Major League Baseball: First Half Awards, Statistics and Digest

by Rocco Constantino | Posted on Thursday, July 13th, 2017
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One hundred and three days ago, Evan Longoria connected for a two-run homer off Masahiro Tanaka in the second inning of the first game of the season on Opening Day.  It would be the first of a record 3,343 home runs in the first half, setting the clear theme for the first half of the season.  While the historic home run (and strikeout) pace stole most of the headlines, there was no shortage of incredible performances in the first half.  One of the features that gives baseball much of its charm is the sheer unpredictability of the sport.  Who could have predicted that Kris Bryant, Madison Bumgarner, Aroldis Chapman and Mike Trout would be missing from the All-Star Game while Jason Vargas, Chris Devenski, Brandon Kintzler and Alex Wood would be participating?

Keeping the themes of power, strikeouts and the unexpected in mind, here is a wrap-up, complete with awards, of the first half of the 2017 Major League Baseball season.

 

Biggest Storyline: The historic home run pace

With 3,343 home runs hit in the first half , Major League Baseball is on pace to shatter the all-time record for home runs in a single season by over 400.  The average of 2.52 home runs per game pace is also set to break the previous record of 2.34 set int he 2000 season.  The historic pace has become the lead storyline of the first half as the baseball world looks for answers as to why this is happening.  Marcus Stroman brought up allegations of a change in the seams, which not only causes less drag on batted balls and less movement on pitches, but also more blisters for pitchers.  Multiple extensive studies have been done on the baseball and have concluded a change in the construction of baseballs is a culprit as well.  According to Statcast, baseball is on pace for 168 home runs of 450 feet, an increase of 38% from 2015.  People have also cited more of an importance on launch angle and exit velocity, causing players to swing for a home run more often than in the past.  In reality, it is probably a combination of many factors contributing to this pace.  Whatever the reason, the home run pace was the biggest storyline of the first half of the 2017 season.

Also considered: Madison Bumgarner‘s accident, the dominance of the Houston Astros and Los Angeles Dodgers, the rise of young stars Aaron Judge and Cody Bellingerthe rash of injuries to some of the game’s biggest stars, Pete Rose‘s request for Hall of Fame consideration is denied, jersey retirement ceremonies for David Ortiz, Derek Jeter and Frank Robinson, Rob Manfred suggests Montreal and Mexico City could be considered for future expansion sites.

 

Biggest Surprise: The Milwaukee Brewers

In a preseason poll of 35 ESPN reporters, not a single one picked the Brewers to make the playoffs.  All 35 reporters picked the Cubs to win the National League Central and eight different teams were picked as Wild Card teams, with the Brewers being completely left off from consideration.  Buoyed by surprising power surges from Eric Thames and Travis Shaw, the Brewers went 50-41 in the first half and have a 5.5 game lead on the Cubs and St. Louis Cardinals.  They are second in the majors with 138 home runs and fourth in the National League with a 4.08 ERA.  If they can maintain that pace, and continue their knack of clutch wins, they will find themselves in the postseason one way or another in 2017.

Also considered: Eric Thames‘ scorching start, Aaron Judge‘s dominance, the solid start of the Minnesota TwinsRyan Zimmerman‘s resurgence, Jason Vargas great start, the awful first half by Carlos Gonzalez

 

Biggest Disappointment: The Chicago Cubs

This was an easy one.  When the Cubs topped the Cleveland Indians for their first World Series title in 108 years, one narrative was how the Cubs were set up for years of success based on a roster of stars who were under the age of 25.  While that still may manifest, their 2017 first half was nothing short of a nightmare.  Bryant underachieved greatly, Kyle Schwarber found himself demoted after batting .178 in 68 games and the top four starters have combined to go 22-25, each with ERAs over 4.00.  The lone representative for the Cubs at the All-Star Game was Wade Daviswho wasn’t on the team last year.  The Cubs find themselves 5.5 games out of first place in a weak National League Central and find themselves with a similar record as teams like the Atlanta Braves, Florida Marlins and Seattle Mariners.  It is not inconceivable though that they can turn things around and mount a playoff push in the second half.

