Raise your hand if you predicted back on April Fools Day…
… That, as the all-star break approaches, the Washington Nationals would have the best record in the National League by a healthy margin…
… That the best pitcher in baseball would be a 37-year-old knuckleballer who entered the season with 41 career wins….
… That the Baltimore Orioles would be in first or second place in the AL East for all but six days in the first half…
… That the Pittsburgh Pirates would own a 10-game lead in the race for best team in Pennsylvania…
… Or that one of the five no-hitters thrown in the first half would be a perfect game by a Chicago White Sox pitcher who has a 6.94 ERA in his other 11 starts.
Yes, it has been that sort of first half in baseball. Projections and predictions are futile, so we won’t even try to guess what will happen in the second half. Instead, let’s take a look at where baseball’s major awards stand at the break (all stats through Thursday):
1. Mike Trout , Angels. This pick passes both the sabermetric test (he has the highest WAR in the AL, per fangraphs.com) and the old-school eye test (the Angels’ fortunes turned almost immediately after they called him up in April). He’s only 20, and was in the minors until late April, but nobody in the league affects games in more ways.
1. Joey Votto , Reds. There’s little question Votto (.345/.464/.619) was the best hitter in the game in the first half. The only room for debate is how much he should be docked for his home stadium, his position or the fact that his team has been unable to pull away in a weak division. The answer here: Not enough to lose the hardware.
AL Cy Young
1. Justin Verlander , Tigers. On the surface, his raw numbers (9-5, 2.58 ERA) appear far less gaudy than last year’s (24-5, 2.40), but look closer and all his rate stats are nearly identical. Plus, as always, he leads the league in innings pitched, which in my mind breaks all ties.
NL Cy Young
1. R.A. Dickey , Mets. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the narrative of the eccentric knuckleballer/author/mountain climber. But this honor was earned with performance – including a 12-1 record (a .923 winning percentage that would rank third all-time) and 2.40 ERA, plus the league’s best WHIP and highest WAR.
AL Rookie of the Year
1. Mike Trout , Angels. MVP and Rookie of the Year in the same season? It wouldn’t be unprecedented – Fred Lynn did it in 1975, and Ichiro Suzuki in 2001. But they were 23 and 27 years old, respectively, while Trout is just 20. Are you beginning to understand how historic a season this young man is putting up?
NL Rookie of the Year
1. Bryce Harper , Nationals.
There’s a strong case to be made for Arizona LHP Wade Miley (9-5, 3.04 ERA), but the longer Harper (.283/.355/.481) is around, the more it becomes clear he stands alone among NL rookies in terms of impact. We swore off predictions, but here’s one: By the end of the season, this will be Harper in a rout.
AL Manager of the Year
1. Buck Showalter, Orioles. The AL East remains the toughest division in baseball, and logic tells us the Orioles have no business being anywhere near its summit. But here they are, just past the midpoint of the season, stalking the Yankees and angling for both their first playoff appearance and winning season since 1997.
2. Robin Ventura, White Sox, 3. Joe Maddon, Rays.
NL Manager of the Year
1. Davey Johnson, Nationals. Whether he’s taking on rival managers (his pine tar dust-up with Tampa Bay’s Joe Maddon), figuring out ways to plug injury-related holes, or easing Bryce Harper into the top half of the lineup, Johnson has pushed all the right buttons.
2. Terry Collins, Mets, 3. Clint Hurdle, Pirates.