Around The Bases Vol XI: Mid Season Awards

albertpujols_2006_homerun_002What a first half it’s been. We’ve had two of the game’s biggest names show up in the news for Performance Enhancing Drugs, (Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez), we’ve had one of the game’s greatest lefties of all time notch his 300th win, and we’ve seen one of the greatest closers in history notch his 500th save. We saw 2 runners steal home within 2 weeks of each other, and we saw a player go back to his roots and get a very touching, long standing ovation by the home crowd.

We’ve seen two brand new parks open, both by New York teams, by the way, and with that, we’ve seen more home runs ever hit in a ballpark over a 20, 25, or even 30 game period. And until they figure out exactly why the balls fly out of the new Yankee Stadium like the wind tunnel in right field was actually designed for that to happen (yeah, that’s what they say, and that’s great for the Yankees, but did the designers forget that the visitors get to bat too?), we’re likely to see even more records like this broken.

We’ve watched great hitters stop hitting (Vlad Guerrero and David Ortiz combined for 2 HR by June 1st), and we’ve seen great pitchers get lit up and we’ve seen one future Hall of Famer in a new uniform for the first time in over 20 years. We also just saw our first no-hitter of the season (Giant’s Jonathon Sanchez against the Padres, coming within a throwing error by his shortstop of a perfect game).
And all that in one half of a season. I can’t wait to see what the 2nd half brings us.

Meanwhile, in true Around the Bases tradition, we will now take a look at our very own fourth annual Mid-Season Awards:

American League Rookie of the Year:
This season, unlike seasons past, we actually have very few to choose from for this category. There was hope early on that Rangers’ shortstop Elvis Andrus (3 HR, 15 RBI, .253 avg) would be as advertised. Hell, Michael Young even had to learn to play a new position to make room for him, but so far, no. So, we’re going to give this first half award to Orioles’ left fielder Nolan Reimold. Reimold leads all AL rookies in HR (9) and RBI (23), with only 171 at bats under his belt.

National League Rookie of the Year:
There is no rookie in all of baseball who is playing better than St. Louis Cardinals center fielder Cody Rasmus. He is leading all rookies in HR (11), RBI (34), hits (75), runs (46), and nearly every other offensive category.

American League Manager of the Year
It’s hard not to give this to Mike Scioscia, manager of the Angels of Southern CA. His team had to deal with the unspeakable, horrible death of a teammate, then, his entire pitching staff was completely decimated with injuries. At one point, they were without John Lackey, Ervin Santana and Kelvim Escobar, at the same time. In May, they posted a 4.59 ERA (10th AL) and went 16-12. In June, they posted a 17-9 record with a 4.62 ERA (12th).

Their run production, meanwhile, has steadily crept up, with 105 in April (9th AL), 128 in May (9th AL), and 148 in June (1st AL). He has still managed to keep winning even with Vlad Guerrero in a season long HR slump.

He’s done it with players like Bobby Abreu. Yeah, Abreu may only has 6 HR, his second worse total at the break in the past 12 seasons (had 5 HR at the break in ’07), but he’s hitting .311, which is his highest average at the half-way mark in the past ten years. And, his strikeouts are way down (53, he has averaged about 66 Ks over the past 11 first half seasons) and his walks are way up (50, compared to 38 at this point last season and 44 the year before).

Scoscia’s Angels will be starting the second half of the season with a 49-37 record, 1.5 games ahead of Texas and 4 games ahead of 3rd place Seattle. That puts them about two spots higher and six games better than I thought they’d be at this point.

National League Manager of the Year
I think I’m going to stay in CA and go with San Francisco’s Bruce Bochy. Is there anyone out there who expected this team to be 10 games over .500 at this point with the 2nd best record in the NL? I didn’t think so. Sure, the Dodgers are in first place in the division, and have the best record in baseball, but what Bochy has done with that team is deserving of some recognition. A year ago today they were 7 games back, but in 3rd place, and they were 15 games under .500. Oh what a difference a year makes.

They’re ranked 13 out of 16 in the NL in both runs scored (368), and RBI (347), and 14th in HR (63), but 5th in batting average (.262). In pitching, they’re ranked 1st in the majors in both ERA (3.51) and strikeouts (694).

