By Seth Needle, Baseball Focus Staff Writer
The NL was full of first-half surprises and new heroes. Yearly MVP candidates such as Ryan Howard (injury) and Albert Pujols (new league) aren’t a factor this year and have cleared the way for exciting new talent. There have also been big-time disappointments that garnered our LVP awards. Read through the full list below and our AL awards here.
MVP – Andrew McCutchen, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pittsburgh Pirates are your NL Central leaders heading into the All Star Break, 11 games over .500. The last time the team lead at the break? 1997. The last time they had won at least 11 more games than they’ve lost this late in a season? 1992. Along with a revitalized pitching staff, McCutchen is a major reason for this development. The slugging center fielder leads the majors in batting average at .362, leads the NL in slugging (.625), is second in hits (112), OPS (1.039), third in OBP (.441), RBI (60), and runs scored (58), and fourth in HR (18). The Pirates have scored 345 runs on the season – between McCutchen’s runs scored and driven in, he represents nearly 35 percent of this figure. His 14 stolen bases aren’t too shabby, either. Simply put, he’s been a wrecking ball offensively so far in the first half. Along with his lock-down defense in center, he has his perennial-cellar-dwelling team in first place and is the first-half MVP.
Runners up: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds; Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers; David Wright, New York Mets
Cy Young – R.A. Dickey, New York Mets
This is a two-person race – and oh, how close it really is. R.A. Dickey, or Matt Cain? Dickey has a stellar 2.40 ERA, fourth-best in the NL. Cain is at 2.62. Dickey is second in the majors with a 0.93 WHIP – Cain isn’t far behind at 0.96. Dickey has 123 punch outs, Cain 118. Dickey has two shutouts, as does Cain. Dickey has logged 120 innings – Cain 120.1. Dickey pitched 32 2/3 straight scoreless innings and went 42 2/3 without giving up an earned run. Cain pitched quite possibly the greatest game ever, striking out 14 in a perfect game. Dickey spun back-to-back one-hitters. When it comes down to it, Dickey has a better record, going 12-1, to Cain’s 9-3 mark. Only two other pitchers have recorded a similar or better record discrepancy at the break – Ubaldo Jimenez went 15-1 in 2010 and Roger Clemens 12-1 in 2001. As we’ve seen in recent years, wins aren’t a necessity to win the award, but in a race this tight, that might be the only determining factor.
Runner up: Matt Cain, San Francisco Giants
Rookie of the Year – Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Maybe you’ve heard of Mr. Harper? Since coming up at the end of April, Harper has been a spark plug for the Nationals’ offense, hitting 27 extra-base hits, scoring 43 runs and swiping 10 bases. His .282 average, 25 RBIs and .826 OPS lead all rookies, with only Zack Cosart’s 9 HRs better than his eight. Meanwhile, Harper has at least six fewer ABs than any other eligible rookie at the break. His bat, speed and gritty in the field have been major contributors to his team recording the best NL record at the break, as well as their first place finish in the competitive NL East.
Runner up: Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks
Manager of the Year – Davey Johnson, Washington Nationals
As I just explained, the Nationals have the best record in the NL – a full two games better than the Pittsburgh Pirates. Yeah, if you had that as a prediction at the break, raise your hand. Congrats. The Nationals have put together a special first half, boasting the league’s best rotation with an opportunistic offense. And Johnson has been the master behind it all, managing a number of young superstars – the Nationals are the third-youngest team in the majors with an average age of 27.4. The two teams younger than them? The Royals and Astros, currently 9.5 and 15.5 games back in their divisions, respectively. On top of this, Johnson has had to closely watch innings for his young staff – Strasburg especially. In addition to their age, the Nationals have survived long stretches without key components. All Star closer Drew Storen has yet to throw a pitch, slugger Michael Morse missed 50 games to begin the season, while Jayson Werth injured his wrist in early May and hasn’t played since. And yet, the Nationals still lead the NL pack.
Runner up: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates; Terry Collins, New York Mets
Least Valuable Player (Hitter) – Rickie Weeks, Milwaukee Brewers
Entering this year, the Brewers knew they’d have trouble replacing Prince Fielder’s bat after he left for Detroit. Little did they know they’d have to replace their leadoff hitter’s as well. To put it plainly, Weeks has flat-out stunk so far in 2012. After posting a recent three-year average of .257, Weeks failed to break the Mendoza line in the team’s first 85 games. Weeks has had trouble getting on base (.314 OBP), stealing bases (6) and scoring runs (34). To compare his previous three seasons again, his averages for these categories were .352, 13 and 92, respectively. So basically, only his stolen base averages seem to be on par. Worse yet, though, Weeks leads the NL in strikeouts with 100, worse than Dan Uggla or Danny Espinosa. Weeks only struck out 107 times all year in 2011. Yikes.
Runners up: Cameron Maybin, San Diego Padres; Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves
Least Valuable Player (Pitcher) – Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
Yes, somehow the Giants could have the first-half Cy Young and the least valuable pitcher. What the heck has happened to Tim Lincecum (3-10)? Of NL pitchers that qualify, his 6.42 ERA is almost a half run worse than the next pitcher. Of his 18 starts, only four have been quality, while he’s failed to make it to 5 innings four times. In his final two starts of the half, he pitched 6.2 IP giving up 16 hits, 13 ER and striking out just 5. His velocity is down and his control is all over the place. “The Freak” has been just plain terrible so far in 2012, and if he doesn’t improve quickly, he may be looking a 20-loss season in the face.
Runner up: No one’s even close to Lincecum here.