The day after the All-Star Break is often seen as the worst day on the sports calendar – none of the four major American sports leagues have a game. But it does offer the rare opportunity on the sports calendar to catch your breath, and before we turn the page to the second-half of the 2019 MLB season, let’s take a look back at the very best performers during the first-half of the campaign.
National League MVP: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
Here’s a reminder – one that’s potentially scary to the rest of the league – Cody Bellinger has a birthday coming up next week, one where he’ll turn just 24. He’s not going to push to hit .400 as it appeared he may do the first six weeks of the 2019 season, but he’s firmly entrenched himself as one of the five best position players in the sport.
In the first-half of the season, Bellinger has probably been the best player in Los Angeles, which is normally a pretty good way to gauge who the best player in baseball has been. Bellinger has been unconscious in the first-half, slashing .341/.437/.701 with 30 home runs, 71 RBIs, 187 weighted runs created and a 5.8 fWAR.
Beyond having a monster offensive season, Bellinger, who broke in the league as a first baseman, has casually become an elite right fielder. Bellinger has 18 defensive runs saved in 2019 and a whopping eight outfield assists. There’s a very real chance he could win a Gold Glove Award, which will likely be an afterthought to some of the other hardware he takes home in 2019.
With that said, it would be a disservice to Christian Yelich, the reigning National League MVP, to rule him out of this discussion. The Milwaukee Brewers slugger is slashing .329/.433/.707 with 31 home runs, 67 RBIs, 19 stolen bases and a 5.0 fWAR. Yelich, who is making all of $9.75 million in 2019, is on pace to top his 2018 season and is beginning to put himself on a Hall of Fame track.
American League MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels
Is there a safer bet in sports than Mike Trout putting up historic production for a middling Angels team?
It’s easy to be lulled to sleep by Trout’s greatness, but important not to fall into that trap. Trout, who will turn 28 next month, already has a full season worth of numbers for any excellent player – he’s slashing .300/.455/.630 with 26 home runs and a 6.0 fWAR. He played in his eighth All-Star Game earlier this week and it’s not a stretch to say that if his career ended today, he would be elected to the Hall of Fame.
Trout has “only” won the American League MVP twice, which doesn’t seem to put into perspective how much better he’s been than any player in the sport this decade. But he’s finished runner-up for the award four times, and has finished in the top five in American League MVP voting in every season of his major league career. That streak appears very unlikely to end in 2019.
The Angels will enter the second-half of the 2019 season at 45-46, in fourth place in the American League West and six-and-a-half games out of the second Wild Card spot in the American League. But they’ve got one of the greatest players in the history of the sport signed through 2030, so they have some time to put a legitimate contending team around him.
National League Cy Young Award: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
If you think that Los Angeles Dodgers LHP Hyun-jin Ryu is the most deserving candidate for this award currently, that’s a fair place to be at. It’s hard to argue with a 1.73 ERA, 2.88 FIP and 3.1 fWAR, and it was cool to see him start the All-Star Game after injuries limited him to just one start between 2015 and 2016.
But a year ago, three-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer had arguably the best season of his career, posting a 2.53 ERA, career-low 2.65 FIP and career-high 7.4 fWAR. If you thought that Scherzer, who is trending towards being a first-ballot Hall of Famer, couldn’t get even better, the first-half of the season didn’t speak well on your ability to assess talent.
The Nationals had a very up-and-down first-half of the season, but they’ll head into the second half of the regular season four games above .500 and in control of the top Wild Card spot in the National League. A large part of that is because Scherzer, who will turn 35 before the July 31 trade deadline, has a 2.30 ERA, 2.01 FIP and 5.5 fWAR. He’s having the type of season where he’ll probably be worthy of finishing in the top 10 in National League MVP voting – if not higher – if he continues to pitch this well.
How much value should be placed on WAR is an interesting discussion where reasonable people could disagree. Certainly, though, it’s a valuable tool. And at the All-Star Break, Scherzer has a 5.5 fWAR. The next closest pitcher in baseball is Texas Rangers RHP Lance Lynn, who is the only other pitcher with an fWAR north of 3.5 The translation? Scherzer is the best pitcher in the sport, and it’s not particularly close.
American League Cy Young Award: Charlie Morton, Tampa Bay Rays
Charlie Morton is the definition of a late-bloomer, one that started to show signs of putting things together in parts of four starts with the Phillies in 2017 before he suffered a season-ending hamstring injury. His two years with the Houston Astros were remarkable – he closed out the 2017 World Series and was an All-Star for the first time in his career in 2018.
And yet, a bulk of the league – the Phillies included – seemingly wasn’t very interested in Morton this past offseason when he was a free-agent. The small-market Tampa Bay Rays – who may have benefited from simply being located in Florida – pounced and signed the 35-year-old to a two-year/$30 million deal and it’s helped them to go 52-39 in the first-half of the season.
In 18 starts, Morton is 9-2 with a 2.36 ERA, 2.88 FIP and a 3.2 fWAR, which is already a career-high. The American League Cy Young Award race isn’t nearly as deep as the National League’s, but at this juncture, Morton has a slight edge on the aforementioned Lynn, free-agent-to-be Gerrit Cole and breakout star Lucas Giolito.