 

Best single-game performance: Scooter Gennett‘s four-homer game

On June 6, Gennett came into the Cincinnati Reds game against the Cardinals in a 2-for-20 slump with 38 home runs in five Major League seasons.  He went on to do something that Barry Bonds, Hank Aaron and Babe Ruth never did.  He hit four home runs in the game.  Gennett became just the 17th player to accomplish the feat and the first since Josh Hamilton did so in 2012.  He is the only one of the 17 four-homer players to have five hits and 10 RBI in the game in which he hit four home runs.  Historically, there have been more perfect games (23) in the history of baseball than four home run games.  Gennett is one of the least likeliest players to have accomplished the feat.

Also considered: Edinson Volquez no-hits the Arizona DiamondbacksAnthony Rendon goes 6 for 6 with five runs and three home runs against the New York MetsErvin Santana‘s one-hit shutout of the Chicago White Sox, Mookie Betts goes 4 for 6 with eight RBIs and two home runs against the Toronto Blue Jays, Madison Bumgarner hits two home runs and retires the first 15 batters on Opening Day

 

Most impressive milestone: Albert Pujols hits grand slam for 600th home run

With astonishingly little fanfare, Pujols became just the ninth player to reach 600 home runs and the first to hit a grand slam to reach the milestone and only the sixth member to do so without the specter of steroid use hanging over his career.  You don’t have to go back too far in baseball history to a time when the 600 home run club consisted of only Babe Ruth, Hank Aaron and Willie Mays.  Whether fans have become desensitized to the home run because of recent power outbreaks, or have become disenchanted with the long ball due to the steroid era, topping 600 home runs in an absolutely incredible feat.   With Miguel Cabrera and Adrian Beltre topping 450 this season, we shouldn’t expect someone to approach 600 home runs for at least another five years, if Cabrera remains healthy.  After that, expect it to be a very long time before we see 600 home runs again.

Also considered: Yankees and Cubs combine for 48 strikeouts in an extra-inning game, the most ever recorded, Adrian Beltre and Miguel Cabrera reach 450 career home runs, Ichiro becomes all-time hits leader for players born outside of the United States, Aaron Judge becomes the first Yankee rookie to hit 30 home runs in a season and does so before the All-Star break, Chris Sale strikes out at least 10 batters in eight straight starts, Max Scherzer and Clayton Kershaw reach 2,000 strikeouts

 

Best offseason acquisition: Greg Holland, Colorado Rockies

A number of new faces in new places have turned in fine performances in the first half of the 2017 season, but perhaps nobody has been as important to his team as Greg Holland has been to the Rockies.  Holland missed the entire 2016 season due to Tommy John surgery and signed as a free agent with the Rockies in the offseason.  The All-Star closer hasn’t missed a beat as he led the majors with 28 saves in the first half while pitching to a 1.62 ERA and 1.020 WHIP.  The Rockies are currently 13 games above .500 and find themselves entrenched in the second Wild Card spot to start the second half.  Holland’s effectiveness as the team’s closer is a large part of that and gives him the slight edge over Fernando Rodney, Eric Thames and Travis Shaw.

Also considered: Dexter Fowler, Cardinals; Eric Thames, Brewers; Wade Davis, Cubs; Travis Shaw, Milwaukee Brewers; Fernando Rodney, Diamondbacks; Bud Norris, Angels; Matt Adams, Braves; Edwin Encarnacion, Indians

 

Worst offseason acquisition: Bartolo Colon, Atlanta Braves

For as much as everyone loves Colon, and rightfully so, it has come time to admit that time has probably caught up to the ageless wonder.  The Braves brought him in with the hopes of providing veteran leadership while working as an innings-eater in the rotation, but it was hard to accomplish either while pitching to an 8.14 ERA.  Colon was released from the Braves when the team couldn’t find a trade partner and he landed with the Twins on a minor league contract.

Also considered: Chris Carter, Yankees; Carlos Beltran, Astros; Mark Melancon, Giants; Jered Weaver, Padres; Travis Wood, Royals

 

Most surprising player: Jason Vargas, Kansas City Royals

The first thought was to put Eric Thames here, but there were at least some expectations that he could have an impact on the league after becoming the first 40-40 player in the KBO in Korea.  Instead, Vargas gets the nod as nobody could have seen what the injury-plagued veteran had coming this year.  Vargas leads the American League with a 12-3 record and 2.62 ERA.  He made the All-Star Game for the first time in 2017 at the age of 34 on the heels of pitching just 12 games combined in the 2015-2016 seasons.

