With the American League’s win over the National League in the All-Star Game and the second half of the season underway, it’s time to take a step back and hand out the unofficial Bronx Pinstripes first half awards and forecast who will win the awards at year end.
Rookie of the Year Award
Is there really any debate about this one? Whereas Gary Sanchez didn’t play enough games (in the voter’s eyes) to beat out the Tigers’ Michael Fulmer for AL Rookie of the Year last year, Aaron Judge breezed to this writer’s 1st half top rookie award.
Judge entered the All-Star break with a .329/.448/.834 slash line. That’s right, his .834 slugging percentage was higher than most players’ on-base percentage + slugging percentage (OPS). Fans and the media quickly associated Judge with home runs (a Major League-leading 30) but he also banged out 13 doubles and three triples. With such a batting average and on-base percentage, Judge’s 109 strikeouts can be overlooked. Oh, and he stole six bases.
“His Honor” has already collected 99 hits and drew 61 walks in 84 games played, 82 of which he started.To top things off, he covers a ton of ground in right field and has a laser for an arm. No one expected this kind of a season based on Judge’s short MLB performance last season
Add in the unofficial title of Home Run Derby King earned at this year’s All-Star festivities and it’s easy to see why Judge is the clear front-runner to capture the season-end 2017 AL Rookie of the Year Award.
Remainder of the AL Rookie Field
Andrew Benintendi: Prior to this season, the Red Sox outfielder was ranked as the #1 or #2 prospect in baseball, with the Yankees’ Glebyer Torres grabbing some of the top spots. If not for Judge’s first half, the left fielder (he’s also seen time in center field) would have garnered much more of the sports world’s attention. The Boston rookie survived a slump in May to enter the break with an .803 OPS, 12 HR, and 51 RBI.
Benintendi, a tremendous five-tool talent, collected nine stolen bases, 13 doubles, a triple, and 88 hits. His numbers are slightly better on the road but since Fenway Park favors right-handed hitters, that’s not all that surprising. A 25-30 HR, 90 – 100 RBI season is not a stretch.
Yuli Gurriel: The Houston Astros’ rookie has adapted well to playing in the states after coming over from his native Cuba. He’s also made a smooth move from the hot corner to first base. Gurriel hit .297 in the first half with an .813 OPS. He collected 11 HR and 24 doubles and drove in 44 runs. His batting average on balls in play (baBIP) was .306 and he struck out just 37 times in 308 plate appearances.
Jordan Montgomery: Judge’s teammate has been a pleasant surprise for the Yankees this season. His ERA was nearly identical at home and on the road but his strikeout to walk ratio (4.0) was much better at Yankee Stadium. Montgomery has been especially tough with runners in scoring position (RISP). He held opponents to a .585 OPS with RISP and .567 with RISP and two outs.
Jacob Faria: The Tampa Bay Rays organization pumps out pitchers the way Exxon pumps out gasoline. Faria wasn’t expected to make his debut in the first half of the season but injuries and poor performances necessitated his arrival. So far, the move has paid big dividends.
In his six first half starts, Faria held opponents to a .203 batting average and a .562 OPS. He averaged 8.7K / 9 IP while allowing nine walks and 28 hits in 38.1 innings pitched (a 0.935 WHIP). Faria allowed one earned run in four of his starts, two earned runs once, and three earned runs one time. He’ll be very interesting to watch in the second half.
Another to watch: Blue Jays reliever Danny Barnes
Cody Bellinger has been around baseball all his life. His Dad, Clay, played for the Yankees and coached his son in the Little League World Series. Now, Bellinger is one of the reasons the LA Dodgers are having a remarkable season.
The Dodgers selected Bellinger in the 4th round of the 2013 MLB Amateur Draft. He hit 30 home runs in Advanced-A ball two years ago and smacked a combined 26 home runs at two levels last season. This year, he already hit 26 off of Major League pitching (one after the break).
Bellinger hit .261 with 85 strikeouts in the first half of the season…and you can throw those numbers out the window, because he had a .342 OBP and a .619 slugging percentage. Add in 15 doubles, a triple, and five steals in six attempts and you see why the fans are raving about him.
He ran away with the NL 1st half Bronx Pinstripes Rookie of the Year Award.
Remainder of the NL Rookie Field
None of the other National League rookie hitters have numbers that stand up to Bellinger’s. That being said, these are the best of the rest:
Josh Bell: 35 of the the Pirates’ first baseman’s 72 first-half hits went for extra bases, which gave him a nice .472 slugging percentage. His 36 walks helped to offset a .239 average and 65 strikeouts in 301 at-bats. His 16 home runs were second among NL rookies as were his 44 RBI.
Jesus Aguilar: The Brewers’ rookie compiled an .891 first-half OPS, the third best among NL rookies. He produced nine HR, 13 doubles, and a pair of triples en route to a .294 batting average and .558 slugging percentage.
Aguilar is an aggressive hitter – he walked just 14 times in the first half and struck out 56 times in 170 at-bats.
Kyle Freeland: The starter is one of three rookies in the Rockies’ rotation. He gets the runner-up spot to Bellinger after a first half in which he went 9-7, 3.77. Freeland pitches in one of the best-hitting ballparks, but his ERA at home (3.23) was even better than on the road (4.12). Freeland’s numbers are even better, considering he strikes out hitters at a mere 5.5 K/9 IP. Walks are an issue – 41 allowed in 107.1 IP – and he had a .293 baBIP against him.
Most Valuable Player Award
This is a much tougher call than the top rookie prize. You’re not only examining the player’s statistics but how his team is doing as well. The Houston Astros are looking more and more like the 2016 Chicago Cubs. The team entered the break with the best record in the AL, and they have a number of young, extremely talented players.
