The baseball season is half over, assuming your definition of "half" includes more than half. But it's the All-Star break, baseball's traditional halfway point, so we're treating it as the end of the first half and the beginning of the second half because it's convenient. Convenience, as you're no doubt aware, is the cornerstone of not just great analysis, but great writing.
That means it's time for Sports on Earth's first annual First-Half Awards. These are presented to the players whose performance on and off the field best met the spirit of the award. Now that we are suitably shrouded in both haze and technicality, to present the awards, here are Billy Crystal, Robin Williams, and Whoopi Goldberg!
No, sorry. It's only me.
As is traditional for Sports on Earth's First-Half Awards, I'm eschewing giving out both National and American League awards in favor of just one winner. It's only the first half so you only get half the award winners.
Finalists: Miguel Cabrera, Mike Trout, Chris Davis
… and the award goes to: Miguel Cabrera!
As incredible as Trout is and as amazing as Davis has been, nobody in baseball is Cabrera's equal this season. The Tigers third baseman is out-hitting Trout by a large margin (mostly due to Trout's rough start, since remedied but still included), and though nobody has the home runs that Davis does (37), Cabrera is in a not-too-shabby second place (30). Nobody votes for Cabrera for MVP because of his defense (nor should they), but through the first half at least, Cabrera's offensive edge over his fellow finalists is more than enough to keep him in first when factoring in everything else.
First-Half Least Valuable Player
Finalists: Yuniesky Betancourt, Ike Davis, Jeff Francoeur
…and the award goes to: Jeff Francoeur!
Through the first half, the average right fielder has hit .260/.320/.417. Francoeur has hit .209/.249/.321 with below replacement level base running and lousy defense. That's quite the package. If the goal of baseball were to lose as badly as possible, Francoeur would be in line for a huge contract. Since that isn't the goal, Kansas City released him even though they were still on the hook for the rest of his $6.75 million salary. The Giants have since signed him, so we can assume he'll hit .300 with power and help lead San Francisco to another World Series. Still, through the first half, there isn't anyone who has been as bad as Francoeur.
The Puig Award for the Most Puigable Puiger
Finalists: Yasiel Puig, Yasiel Puig, Yasiel Puig
…and the award goes to: Yasiel Puig!
I've done the research and I can say puigitively that there is no puiger more puig than Yasiel Puig.
The Best Facial Expression After Seeing an Umpire Get Hit in the Junk
Finalists: Meryl Streep, Tim Lincecum, Tom Cruise
…and the award goes to: Tim Linecum!
Lincecum threw a no-hitter. This was amazing for several reasons. It was amazing because it was a no-hitter, and no-hitters are always such an odd confluence of skill and luck. Beyond that it was amazing because Lincecum, the Giants erstwhile ace, did it and he's been kinda awful for the better part of two seasons now. You don't expect anyone to throw a no-hitter, but you really don't expect a bad pitcher to do it.
And still, perhaps the most memorable part of that day was when home plate umpire Mark Wegner took a pitch to his nether regions.
Lincecum seems to say, "Heyoooblooffffeeerrrruhhh" before looking away, which aptly describes the horror that befell Wegner's gentleman parts. So at least for that day, not only was Linecum a great pitcher, but he was a great actor as well.
The Best Strikeout Artist (Non-Pitcher Division)
Finalists: Chris Carter, Chris Carter, Mike Napoli, Chris Carter
…and the award goes to: Chris Carter!
If you pull up any leaderboard and sort the hitters by strikeout rate, many, many players will come up with rates at 100 percent. If you inject a modicum of sanity into the proceedings and require a 100-plate appearance minimum, your leader will be Rick Ankiel who struck out a staggering 44 percent of the time. Ankiel has 136 plate appearances this season, and the Astros and then the Mets dropped him. Both clubs were perhaps wary of infecting the clubhouse with Ankiel's rare disease, the only symptom of which is a momentary blindness when trying to swing at a pitched ball.
No such luck for the Astros, as the next guy on the list is Carter. To date Carter has struck out in 38 percent of his plate appearances. If given a relatively standard 600 plate appearances this season, a number he is on pace to surpass, Carter would strike out 228 times. That would break the all-time record for strikeouts by a hitter, set by the entirely-mortal Mark Reynolds who struck out 223 times for Arizona in 2009.