Also considered: Eric Thames, Brewers; Aaron Hicks, Yankees; Marwin Gonzalez, Astros; Tyler Flowers, Braves; Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks; Zack Cozart, Reds

 

Most disappointing player: Manny Machado, Baltimore Orioles 

Taking injured players out of consideration, perhaps nobody’s poor start is more puzzling than Machado.  Coming into the season, Machado was being mentioned on the short list of players with the ability to join Mike Trout as the elite all-around players in the sport.  Instead, Machado is batting just .230 this year, down .064 points from last season.  In addition, while seemingly everyone else in the majors is cranking home runs at a historical pace, Machado’s 18 home runs put him on pace to fall short of his 2016 total.  A top five MVP finisher in each of the past four seasons, Machado will not even receive a single vote if he continues this trend.  What makes this all the more surprising and disappointing is the fact that this is taking place during his age 24 season, just when he should be entering his prime.

Also considered: Todd Frazier, White Sox; Trevor Story, Rockies; Francisco Lindor, Indians; Brian Dozier, Twins; Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies; Kyle Schwarber, Cubs; Jake Arrieta, Cubs; Jon Lester, Cubs; Jason Kipnis, Indians

 

American League Rookie of the Year: Aaron Judge, New York Yankees

The runaway winner for Rookie of the Year and a strong candidate for MVP as well.  Judge has not only put up monster numbers as a rookie, but has also injected himself as one of the faces of baseball.  Fans love new young stars, and when one has such a presence as Judge, it makes it that much more special.  His at bats are must-watch appointments, as are his batting practice rounds.  One of the main storylines of the second half will be to see if Judge can break Mark McGwire‘s rookie home run record, which has stood for 30 years.

Also considered: Matt Davidson, White Sox; Trey Mancini, Blue Jays, Andrew Benintendi, Red Sox; Yuli Gurriel, Astros; Ben Gamel, Mariners; Jordan Montgomery, Yankees

 

National League Rookie of the Year: Cody Bellinger, Los Angeles Dodgers

Another easy selection, Bellinger should also be considered as a strong National League MVP candidate.  Bellinger hit his fourth multi-homer game on June 13 to become the fastest player to do so and became the fastest player to 21 career home runs, doing so in just 51 games.  Bellinger has blasted 25 home runs in 70 games after starting the season in the minors, compared to Judge’s total of 30 in 84 games.

Also considered: Kyle Freeland, Rockies; Hunter Renfroe, Padres; Josh Bell, Pirates; Alex Reyes, Cardinals; Dansby Swanson, Braves

 

American League Manager of the Year: AJ Hinch, Houston Astros

Hinch has the Astros to 60 wins at the All-Star break and while his team is absolutely loaded with talent, the manager should get credit for making the most of it.  He has found creative ways to get production from Marwin Gonzalez and has been able to overcome disappointing performances from Carlos Beltran and Alex Bregman.  His team didn’t suffer any significant falloff when ace Dallas Keuchel went down to injury and has been able to dominate the American League while giving significant time int he starting rotation to Charlie Morton and Joe Musgrove.  

Also considered: Paul Molitor, Twins; Mike Scioscia Angels; Joe Girardi, Yankees

 

National League Manager of the Year: Craig Counsell, Brewers

No offense to the Rockies and Diamondbacks, but the Brewers are the team who has most exceeded expectations in the first half of the 2017 season.  The team has gotten surprise performances from Thames, Shaw, Chase Anderson and Eric Sogard and Corey Knebel, who was the team’s only representative at the All-Star Game.  Counsell has the team playing an exciting brand of baseball and has done a fantastic job managing the lineup, bullpen and rotation while getting contributions from many unexpected sources.

Also considered: Dave Roberts, Dodgers; Torey Lovullo, Diamondbacks; Bud Black, Rockies

 

American League Comeback Player of the Year: Michael Brantley, Indians

One of the amazing things about the Indians World Series run last year was that the team did it without Brantley, their burgeoning star, for all but 11 games.  After belting a combined 35 home runs and 90 doubles over the previous two seasons, Brantley’s 2016 season was nearly a total wash thanks to injury.  He returned in 2017 and batted .304 in the first half.  Although the power numbers aren’t there yet, Brantley was named to the 2017 MLB All-Star Team and is back as a leader for the first-place Indians.