Springer, the Astros lead-off hitter, led the team at the break with 27 home runs, 61 RBI, 76 RBI and a .993 OPS. Springer’s been great at home but he’s put together a split of .337/.402/.663 on the road. The right-handed hitter has destroyed left-handed pitching, though 18 of his 27 home runs have come against right-handers.
A few more numbers to throw out there: Springer has a .339 baBIP, hits .308 with RISP, and .449 with RISP and two outs. How hot has Springer been? Consider the fact that he had just 16 hits in his first 70 at-bats (.229) this year. There are plenty of Astros that could garner the award, but in my view, Springer is the first-half AL MVP.
Remainder of the AL MVP Field
Aaron Judge: The Yankees right-fielder isn’t surrounded by the type of talent Springer has, but he did plenty with his bat and glove to keep the Yankees above their expected 2017 level of play.
Carlos Correa: Another Astro having an outstanding season. The third-year shortstop’s numbers weren’t far off of Springer’s first half totals – a .979 OPS with 20 HR, 65 RBI, and 62 runs scored. (Unfortunately, Correa’s chances for the year-end award became slim when he tore ligaments in his thumb on Monday. He’ll be out 6-8 weeks).
Miguel Sano: The Minnesota Twins third baseman had a breakout first half in his third season in the big leagues. The runner-up to Judge in the HR Derby, Sano led a surprisingly good Twins team with 21 HR and 62 RBI. Though the Twins faded in the latter part of the first half, Sano kept on slugging.
The Dodgers were 30-20 after their first 50 games and then went on a torrid streak in which they won 31 of 40. A lot of that credit goes to the Dodgers’ pitching, which is lead by ace Clayton Kershaw and #2 starter Alex Wood. The two were a combined 24-2 going into the break. Kenley Jansen was nearly unhittable in his role as closer.
But, Bellinger’s recall came at a time when the Dodgers were 10-11, including 6-11 when Kershaw wasn’t the starter. Bellinger’s offense infused life into the team – Yasiel Puig has begun to hit like his former self, and Justin Turner has been tearing the cover off the ball.
In energizing the team, Bellinger takes home the Bronx Pinstripes NL MVP Award for the first half.
Remainder of the NL MVP Field
Travis Shaw: The Milwaukee Brewer third baseman got off to a red hot start with the Red Sox last season before a monumental slump pushed him out of the lineup. The Red Sox then dealt him to Milwaukee in the offseason for reliever Tyler Thornburg. The deal backfired when Thornburg had season-ending thoracic outlet surgery in June, without ever having thrown a pitch for Boston.
Meanwhile, Shaw has already surpassed his 2016 numbers with a first half that was All-Star worthy. He pounded 19 home runs, drove home 65 runs, and put together a .299/.367/.570 slash line leading up to the break. He’s a prime reason Milwaukee led the defending World Series champion Cubs in the NL Central.
Bryce Harper, Ryan Zimmerman, and Daniel Murphy: Take your pick between the Washington Nationals teammates. Harper, the NL MVP two years ago, produced 20 HR, 65 RBI, and a .325/.431/.590 split. Zimmerman, healthy for the first time in years, hit 19 home runs, drove in 63 runs, and had a .969 OPS. Murphy’s first half included 64 RBI, a .342 batting average, and a .966 OPS.
Also in the mix – Kershaw; he allowed less than three earned runs in 15 of his 19 starts.
Cy Young Award
The southpaw started games in the first half and won 11 of 15 decisions. He posted a 2.75 ERA, struck out 178 batters in 127.2 innings (12.5 K/9 IP), held batters to a .562 OPS, and allowed less than one hit + walk per nine innings pitched. Sale struck out 10 or more batters in 12 of his 18 starts and had an eight-game streak in which he reached double figures.
Most remarkable of all is Sale’s ERA split between right-handed hitter-friendly Fenway Park and games on the road. His ERA is a full point lower at home – a mere 2.07. Sale breezed to the Bronx Pinstripes first-half AL Cy Young Award.
Remainder of the AL Cy Young Field
Corey Kluber: The Indians’ ace finished the first half with a 7-3 mark, a 2.80 ERA, and a stint on the DL. He still managed to make 14 starts, averaged 11.9 K/9 IP and had a 0.986 WHIP. Two of his wins were complete-game shutouts.
Craig Kimbrel: The Red Sox closer had a stellar first half, recording 23 saves, and entered the break with a streak of 29 consecutive saves (over 2016-2017) at Fenway Park. He recorded 68 strikeouts (16 K/9 IP) and walked just five batters. Batters were held to a ridiculously low .181 slugging percentage.
Clayton Kershaw: Now in his 10th season, the Dodgers’ ace continues to live up to his hype. He was 14-2 in 19 first-half starts, averaging just under seven innings per outing. Opponents were held to a .195 batting average and Kershaw’s road ERA was under 2.00. He continues to amaze and will figure in the NL MVP race if the Dodgers continue to play at an extremely high level. But, there’s no question he is the Bronx Pinstripes 1st half NL Cy Young winner.
Remainder of the NL Cy Young Field
Alex Wood: Kershaw’s teammate might steal some of his thunder. In a breakout season, Wood finished the first half with a .167 ERA in 13 starts and a pair of relief appearances. He averaged 10.8 K/9 IP (the same as Kershaw), held hitters to a .174 batting average, and allowed just two home runs in 80.2 innings pitched. He posted a 0.893 WHIP and allowed only 5o hits.
Max Scherzer: The Nationals’ hard-throwing right-hander is an innings eater – he averaged better than 7 IP before the break. He also averaged 12.1 K/9 IP in 18 starts and struck out 10 or more batters 11 times. He was especially dominant on the road where he posted a 1.46 ERA. Overall, Scherzer finished the first half 10-5, 2.18 with a 0.779 WHIP.