Whether or not Carter sets the record will probably come down to the end of the season. It'll be close and Carter may have the disadvantage of being removed from the lineup should he get near the record (and let's face it, it's not like the Astros would miss him if he weren't in the lineup for a week). Still, it's a chase that bears watching, if only because what other reason is there to watch the Astros?
Best at Grounding into Double Plays
Finalists: Michael Young, Albert Pujols, Matt Holliday
…and the award goes to: Matt Holliday!
You might think that the contact-happy-but-slow Young or Pujols who, thanks to plantar fasciitis, runs with the foot speed of an adolescent penguin, would hold the lead for grounding into double plays. But as with all sentences set up that way, you'd be wrong. It's in fact Holliday who has grounded into 22 double plays, the most in baseball and four more than the second-place Pujols. That sets up this joke. How slow is Pujols? So slow he can't catch Holliday in grounding into double plays.
I never said it was a funny joke.
Best Performance by a Hitter Who, In Baseball Terms, Should Probably Be Dead
Finalists: Raul Ibanez, Ichiro, David Ortiz
…and the award goes to: David Ortiz!
We know that hitters peak around age 27. Some guys peak slightly later, some slightly earlier, but on average 27 is when a player's physical skills are at their peak. Guess how old Davis is! While you're working on that, let's talk David Ortiz. Ortiz doesn't have 37 homers like Davis and he isn't slugging over .700 like Cabrera (or Davis), but he has similar, if not quite as good stats while seven years older than Cabrera, 10 years older than Davis, and 16 years older than Trout. (Quick Question: How crazy good is Trout? Quick Answer: Very crazy good!) Ortiz has 19 homers, is hitting over .300, has an on-base percentage over .400, and is slugging over .600. That's good for any age, let alone one when many guys have already called it a career.
First-Half Manager of the First Half of the Year
Finalists: Clint Hurdle, John Farrell, Bob Melvin
…and the award goes to: Clint Hurdle!
This award basically goes to the manager of the team that has most exceeded preseason expectations. Why? Because while we can all see the way a manager makes out his lineup and the way he uses his bullpen, beyond that we really have no concept of the on-field effect a manager has on his team. Are the Pirates good because of Hurdle, or were the Pirates going to be good with anybody short of Bobby Valentine at the helm? We don't know. All we know is the Pirates are very good now and they haven't been very good for a long, long time. That alone should be enough for Hurdle to get the award, whether he had a big influence on it or not.
First-Half Rookie of the Year
Finalists: Yasiel Puig, Jose Iglesias, Evan Gattis, Meryl Streep
…and the award goes to: Jose Iglesias!
While it can't be argued that Meryl Streep's performance wasn't excellent, Meryl Streep's performances are always excellent, and also she doesn't play professional baseball. After that, Iglesias gets the nod due to premium defense at both third base and shortstop, a longer track record than Puig, and a shockingly good offensive showing when everyone (rightly) thought his hitting would simply be shockingly offensive. The knock on Iglesias has never been his glove, but many scouts felt he'd never hit enough to warrant regular playing time. This year he's hitting .367/.417/.461 and wonder of wonders, he's playing every day. I'll be the first to tell you he won't keep that up, but it's looking more and more like he'll be able to meet the minimum standard at the plate allowing the Red Sox to keep his glove on the field. That batting line is enough for the award, but if nothing else, his hitting this season is good news for those of us who enjoy great defense.
Best Job of Getting Kicked off a Team
Finalists: Jordany Valdespin, Alfredo Aceves, Yuniesky Betancourt
…and the award goes to: Jordany Valdespin!
Betancourt has tried and tried to get himself kicked off the team, but in retrospect, his mistake is obvious. He hasn't done anything off the field to upset anyone. Oops! Alfredo Aceves managed to get taken off the 40-man roster for some off-field transgression, but nobody knows what it is. That's no fun. Fortunately Valdespin has no such appreciation for subtlety. Keeping in mind this is a family website, I'll just say this: he told Terry Collins, his manager, that Collins likes to draw out chicken by inhaling with his mouth. That in addition to hitting like chicken liquid (whatever that is), was enough to get Valdespin sent back to the minors. OK, yes, technically Valdespin's transgression came about because he was already being sent down to the minors, but that's just a fact that will go away if I ignore it for long enough. Voters never pay attention to detail anyway, a piece of information I look forward to proving when the regular season ends.
Happy second half, everybody!