MLB

Bleacher Report's Full 2014 Midseason MLB Awards

Zachary D. RymerMLB Lead WriterJune 26, 2014

Bleacher Report's Full 2014 Midseason MLB Awards

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    Mike Trout is up for a couple, because of course he is.
    Mike Trout is up for a couple, because of course he is.Alex Gallardo/Associated Press

    The 2014 Major League Baseball season is (more or less) at the halfway point. Having already taken a look at some super-interesting statistical happenings, we shall now pursue another midseason activity: handing out awards.

    We'll obviously be including the big onesRookies of the Year, Cy Youngs, MVPs, etc.—as a midseason awards show just wouldn't be complete without them. But in the interests of due diligence, science and good, old-fashioned fun for the whole family, we have some other awards to hand out too.

    Better strap yourselves in. We have a lot of awards to get to.

    And remember, there's no arguing the selections unless you feel like it.

Play of the Year: Yoenis Cespedes' Amazing Throw Home

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    Seriously, have you seen this thing?

    Watch (or rewatch) the video from June 10, and you'll see Oakland A's left fielder Yoenis Cespedes let fly what Los Angeles Angels skipper Mike Scioscia called, via the San Francisco Chronicle, "a guided missile" that flew about 300 feet and beat Howie Kendrick to home plate.

    In doing so, Cespedes cut down a run to preserve a 1-1 eighth-inning tie. While you can fault him for necessitating the throw by booting Mike Trout's line drive, there's no denying the astronomical degree of difficulty on the throw itself.

    In fact, physics profession Alan M. Nathan wrote at Baseball Prospectus that "Cespedes's margin of error was less than (but comparable to) ±1 degree in each direction."

    In other words: Cespedes' perfect throw truly needed to be perfect.

Home Run of the Year: Mike Trout's Grand Slam off Chris Sale

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    On June 7, Mike Trout dug in to face Chicago White Sox ace Chris Sale. With the bases loaded and the Angels trailing 5-1 in the bottom of the eighth, it was a chance for Trout to do something amazing.

    And he did, sending a 3-2 pitch over the center field wall for a game-tying grand slam.

    Like with the Cespedes throw, it's the situation that counts for a lot here. But at least equally awesome is the pitch that Trout smashed.

    It was a low-and-away changeup that Trout hit out, something that BaseballSavant.com says had only been done once before against Sale. FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan dug even deeper, writing the following: 

    I got ultra-precise and created a location box measuring one inch by one inch, and since 2008, there have been 940 swings by right-handed batters against pitches right there. Of those swings, 40% have missed. Of those swings, one has gone for a home run — Mike Trout's. So that's a homer/swing rate of 0.1%...

    This is what you call Mike Trout doing Mike Trout things. Thankfully, he does it a lot.

Performance of the Year: Clayton Kershaw's No-Hitter

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    With respect to Lonnie Chisenhall's three-homer, nine-RBI game, this award has to go to Los Angeles Dodgers ace lefty Clayton Kershaw for the no-hitter he authored on June 18.

    There's how Kershaw's no-no was a Hanley Ramirez error away from being a perfect game. Then there's how his 15 strikeouts are the most ever for a no-hit, no-walk game. Then there's how breaking balls got 14 of those, which BaseballSavant.com tells us is a PITCHf/x-era record for one game.

    "That's probably the best combination he's had of his slider and curveball working on the same night," said Dodgers catcher A.J. Ellis, via the Los Angeles Times. "When you got those things going, nights like this are possible."

    Lastly, there's how Bill James' Game Score statistic rates Kershaw's no-no as the second-greatest nine-inning performance ever after only Kerry Wood's 20-strikeout one-hitter in 1998.

    So never mind just the 2014 season. Kershaw's no-no is arguably the greatest pitching performance ever.

Most Improved Hitter: Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs

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    Charles Rex Arbogast/Associated Press

    No doubt, there are a lot of improved hitters out there. But for me, the most improved of the bunch has been Chicago Cubs first baseman Anthony Rizzo.