Bochy has done it with a lineup of Benji Molina, Travis Ishikawa, Emmanual Burriss, Edgar Rentaria, Pablo Sandoval (who, at .333 is having a career season), and others. On the mound he has the ancient lefty, Randy Johnson, who can still bring the heat and is showing no signs of slowing down, and Tim Lincecum, who looks like he’s 15 and throws like he’s been in the majors for 15 years. Then you can throw in Matt Cain, the aforementioned Jonathon Sanchez, and Barry Zito.

No, this team will probably not win the division, especially with the Dodgers getting Manny Ramirez back, but they are much, much better than anybody thought they would be.

American League Cy Young Award
Between Josh Beckett, Roy Halladay, Zack Greinke, and Justin Verlander, there are a bunch of people that this award could go to. But the first two months of the season, it looked like Greinke was going to have one of those magical, Gibsonesque seasons, you know, the ones that come along about once every quarter century or so. At the end of April, he was 5-0 with a 0.50 ERA. He went 43 innings before he gave up a run. Um, that’s pretty good. Through May 31st, he was 8-1 with a 1.05 ERA. He had given up 10 earned runs, and had an opponent’s batting average near the Mendoza line (.211). His ERA has since ballooned to 2.12, but still ranks first in the AL. His 5 complete games is tops in baseball.

National League Cy Young Award
Like the NL ROY, this is much easier than the AL, this one is going to last season’s Cy Young Award winner, Tim Lincecum, all the way. Amazing to think that this is only his third season in baseball, but it is. He’s 3rd in the league in wins (10), 2nd in ERA (2.33), and leading the league in strikeouts (149), but he’s a big reason that the Giants are where they are right now.

He has tremendous control as well. His 265 Ks last season led the league, as did his 10.5 K/9 IP (the same as this season so far, also leading the league). At the same time, his walks have gone from 84 last season to 34 so far this season. And he doesn’t give up the homer. Last season, he led the league in fewest HR per 9 innings pitched (0.4), and so far this season, it’s even lower (0.3).

American League Most Valuable Player
I don’t know what it is in the AL this season, but like the ROY, and the Cy Young, the MVP could also go to numerous players. The Twins’ Joe Mauer (.373 average, 1st ML)) and Justin Morneau (70 RBI) could get it, as well as Boston’s Jason Bay (72 RBI, 1st AL), and Tampa’s Ben Zobrist.

But you can’t give it to them all, so I’m going to give the award to… Justin Morneau. How can you not? The guy is a legitimate Triple Crown threat. He’s 2nd in RBI (70), tied for 4th in HR (20), and is 7th in batting average (.311). He’s also in the top 5 in slugging (.575) and OPS (.965), and in the top 10 in hits (104) and OBP (.390). He’s just one of the best all-around best players in the game.

National League Most Valuable Player
Is there really any doubt about this one? St. Louis Cardinals’ first baseman Albert Pujols is leading the major leagues in nearly every statistical category. I said a moment ago that Morneau is a legitimate Triple Crown threat, Pujols is a legitimate Triple Crown threat almost every year. This season, his 32 HR, 87 RBI, .723 slugging, 1.179 OPS, .456 OBP, and 71 walks all lead the majors. Oh, and he’s batting .332 (4th NL).

Now that we know that Alex Rodriguez cheated, all we can say about Albert Pujols is, please be clean. This is our last hope, our last chance at what may be our saving grace. He is the first person in baseball history to have 30 or more HR in his first 9 seasons.
There is no reason not to think that he won’t break Barry Bonds’ illegitimate HR record and make it safe to go in the water again. Just please be clean. Pujols has vehemently denied any involvement with any steroid use, and there is no reason to think otherwise. Just please be clean. He has said, even just Monday, that if he is ever caught doing anything, he will give back everything the Cardinals ever gave him. Those are not the words of a cheater.

Every generation, it seems that one comes along. Like the Highlander, it seems there can be only one. There was Ty Cobb, then there was Ted Williams, then there was Joe DiMaggio, then there was Hank Aaron, etc… Now the mantle of baseball greatness gets passed on to Albert Pujols. Just please be clean.