National League Rookie of the Year: Pete Alonso, New York Mets
Although it’s convenient from the Phillies perspective, it’s a shame in a way that the Mets have been such a dumpster fire in the first-half of 2019, because the ineptitude of their organization is overshadowing one of the better rookie seasons of all-time.
Frankly, Alonso is having one of the better power seasons in recent memory. He smashed his 30th home run of the season Sunday off of Aaron Nola, has 68 RBIs and a 3.6 fWAR. What’s crazy is Alonso, 24, may hit over 50 home runs and not finish in the top two in National League MVP voting. Perhaps that speaks to the baseballs being juiced, but it’s pretty remarkable.
Also worth noting is that this isn’t a race that Alonso has locked up. It would be pretty hard to imagine him not winning the award, but despite missing the entire month of May, San Diego Padres shortstop Fernando Tatis Jr. is slashing .327/.393/.620 with 14 home runs, 33 RBIs and a 1.013 OPS. Atlanta Braves rookie RHP Mike Soroko was an All-Star and has a 9-1 record with a 2.42 ERA, 3.09 FIP and 2.3 fWAR. And even Los Angeles Dodgers outfielder Alex Verdugo, who still had his rookie eligibility entering the season, is slashing .299/.347/.487 with nine home runs, 38 RBIs and a 2.1 fWAR.
2019 is shaping up to be one of the best National League Rookie of the Year races ever, with Alonso the midseason favorite to capture the award.
American League Rookie of the Year: Brandon Lowe, Tampa Bay Rays
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. entered the season as the heavy favorite to win this award, but despite a tremendous showing in the Home Run Derby, Guerrero is hitting .249 with eight home runs and 25 RBIs. Guerrero is only 20, and no one’s suggesting he won’t go on to have a tremendous carer. But have his first few months in the major leagues been award worthy? Probably not.
That’s fine, though, because Tampa Bay Rays second baseman Brandon Lowe has had an excellent first-half. The 25-year-old, who went on the injured list with a shin injury prior to the All-Star Break, has slashed .276/.339/.523 with 16 home runs, 49 RBIs and a 2.5 fWAR. Lowe has four defensive runs saved at second base and manager Kevin Cash has occasionally asked him to play elsewhere on the diamond, something that hasn’t affected his offensive performance.
Seattle Mariners DH Daniel Vogelbach has 21 home runs, 51 RBIs and 61 walks, but he plays for a bad team, has a .238 batting average and DHs are often penalized in award voting. Certainly, though, he’s in the discussion for this award.
It is worth pointing out that at least three National League rookies are having better seasons than Lowe, but on a quietly impressive Rays team, Lowe has been very good thus far.
National League Manager of the Year: Dave Roberts, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers employ Clayton Kershaw, Hyun-jin Ryu, Walker Buehler, Kenley Jansen, Cody Bellinger and Justin Turner, among others. They should be a good team. They should be a really good team.
But after losing in the World Series in consecutive seasons, there were some who thought the Dodgers may have missed their window. Instead, the Dodgers were the only team to win 60 games before the All-Star Break, and if they aren’t the altogether World Series favorites, the Dodgers certainly look likely to win their third straight National League pennant.
It’s often difficult to quantify exactly how much of an effect a manager has on a team as talented as the 2019 Dodgers, but it does say something that there doesn’t seem to be even a shred of complacency among a group that has gone to the World Series in back-to-back years and played in the postseason six years straight. That speaks extremely well of the manager, who has his team playing at a .652 clip.
Atlanta Braves skipper Brian Snitker, the reigning winner of the award, is certainly in the running, as the Braves are 54-37. Unlike last year, though, the Braves aren’t an upstart – they are pretty clearly the best team in the National League East, even if that wasn’t the thought at the outset of the season. Unless they pass the Dodgers in wins, something that doesn’t feel especially likely, Snitker appears unlikely to win the award over Roberts.
American League Manager of the Year: Rocco Baldelli, Minnesota Twins
Kevin Cash of the Rays quietly may be the most innovative manager in baseball, and it shows by the fact that the small-market Rays will enter the second-half of the season in control of the top Wild Card spot in the American League. But Cash, along with Texas Rangers manager Chris Woodward, would fall just short on my hypothetical ballot.
Instead, Rocco Baldelli – who, once upon a time, tied Game 5 of the 2008 World Series by hitting a bullet home run – would get the nod.
There was some eye rolling when the Twins came into Citizens Bank Park in April and put up 10 runs in a Friday evening win over the Phillies. While that may have been indicative of how poorly the Phillies have pitched in the first-half of 2019, the Twins have outscored pretty much every team they’ve seen in 2019, as evidenced by their American League leading +116 run differential.
A year ago, the Twins went 78-84 and had six players hit double digit home runs the entire season. This year, they’re 56-33 under their first year manager, and have 10 hitters with double-digit home runs at the All-Star Break. It doesn’t hurt that they added Marwin Gonzalez and Nelson Cruz in the offseason, but it also doesn’t hurt that they added Baldelli at the helm, and he has the team playing on par with the New York Yankees and Houston Astros.
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