrek Lee (.233, .644 OPS) and Hanley Ramirez (.236, .682 OPS). Between them, that octet owns two MVP awards and 19 all-star appearances.
Similarly, a list of the worst pitchers in baseball in the first half might include former all-stars Fausto Carmona (4-10, 5.78 ERA), Bronson Arroyo (5.58, 25 home runs allowed), Javier Vazquez (4-8, 5.64), Ryan Franklin (8.46, 1 for 5 in save opportunities), John Lackey (5-8, 7.47 ERA) and Brian Fuentes (1-8, 5.00).
So, how do those sad lists compare to those of the best-of-the-best in the first half? Read on, as we present our first-half award winners.
AL MVP: Jose Bautista, Blue Jays. With Bautista leading the majors in categories both old-school (28 homers) and new-school (213 adjusted OPS+, 6.1 WAR), the only question here is whether the Blue Jays are enough of a contender to justify this pick under the definition of “value.” Let’s save those debates for after the season and just say Bautista has been the best player in the league in the first half. Runners-up: Adrian Gonzalez (Red Sox), Curtis Granderson (Yankees).
NL MVP: Jose Reyes, Mets. He’s first in batting average (.354), runs (65), hits (124) and triples (15), and second in total bases (185) and offensive WAR (4.7), and is doing it while playing his typically brilliant brand of shortstop and carrying a surprisingly competitive Mets team. Runners-up: Matt Kemp (Dodgers), Lance Berkman (Cardinals).
AL Cy Young: Justin Verlander, Tigers. When a guy is leading the majors in strikeouts (138), innings (143 1/3), WHIP (0.879) and WAR (4.9), he’s the pick. But a special nod must be given to the Angels’ Jered Weaver (1.92 ERA), who is vying to become the first AL’er to post a sub-2.00 ERA since Pedro Martinez in 2000. Runners-up: Weaver, Josh Beckett (Red Sox).
NL Cy Young: Roy Halladay, Phillies. All other things being equal, I go with the eight-inning pitcher over the seven-inning pitcher. And things are quite equal here, with Halladay (11-3, 2.44) trailing others in ERA (Jair Jurrjens, 1.87), wins (Jurrjens, 12), WHIP (Cole Hamels, 0.952) and strikeouts (Clayton Kershaw, 138). But Halladay has more innings (136 1/3) and complete games (six). Runners-up: Jurrjens, Hamels.
AL rookie: Michael Pineda, Mariners. In a rich year for rookie pitchers, he’s been the best, showing up among the league leaders in wins (eight), ERA (2.58), WHIP (1.009), K’s/9 IP (8.833) and WAR (3.1). The staff ace this year in Seattle isn’t Felix Hernandez; it’s this guy. Runners-up: Zach Britton (Orioles), Jeremy Hellickson (Rays).
NL rookie: Craig Kimbrel, Braves. Tough to pick against hometown fave Danny Espinosa, but Kimbrel is one of the top two or three closers in the NL this year. At the very least, he’s the nastiest (his 14.1 K’s/9 IP is tops among all NL relievers), and his 26 saves are tied for the league lead. Runners-up: Espinosa (Nationals), Dillon Gee (Mets).
AL manager: Joe Maddon, Rays. Manny Acta’s Indians remain the best surprise in the league, but even that isn’t as unfathomable as the Rays hanging in contention in the East despite losing almost their entire 2010 bullpen and middle-of-the-order bats Carl Crawford and Carlos Pena. Runners-up: Acta, Joe Girardi (Yankees).
NL manager: Clint Hurdle, Pirates. Apologies to all the other fine contenders out there, but when you take over a team that has suffered 18 straight losing seasons and get them near the division lead as the first half comes to a close, you deserve this award. Runners-up: Kirk Gibson (Diamondbacks), Charlie Manuel (Phillies).