    After batting just .233 with a .742 OPS in 2013, Rizzo is batting .284 with a .923 OPS in 2014. There are multiple explanations for that, with the key ones being:

    • According to FanGraphs, Rizzo has dropped his chase rate to a career-low 27.1 percent. By doing so, he's earned his OBP-inflating 14.7 percent walk rate.
    • Rizzo came into 2014 with just a .617 OPS against lefties but is now rocking a 1.014 OPS against them.
    • This can be partially traced to his sudden ability to hit lefty breaking stuff. Per Brooks Baseball, Rizzo has gone from a .179 average against it to .346.
    • Lastly, the lefty-swinging Rizzo is taking full advantage of left field. He carried a .787 OPS to left field into 2014 but is now working on a 1.053 OPS that direction.

    All told, it's hard to ask a guy to shore up more weaknesses than Rizzo has.

Most Improved Pitcher: Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros

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    Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    If you noticed Houston Astros left-hander Dallas Keuchel at all before 2014, it was likely because of how terrible he was. The guy did, after all, carry a 5.20 ERA into this season.

    But suddenly, Keuchel now has a 2.78 ERA through his first 15 starts. That puts him among the best pitchers in the American League, and it's not an accident.

    You can go read my full take on what's behind Keuchel's breakout, but here's the CliffsNotes version:

    • He's balancing a high strikeout rate with a low walk rate and high ground-ball rate.
    • He has his high strikeout rate largely because of a quietly lethal slider.
    • He has his low walk rate because he can hit the strike zone and command the ball within the zone.
    • He has his high ground-ball rate because he has the ground-ball-iest sinker in existence.

    Dallas Kuechel: proof that anybody can go from being an afterthought to an ace. All you have to do is pitch like one.

Best and Worst Offseason Signings: Nelson Cruz and Joe Nathan

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    Jim Rogash/Getty Images

    Best: Nelson Cruz, Baltimore Orioles

    The folks at FanGraphs were kind enough to put together custom leaderboards featuring all 2013-2014 free agents. And so far in 2014, second on the position player WAR leaderboard is Nelson Cruz.

    That's what you get for hitting .293 with a .950 OPS and 24 home runs, tying him with Edwin Encarnacion for the MLB lead. Given that the Orioles only signed Cruz for $8 million over one year, suffice it to say they're getting a ton of bang for their buck.

     

    Worst: Joe Nathan, Detroit Tigers

    When the Tigers inked Joe Nathan for $20 million over two years, the idea was to have him solve their revolving door at the closer position.

    Nathan has done anything but that. His ERA has skyrocketed to 6.28 in 30 appearances, and he's already given up twice as many homers (four) as he did in 2013. He also has five blown saves after blowing three all of last year.

    Let this be the latest lecture in a larger lesson: Never pay top dollar for a guy who's a "proven closer."

Best and Worst Offseason Trade Acquisitions: Doug Fister and Jim Johnson

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    Mitchell Layton/Getty Images

    Best: Doug Fister Trade for Washington Nationals

    It didn't seem like Washington was giving up much when it sent Steve Lombardozzi, Ian Krol and Robbie Ray to Detroit to get Doug Fister. It still doesn't, as those three have done nothing of note this season.

    Fister, meanwhile, has been as advertised since coming off the disabled list in early May. He has a 2.65 ERA in nine starts, with a .240 batting average against and career-best 6.0 K/BB ratio to boot.

    Maybe the deal will make sense for the Tigers in the future, but it sure doesn't now.

     

    Worst: Jim Johnson Trade for Oakland A's

    There are cases to be made for the Prince Fielder trade for the Texas Rangers and the Mark Trumbo trade for the Arizona Diamondbacks. But there's at least still long-term hope for those deals, which is something you can't say of the Jim Johnson trade for the Oakland A's.