Also considered: Mike Moustakas, Royals; Jason Vargas, Royals

 

National League Comeback Player of the Year: Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals

Coming into the 2017 season, whispers around the Nationals organization were that Ryan Zimmerman’s career had fallen off a deep cliff.  After hitting just .218 last season, an argument could have been made that it would have been tough for Zimmerman to find a regular spot in the Nationals lineup among the young superstars as they tried to unseat the Cubs as World Series champions.  Instead, Zimmerman not only nailed down the starting first base job, but also emerged as a possible National League MVP candidate in an incredible turnaround nobody could have seen coming.  Zimmerman took a .330 average into the break, a solid .023 points more than he ever hit in the majors and .112 points higher than his total from last year.  Zimmerman also has 19 home runs and is on pace to surpass his career high of 33, which he established in 2009.  A feel-good story for a classy veteran who has been a solid major leaguer for the past 13 years, Zimmerman earned his second All-Star appearance in 2017, his other coming in 2009.  He is a runaway winner in this category.

Also considered: Greg Holland, Rockies; Zack Greinke, Diamondbacks, David Peralta, Diamondbacks

 

American League Cy Young Award: Chris Sale, Red Sox

The deserved All-Star starter has been as advertised in Boston as he has clearly established himself as the best pitcher in the American League.  He is second in the AL in ERA at 2.75 and leads the league with a 0.90 WHIP.  Sale struck out double-digit batters in eight straight games earlier this year, a feat that has allowed him to total a major league-leading 178 strikeouts.  He is on pace to strike out 12.5 batters per nine innings, a total that would be the highest of his already storied MLB career.  In ten of his 18 starts this season, Sale has allowed four hits or less.  Any way you look at it, the stats are completely dominant and have him on track to win his first career Cy Young Award.

Also considered: Corey Kluber, Indians; Jason Vargas, Royals; Ervin Santana, Twins, Andrew Miller, Indians

 

National League Cy Young Award: Max Scherzer, Nationals

By the thinnest of margins, Scherzer gets the nod here over Clayton Kershaw.  Kershaw’s 14-2 mark with a 2.18 ERA is hard to pass up, but looking at extended stats, Scherzer slightly edges out Kershaw.  Scherzer is just one of two players (Aaron Judge being the other at 5.3) who has accumulated a WAR of 5.0 this season and is his 0.80 WHIP and .163 batting average against are slightly better than Kershaw’s 0.88 and .195.  Scherzer has allowed 13 home runs to Kershaw’s 18 and Scherzer also has the edge in strikeouts, 173-159.  When it comes down to it, what both of these pitchers are doing in this year of extreme offense is just ridiculous.

Also considered: Clayton Kershaw, Dodgers; Gio Gonzalez, Nationals; Greg Holland, Rockies; Alex Wood, Dodgers

 

American League MVP: Aaron Judge, Yankees

Judge pulls off the rare MVP/Rookie of the Year combo, joining Fred Lynn and Ichiro  in that company.  Judge is on pace for a historic season, as he looks to topple Mark McGwire‘s rookie record of 49 home runs.  The American League leader in home runs, walks and OPS, Judge has become perhaps the most talked about player in the majors this season.  His mammoth home runs have become legend, and that includes his batting practice and Home Run Derby performance.  What makes him the MVP though is that he has moved the Yankees championship timetable up considerably as they move away from the big-contract era of Alex Rodriguez, Mark Teixeira and Derek Jeter.  They may not have the pitching to beat out the Red Sox for the AL East, but Judge should lead them to the playoffs in a year when many thought they were two or three years away from achieving that.

Also considered: Carlos Correa, Astros; Mookie Betts, Red Sox; George Springer, Astros; Jose Ramirez, Indians

 

National League MVP: Bryce Harper, Nationals

Harper has bounced back from a disappointing 2016 season to lead the Nationals to what should be an easy National League East crown.  Just 24-years old still, Harper is on pace to come close to the stats he put up when he won the 2015 NL MVP.  He batted .325 in the first half, .082 points higher than his average last season, and has a 1.021 OPS.  He has been intentionally walked a National League-high 11 times and leads the NL with a 3.7 Win Probability Added.  He has also played well defensively and is currently third in the National League in Total Zone Runs as a right fielder.  The Nationals have had many outstanding performances in all areas of the game, but Harper is clearly the engine that runs the whole machine.

Also considered: Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks; Justin Turner, Dodgers; Nolan Arenado, Rockies

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Rocco Constantino
About the Author

Rocco is the author of 50 Moments That Defined Major League Baseball (Available on Amazon now!) and former Featured Columnist at Bleacher Report. He is also a die hard Mets fan going back to the awful early 80's and ready for the revival. D2 NCAA softball coach and athletics administrator. Follow Rocco on Twitter @mlb100years.







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