Posted by: mdegeorge | July 14, 2011

American League Midseason Diagnosis

The All-Star Game is in the books, the divots left by Heath Bell’s rotund sliding entry in Chase Field have been filled and Major Leaguers are ready to get back at it after a brief hiatus in the grind that is the season.

But before the second half of the season and the stretch drive to the playoffs kicks off, we’ve got some awards to hand out from the opening 90 or so games.

Boston's Adrian Gonzalez. (Courtesy of Creative Commons)

Here’s the junior circuit:

MVP: Adrian Gonzalez. The newly acquired first baseman has lived up to the hype and then some in the first 89 games. He’s hit .354 with 17 home runs and a major-league leading 77 RBIs. His on-base percentage of .414 is the fifth-highest in all of baseball, and he’s hitting .394 on balls in play. The fact that it’s his first season with a new team in a new league and one of the most pressure-laden markets in baseball makes it all the more impressive. Were it not for the exploits of Jose Bautista slugging long balls left and right, we’d be talking about Gonzalez as a legitimate Triple Crown threat.

Honorable mention: Jose Bautista (a league-high 31 homers, 65 RBI, and still a .334 average for a Toronto team in fourth in their division despite being only two games under .500); Paul Konerko (.319/22/67 has the first baseman in the top 5 in all three triple crown categories and the offensively-challenged White Sox still within striking distance in the Central); Jacoby Ellsbury (were it not for Gonzalez, Ellsbury would be Boston’s savior with his .316 average, .377 OBP, and 62 runs scored along with stellar defense that includes the seventh-best UZR in the league and fourth-best among outfielders).

LVP: Adam Dunn. The four-year, $56 million contract the White Sox gave Dunn in December has been worth, well, no pennies just yet. Dunn has the lowest Wins Above Replacement Player (WAR) in the majors at -1.4. He has struck out 36.3 percent of his plate appearance to contribute to a .160 batting average and only nine homers. He’s always been a defensive liability, but now he’s an offensive one too. For example, last year with the Nationals, the Big Donkey was worth 33.3 Runs Above Replacement Player (RAR); this year, he’s worth -13.

Dishonorable mention: Chone Figgins (the Mariners infielder has only 48 hits and 21 runs in 71 games; that translates to a putrid .183 BA and an equally pathetic .231 OBP); Hideki Matsui (a season of .209/6/25 from the aging outfielder/designated hitter is a real kick in the Moneyballs); Alex Rios (completing the Chicago outfield futility is Rios, who has only a .213 average, six homers and an unfathomably low 21 RBI in 343 plate appearances).

Cy Young: Justin Verlander. He’s simply dominant every time he toes the rubber. The Detroit ace already has a no-hitter to his name this season, the second of his career, one of 12 wins against four losses for a Detroit team in first place in its division. His ERA of 2.15 is third among big-league starters; his WHIP of 0.87 is the lowest for a starter. He’s also tops in baseball in strikeouts (147) and innings pitched (151). Add in his night-to-night dominance, and you have the Cy Young frontrunner.

Honorable mention: CC Sabathia (his numbers are good – major league-leading 13 wins, 2.72 ERA, 126 SO – and his WAR of 4.8 is .3 higher than Verlander’s, but he’s also gotten 118 runs of support, the most in the bigs by 25 and 42 more than Verlander has received); Jered Weaver (holder of the first-half AL ERA crown at 1.86, Weaver is 11-4 with four complete games, two shutouts and a slightly higher WAR – 4.7 to 4.5 – than Verlander); James Shields (8-7 may not be the most impressive record, but Shields 2.33 ERA, seven CGs and three shutouts are all he can physically do to overcome receiving a paltry 43 runs of support in 19 stars, an average of 2.26 runs per game).

Cy Youch: Fausto Carmona. The Indians have been a great story this season, but they’ve done it largely without the help of the guy once though to be a budding ace. He is last in the majors among pitchers eligible for the ERA title with an ERA of 5.78. He is 4-10 on the season with a WHIP of 1.41. He has surrendered 15 home runs this season after giving up 17 in 33 starts last season and 16 in 24 starts in 2009.

Dishonorable mention: Brian Fuentes (another pick-up by the A’s that has blown up in their faces, the former Rockie is 1-8 with a 4.82 ERA, 1.42 WHIP, and 3.86 walks per nine innings); Jo-Jo Reyes (the Toronto hurler waited until the last day of May to pick up his first win of the season, a wait made worse by the fact that his last win came in 2008, 28 starts ago; that win in hand, he’s still a mere 4-7 in 18 starts, has barely topped 100 innings pitched and has an ERA of 4.57).

Story of the first half: Cleveland Indians. The Indians have 47 wins at the break and are just a half game off the pace in the sluggish American League Central. It took until the first week of August for them to reach that mark last year. They’ve managed through this season without the usual suspects. Injuries have limited Travis Hafner to just eight homers in 51 games, Shin-Soo Choo has been able to muster just a .244 average and Grady Sizemore has seen two DL stints limit him to a .231 average in 57 games. Asdrubal Cabrera has stepped it up, hitting .293 with 14 homers and 51 RBI; if this continues, he could find himself as an MVP candidate. The pitching has been the story though, with young arms Josh Tomlin (10-4, 3.81 ERA), Carlos Carrasco (8-6, 4.28) and Justin Masterson (7-6, 2.64) starting and All-Star Chris Perez (21 saves, 2.43) anchoring a bullpen with the eight-lowest ERA, 3.18, in baseball.

Comeback Player: Michael Young. It’s not an injury that he’s coming back from. But for Young to undergo the third major position shift in his career – from second base to shortstop to accommodate Alfonso Soriano in 2004, from short to third for Elvis Andrus in 2009 and from third to first base/DH for Adrian Beltre – and remain an All-Star is outstanding. He briefly demanded a trade out of Texas in the winter before both sides worked out their differences, and it’s good for both they did. Young is hitting .323 with eight homers and 59 RBIs while still managing to be an everyday player and collecting his seventh All-Star nod in the last eight years.

Manager of the First Half: Manny Acta. He’s navigated so many challenges as the Indians’ manager, including a disastrous first season at the helm that resulted in 93 losses. But his role overseeing the final stages of the Cleveland rebuilding plan appears to be paying off. He’s managed to weather a storm caused by a number of injuries and has managed a pitching staff of budding young talent excellently. They may need a move or two at the deadline to tide them over and into the playoffs, but they won’t derail the multi-year rebuilding plan to do so.

Honorable mention: Terry Francona (let’s not forget this team started 2-10, meaning they’ve won 53 of their last 78 games en route to the second-best record in the bigs).

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