    The A's didn't give up much to get Johnson, but they did sign up to pay him a seven-figure salary. They're currently paying him $10 million and getting a 5.51 ERA in return. And after Johnson saved over 100 games in 2012 and 2013, Oakland booted him from the closer role before the season was two weeks old.

    When Johnson leaves as a free agent at year's end, Oakland will have paid a lot for very little.

Defensive Player of the Year: Jason Heyward, Atlanta Braves

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    The best defensive player in baseball in 2013 was a member of the Atlanta Braves. So far, the best defensive player of 2014 is another member of the Atlanta Braves: Jason Heyward.

    This is according to at least one of the defensive metrics, anyway. According to FanGraphs, the Atlanta right fielder has a comfortable lead in Defensive Runs Saved with 22 on the season.

    Heyward doesn't lead in Ultimate Zone Rating, but he only trails Kansas City Royals left fielder Alex Gordon. Heyward has saved more runs with his range, while Gordon has saved more runs with his arm.

    But that's where things get tricky, as Heyward actually has six assists this season to Gordon's five. As FanGraphs' Jeff Sullivan pointed out, much of Gordon's arm value comes from baserunners not testing his arm. Makes sense, but it's basically hypothetical value.

    Thus, I'll take Heyward. He's the total package out in right field, and he's never been better.

Relief Pitcher of the Year: Sean Doolittle, Oakland A's

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

    It's hard to argue against New York Yankees right-hander Dellin Betances as the most overpowering reliever in MLB this year. But for the best, I'll side with A's left-hander Sean Doolittle.

    There's one statistic in particular that Doolittle just owns. With 53 strikeouts and one walk, he owns a 53.00 K/BB ratio that's on track to demolish the reliever record of 18.33 (Dennis Eckersley in 1989).

    Doolittle fares well in other statistics as well. He has a 1.95 ERA that looks good on its own, but the FIP and SIERA metrics say he actually deserves an ERA in the low 1.00s.

    Then there's how Doolittle is among the leaders in Win Probability Added. Since that pretty much measures what it sounds like, it is indeed a good stat for relievers to fare well in.

    On top of all this, Doolittle gets bonus points for making contact against Koji Uehara as a pinch-hitter.

Most Pleasant Surprise Team: Milwaukee Brewers

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    Jeffrey Phelps/Associated Press

    Entering 2014, the NL Central looked like the plaything of the St. Louis Cardinals, Pittsburgh Pirates and Cincinnati Reds. Rightfully so given that each won over 90 games in 2013.

    But it's the Milwaukee Brewers who emerged as the NL Central's best team early on, shooting to the top of the division through April with a 20-8 record. Good stuff for a team that went 74-88 in 2013.

    And the Brewers haven't regressed. They're still in first place at 48-32, and no wonder. They've lowered their team ERA to 3.59 from 3.84 in 2013, and the only NL team with more runs scored plays in Colorado.

    There's also something pleasing about how the storyline of Ryan Braun's post-suspension season has been overshadowed. Carlos Gomez is excellent once again, and Jonathan Lucroy is enjoying a breakout with a .330 average and .917 OPS. Also, BaseballSavant.com tells us he's still MLB's best pitch framer.

    They're a fun team, these Brewers. And certainly better than most of us expected them to be.

Most Disappointing Team: Boston Red Sox

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    Elaine Thompson/Associated Press

    For the Boston Red Sox, the 2013 season was a worst-to-first campaign that saw them capture the AL East crown with 97 wins and then go on to win the American League pennant and the World Series.

    That, granted, is a hard act to follow. Even still, you'd think the 2014 Red Sox could do better than, well, this.

    The Red Sox are 36-43 through their first 79 games, with a minus-31 run differential that ranks as one of the worst in baseball to boot. We also saw them lose 10 games in a row. According to the Boston Globe, they're the first defending champion since the 1998 Marlins to do so.

