Aaron Judge for MVP and Bleacher Report's 2017 Midseason MLB Awards
Roll out the red carpet. Focus the cameras. Ready the champagne. It's time for Bleacher Report's 2017 Midseason Major League Baseball Awards. There's no time like the All-Star break for such a venture, and there are candidates and categories aplenty. There's room for 10 in this space. For both the American League and the National League, the awards will cover: Comeback Player of the Year, Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player. It's a data-rich environment out
Aaron Judge for MVP and Bleacher Report's 2017 Midseason MLB Awards
Roll out the red carpet. Focus the cameras. Ready the champagne.
It's time for Bleacher Report's 2017 Midseason Major League Baseball awards!
There's no time like the All-Star break for such a venture, and there are candidates and categories aplenty. There's room for 10 in this space. For the American League and the National League, it will cover: Comeback Player of the Year, Manager of the Year, Rookie of the Year, Cy Young and Most Valuable Player.
It's a data-rich environment out there, so statistics had a big hand in selecting the winners. But also, a few good, old-fashioned judgement calls were made.
Let's get to it.
AL Comeback Player of the Year: Logan Morrison, Tampa Bay Rays
The heart says Michael Brantley, who's recovered from all sorts of shoulder trouble to hit .304.
But the head says Logan Morrison, who's finally the player he was supposed to be.
Through 85 games with the Tampa Bay Rays, the 29-year-old has a .931 OPS and 24 home runs. He may have been shut out of the All-Star Game, but his 2.9 wins above replacement lead all AL first basemen.
A time traveler from 2011 wouldn't be surprised to hear it. Morrison looked like a breakout star as a 23-year-old that year, hitting 23 bombs with a .787 OPS for the Florida Marlins.
But he devolved into a perennial disappointment between 2012 and 2016, accumulating only 1.1 WAR. Among players who played at least 500 games, only six did worse.
Morrison has always had power. What he needed was the right approach. His career-high 14.5 walk percentage isn't the only testimony for how far his has come.
"One thing about LoMo, you're going to get a really good at-bat," said Rays manager Kevin Cash, per Patrick Donnelly of MLB.com. "He's put himself in some positions to really impact us, from driving guys in and having quality at-bats."
With his mission accomplished, Morrison has gone from one of baseball's worst to one of baseball's best.
Honorable Mentions: Michael Brantley, Justin Smoak, Jason Vargas
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Zack Greinke, Arizona Diamondbacks
Last year was the first of Zack Greinke's $206.5 million contract with the Arizona Diamondbacks. And it went terribly.
Injuries limited him to only 26 starts and 158.2 innings, and he wasn't effective when he could pitch. He posted a 4.37 ERA, his worst since all the way back in 2005.
But so much for any notions that the 33-year-old was on the decline.
Greinke has bounced back with a vengeance, posting a 2.86 ERA over 116.1 innings in 18 starts. His excellent 10.1 strikeouts-per-nine rate and 1.8 walks-per-nine rate equate to a 5.7 strikeout-to-walk ratio. That's his best ever, which is saying something.
Mind you, some of the credit is owed to Arizona's catchers.
Their receiving was a problem in 2016, and a particularly big problem for a command specialist like Greinke. It's since been fixed, much to his delight. His rate of strike calls outside the strike zone has shot back up near where it was in 2015, when he dominated with a 1.66 ERA.
Otherwise, the credit is all Greinke's. He's been healthy and sharp all year. And with more WAR than all but three other NL hurlers, he's reclaimed his place as one of the league's elite pitchers.
Honorable Mentions: Andrew McCutchen, Bryce Harper, Mike Leake, Brandon McCarthy
AL Manager of the Year: Kevin Cash, Tampa Bay Rays
The formula for assessing the Manager of the Year is something like: [Unknown] + ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ = [Result].
But, Kevin Cash is a good pick for the award at the halfway point.
Cash's Rays (47-43) and Joe Girardi's New York Yankees (45-41) are the best of the AL's surprise contenders. But where the Yankees' success is centered around a single player, Cash has squeezed success out of a team effort.
Led by Morrison and Corey Dickerson, the Rays' lineup is populated by surprise success stories from top to bottom. Meanwhile, a resurgent Chris Archer leads a starting rotation that ranks second in the AL in ERA.
