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.
By Seth Needle, Baseball Focus Staff Writer
The National League All Star Team was announced this past weekend and feels very West Coast biased. Somehow the San Francisco Giants have three starters. Sure the team has been incredibly hot as of late, winning eight of their last 13, including four-straight shutouts at one point. But having three starters (possibly four if Matt Cain is given the ball)? Other than first timers Buster Posey and Melky Cabrera, the rest of the starting lineup has been here before – Carlos Beltran leading the way with seven selections. Let’s take a look at who was voted in, and who deserved to start the Midsummer Classic.
See how the fans did with the AL starters here.
Who was voted in: Buster Posey, San Francisco Giants
Who should have been voted in: Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia Phillies
Buster Posey is going to be starting a lot of these games going forward, and yes, he has the stats that would normally earn him this nod (.303 /.370 /.480 along with 10 HR and 42 RBI), but Carlos Ruiz is putting up a monster first half. Entering play Monday night, “Chooch” lead the majors in batting average (.356), was fifth in OPS (1.000) and third in OBP (.420). Ruiz has been one of the few bright spots on a horrid Phillies team thus far in 2012, and simply put, is a lot more deserved to be starting the game than Posey.
Who was voted in: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Who should have been voted in: Votto
The fans got this one right. After signing a massive $250m+ contract in the off season, Votto entered 2012 with bullet on him to prove he’s worth the huge investment from a mid-market team. All he’s done since Opening Day is lead the majors in OBP (.471), OPS (1.103) and doubles (33), while having the second-most walks (60), second-best slugging percentage (.632) and fifth-best average (.350). His Reds are first in the NL Central and he’s an enormous reason why, playing above average first base as well. While his power seems to have slowed recently (14 HR), he’s on pace to shatter his previous best in doubles (40), and his peripherals are way ahead of those he recorded during his MVP campaign in 2010.
Who was voted in: Dan Uggla, Atlanta Braves
Who should have been voted in: Aaron Hill, Arizona Diamondbacks
The starter at second base is a tougher call – though any discussion should definitely not include Dan Uggla. Uggla has struggled mightily so far in 2012, recording the second-most strikeouts in the NL, while slugging only .410, which is where his worth is at. Instead, the race for starting gig at second is almost a virtual tie between Jose Altuve of the Houston Astros (.308/.350/.450) and Aaron Hill (.300/.360/.512). Altuve has been the sparkplug the Astros have sorely needed – scoring 45 runs, recording 89 hits and swiping 12 bases from the leadoff spot. However, Hill has had a historic first half. Recently, he completed his second cycle of the season (only the second player in the modern era to do so). Hill has slugged to the tune of .512 so far in 2012, with a .872 OPS. His 11 HR are most among NL 2B, and his .300 average is second only to Altuve. Hill, while normally inconsistent, was the best second baseman in the NL to begin 2012.
Who was voted in: Pablo Sandoval, San Francisco Giants
Who should have been voted in: David Wright, New York Mets
The fans nearly got this one (W)right. Wright had been leading the race to start the game for weeks before San Francisco fans made up a 450,000 vote discrepancy in the final week to give Kung Fu Panda the nod. In a normal half season, Sandoval would be a fine choice – however, the Panda was sidelined for more than a month with a fractured hamate bone. Wright, meanwhile, continued playing at an elite level. Wright’s .354 average is tied for second-best in the majors, while his 1.006 OPS is fourth-best across both leagues. He leads all NL third basemen in average, OBP, slugging, OPS, hits, doubles, RBI and walks. Sandoval’s stats (.300/.362/.471) are nothing to sneeze at, but Wright has better numbers over more games. He should be starting in Kansas City.
Who was voted in: Rafael Furcal, St. Louis Cardinals
Who should have been voted in: Ian Desmond, Washington Nationals
The battle for starting shortstop in the NL is a difficult one. While no one player owned the field, like Votto or Wright, Desmond was just a cut above. Furcal is simply a recognizable fan favorite, there’s really few other reasons he should be going to Kansas City at all – let alone starting. Desmond has contributed to lead the surprising Nationals to a first-place division finish at the All-Star break, hitting .276 with 13 HR, 43 RBI and 24 doubles. His RBI and doubles totals lead all NL second basemen, while his 89 hits are second only to Starlin Castro. Castro (.292/.315/.422) could have made a case here, but his inconsistent – and sometimes just lazy – play have made him seem more of a liability than budding superstar for the last-place Cubs.
Who was voted in: Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers; Carlos Beltran, St. Louis Cardinals; Melky Cabrera, San Francisco Giants
Who should have been voted in: Beltran; Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies; Ryan Braun, Milwaukee Brewers
Carlos Beltran is the easy pick here – he’s enjoying a small revival in St. Louis, following in the wake of Albert Pujols’ departure. Beltran (.309/.396/.574), now 35, leads all NL OF in RBI (63), is second in HR (20), seventh in average, fourth in OPS (.969) and second in walks (41). His spot is deserved.
Melky Cabrera was another last-second vote in, thanks to the voraciousness of the Giants fan base. However, he is hardly undeserving, leading the majors in hits (111) and is fourth in BA (.352). Furthermore, he’s been able to translate these hits into putting runs on the board, plating 39 runs, while scoring 53 of his own (T-3 among NL OF) and swiping 10 bases (T-13). Kemp (who won’t play) would easily have been one of the justified picks here after lighting the baseball world on fire in April (.417/.490/.893) with 12 HR and 25 RBI, but a bum hamstring has sidelined him pretty much since the beginning of May. A fan favorite pick here for sure, it’s too bad to see Kemp’s season derailed.
As for those most deserving, Carlos Gonzalez and Ryan Braun have been men amongst boys in the National League. Gonzalez’ .338 average is third among NL OF, while Braun’s .310 is sixth. CarGo (.338/.397/.603) will surpass 100 hits to go along with 60+ runs, and 10 SB at the break. Braun’s season has been just as impressive, especially considering his turmoil-ridden offseason and the loss of protection in the lineup when Prince Fielder left for Detroit. Braun has responded with a .310/.391/.601 line with 22 HR (first among NL OF), 55 RBI (tied for third) and 13 SB (12th). CarGo’s 1.000 OPS trails only Andrew McCutchen’s 1.007, and Braun’s .993 mark is good for third. Both players’ teams are vastly underperforming on the season and both are doing it without protection (Troy Tulowitzki has been lost for most of the season with a sports hernia). The NL has a number of very deserving OF enjoying great starts, but Beltran, Gonzalez and Braun should be the picks.
Who should start: R.A. Dickey, New York Mets
While no starter has been announced as of yet, R.A. Dickey HAS to be the choice here. Dickey leads the majors with 12 wins, has a miniscule 0.88 WHIP and 2.15 ERA. He recorded a skein of 44 2/3 innings without allowing an earned run, the longest since Orel Hershiser’s historic run. Dickey has made the Mets, who many believed would be a last-place team, relevant – at least to this point. Matt Cain would also be a fine choice (9-3, 0.95 WHIP, 2.53 ERA), especially considering his utterly dominant perfect game. But still, Dickey should be in line to start for the NL.