What makes this all the more notable is that Cash and the Rays haven't had it easy with injuries. The new 10-day disabled list does muddy the data, but Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times observes: "The DL has thrice been at a team record high-tying 13, with 20 different players serving 23 stints."
All that could have sunk the Rays. Instead, Cash has conducted them into a cohesive unit that's upsetting the presupposed hierarchy of the American League.
Honorable Mentions: Joe Girardi, A.J. Hinch, Paul Molitor, Ned Yost
NL Manager of the Year: Bud Black, Colorado Rockies
Few expected the Diamondbacks (53-36), Milwaukee Brewers (50-41) and Colorado Rockies (52-39) to feature in the NL race like they are. So, credit goes out to Torey Lovullo, Craig Counsell and Bud Black.
But in this race, it's Black by a nose.
Counsell's Brewers have benefited from a weak schedule. Lovullo has had help from superstars like Greinke and Paul Goldschmidt. Black, meanwhile, has mostly had to make do with a mixed bag of a roster.
Kyle Freeland, Tyler Chatwood, Antonio Senzatala, German Marquez and Jeff Hoffman are all 20-somethings who've done strong work. Black, himself a former pitcher and pitching coach, has helped.
"The thing I like about Black is that he understands what it’s like to be a major-league pitcher," writes Patrick Saunders, the Rockies beat writer for the Denver Post, "the ups and downs, the pressures, the breaking point, the desire to carry on. I think that’s been reflected in how Black uses his starters."
Elsewhere, don't forget about the injuries Black's Rockies have had to overcome. They've played much of the year without Ian Desmond, David Dahl and Jon Gray.
Honorable Mentions: Torey Lovullo, Craig Counsell, Dave Roberts
AL Rookie of the Year: Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
Cases don't get more open and shut than this.
If anyone wasn't already gazing in wonder at Aaron Judge, they should be now after seeing him in the Home Run Derby. He not only won it, but put on an other-worldly display of power that included several 500-foot homers. One even went 513 feet.
So it goes for the 25-year-old rookie. He leads the AL with a .448 on-base percentage, and all of MLB in slugging (.691), OPS (1.139), homers (30) and WAR (5.3).
Just from looking at Judge's 6'7", 282-pound frame, it should surprise nobody that extreme power has played a role in his rise to superstardom. What can't get enough attention, however, is his much-improved approach.
His first taste of the majors in 2016 was marred by an awful strikeout habit. He's since cut his K% down from 44 percent to 30 percent. And boosted his walk percentage from 9.5 to 16.7, to boot.
Mike Trout still exists in this universe, so it's hard to say that Judge is on his way to becoming baseball's best player. However, he may already be its biggest star.
Said MLB commissioner Rob Manfred, according to Erik Boland of Newsday: "He is a tremendous talent on the field, a really appealing off-the-field personality, the kind of player that can become the face of the game."
Honorable Mentions: Mitch Haniger, Jordan Montgomery, Guillermo Heredia
NL Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers
The twist here is that WAR actually favors Freeland, whose 3.77 ERA in 107.1 innings for the Rockies has been worth 3.1 WAR.
But, come on. The rookie circuit on the NL side has been the Cody Bellinger show.
He entered 2017 as one of baseball's elite prospects and has looked the part of a future superstar in his 70 games with the Los Angeles Dodgers. Albeit with "only" 2.5 WAR, he has a .961 OPS and 25 homers.
That's already 13 more homers than his father, Clay Bellinger, hit in his four major league seasons. Coincidentally, it's just 13 short of the NL rookie record of 38. Bellinger can smash that if he stays on pace.
That should be doable. Bellinger's raw power was rated as the best of any prospect by MLB.com's Jim Callis. And while the 22-year-old does have a strikeout habit, his solid 11.3 walk percentage reflects an approach that he keeps focused.
Also, keep an eye on Bellinger's place in the NL MVP race. He doesn't loom large now. But since the Dodgers are 52-18 since his call-up, there might just be some kind of magic formula at work that could propel him to a higher standing.
Honorable Mentions: Kyle Freeland, Jesus Aguilar, Ian Happ, Josh Bell
AL Cy Young: Chris Sale, Boston Red Sox
There's a case here for Marcus Stroman or Jason Vargas, who co-lead AL pitchers with 4.0 WAR apiece.
But, nah. This is Chris Sale's, and Chris Sale's alone.
The Boston Red Sox's ace lefty falls a little short in run prevention, as his 2.75 ERA ranks second in the AL behind Vargas. But he leads the AL in innings (127.2) and WHIP (0.90), and all of MLB with 178 strikeouts.
The latter is something of a reversal of fortune for Sale. He had dialed back on the strikeouts for the Chicago White Sox in 2016, lowering his velocity and pitching more to contact. But now he's back to pumping mid-to-high 90s heat and making batters flail at his eletric slider and changeup.
"The numbers speak for themselves. I mean, he's on a historic run here the way he's gone through this first half," said Red Sox manager John Farrell, per Ian Browne of MLB.com.
Even if Sale doesn't get there, there are good odds that he'll end up with more than just a midseason Cy Young award. He's placed in the top six of the voting every year since 2012. It's just a matter of time before he reaches the top.
Honorable Mentions: Marcus Stroman, Jason Vargas, Corey Kluber
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer, Washington Nationals
There's wiggle room for argument with the AL's midseason Cy Young.
The NL's midseason Cy Young? Nope. Max Scherzer won't allow it.
There aren't many categories that the Washington Nationals ace isn't dominating. But for a small taste, he leads MLB in ERA (2.10), WHIP (0.78) and WAR (4.8) and the NL in strikeouts (173).
Even relative to Sale, Scherzer's dominance is something to behold. That shows in the OPS hitters have against the two of them:
- Scherzer: .514 OPS
- Sale: .562 OPS
Scherzer had made four straight All-Star teams and won two Cy Youngs prior to this season, so it's no surprise that he's dominating.
This degree of dominance is something else, though. Even if one doesn't buy the affirmative side of the debate, Scherzer vs. Clayton Kershaw has indeed become a debate.
And if nothing else, this season is further making his $210 million contract with the Nationals look like a steal.
“He’s a bargain right now,” said teammate Ryan Zimmerman, per Barry Svrluga of the Washington Post.
Honorable Mentions: Clayton Kershaw, Zack Greinke, Robbie Ray, Gio Gonzalez
AL MVP: Aaron Judge, New York Yankees
Way back when, there was a reference that "the Yankees' success is centered around a single player."
Meet the single player.
Judge has obviously been great, but what shouldn't be overlooked is how consistent he's been. Break his season up into 10-game samples, and it's remarkable how rarely his OPS has fallen below 1.000 at any given moment.
Judge has thus been exactly the kind of star any team could ask for: explosive and reliable.
For their part, the Yankees started off as explosive but have since become unreliable. If that could happen with Judge, it's all too easy to ask where they'd be without him.
Take him out of the equation, and the team's OPS would drop from a solid .794 to a less solid .754. He's also a capable right fielder, so their defense would also suffer. Between these two things, it's reasonable to conclude that the Yankees wouldn't even be over .500 without Judge.
He's an ideal MVP candidate based on his production alone. Factor in how large he looms within his team, and all the boxes are checked.
Honorable Mentions: Carlos Correa, Jose Altuve, Chris Sale
NL MVP: Paul Goldschmidt, Arizona Diamondbacks
In lieu of an easy, Judge-like choice for the NL's midseason MVP, it goes to Paul Goldschmidt for being just good enough.
This isn't to suggest there are quibbles with the season he's having. Far from it. He has a 1.005 OPS, 20 homers and 13 stolen bases. He has a shot at a 30-30 season, which isn't something you see every season from a first baseman. To boot, he's a heck of a defender.
The only tricky part is that Goldschmidt doesn't outpace the competition in the oh-so-important WAR race. In fact, it's tight:
There is a case for Scherzer, but a pitcher should be putting everyone else to even more shame than that to earn MVP honors. There are cases for Justin Turner and Anthony Rendon as well, but both have the benefit of playing on loaded teams.
That's what separates Goldschmidt. The D-Backs have been great, but they are a house of cards on the offensive side. Remove Goldschmidt, and their list of quality hitters gets thin.
Honorable Mentions: Max Scherzer, Justin Turner, Anthony Rendon, Bryce Harper, Nolan Arenado