    Injuries have played a part, especially in Boston's offense going from MLB's best to one of MLB's worst. But they also haven't gotten typical production from David Ortiz and Dustin Pedroia, and they have paid the price for replacing Jarrod Saltalamacchia and Jacoby Ellsbury with A.J. Pierzynski and Jackie Bradley Jr.

    Basically: Yuck.

Comeback Players of the Year: Melky Cabrera and Josh Beckett

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    Hunter Martin/Getty Images

    American League: Melky Cabrera, Toronto Blue Jays

    Melky Cabrera didn't enter 2014 off a bad year. It was more like a bad year and a half, as he was suspended for the final 50 games of 2012 before struggling through 2013 while playing much of the season with a tumor in his back.

    You'd never know it from watching the Blue Jays left fielder in 2014.

    Cabrera's .303 average gives him a shot at hitting .300 for a third time in four years, and he already has 11 homers after hitting three in all of 2013. That's some comeback.

     

    National League: Josh Beckett, Los Angeles Dodgers

    Josh Beckett wasn't much good when he was healthy in 2013, following up a 4.65 ERA in 2012 with a 5.19 ERA in eight starts. Then he went in for season-ending neck surgery in July, making it easy to wonder if he was finished.

    He's not, as it turns out. The Dodgers right-hander is working on a 2.28 ERA in 14 starts, one of which was a no-hitter in Philadelphia in late May. How Beckett has pulled off his turnaround is pretty cool too, as Brooks Baseball can show that he's taken to pitching off his curveball rather than his fastball.

    It's not just a comeback. It's a reinvention.

Managers of the Year: Bob Melvin and Bruce Bochy

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    USA TODAY Sports

    American League: Bob Melvin, Oakland A's

    Since no manager in the American League is really a classic Manager of the Year candidate, let's go with A's manager Bob Melvin.

    It's true Melvin has plenty of talent at his disposal, but he's a master at using that talent. The A's are the best offensive team in MLB despite how Melvin's used 60 different batting orders in 77 games, and he's gotten excellent production out of his pinch hitters.

    Add in how Melvin has managed a young, injury-depleted starting rotation and kept intact a bullpen that has battled injuries and Jim Johnson's struggles, and you have a manager having a great year.

     

    National League: Bruce Bochy, San Francisco Giants

    The National League Manager of the Year race is a toss-up between Brewers skipper Ron Roenicke and Giants skipper Bruce Bochy. I'm going with Bochy because his team looks like the bigger overachiever.

    That's the case if you go by WAR, anyway. According to FanGraphs, the Giants have a nearly identical record to the Brewers despite getting less WAR from both their hitters and pitchers. Bochy has squeezed an awful lot of wins out of a roster that, while hardly inferior, is less than superior.

    You can argue that Bochy did the same thing in 2010 and 2012 too. He's good at this managing thing.

American League Rookie of the Year: Masahiro Tanaka, New York Yankees

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Chicago White Sox slugger Jose Abreu has been terrific, but he's not quite Masahiro Tanaka's equal.

    Through 15 starts, the New York Yankees' $175 million man owns a 2.11 ERA, 119 strikeouts and just 17 walks in 106.2 innings. His 7.00 K/BB ratio is on track to be the best ever by a rookie.

    The only argument against tapping Tanaka for the award is that the 25-year-old NPB veteran isn't a true "rookie," a la Hideki Matsui in 2003. I'm not entirely against this argument, but let's point out some things.

    Hideo Nomo won the NL Rookie of the Year in his age-26 season in 1995, and Ichiro Suzuki won the AL Rookie of the Year in 2001 at 27. It's also not unheard of for a 25-year-old to win Rookie of the Year. Among the players who have done so are Ryan Howard, Andrew Bailey, Geovany Soto and Jason Bay.

    Tanaka has certainly pitched like a Rookie of the Year, and he's enough of a rookie to deserve the award.

National League Rookie of the Year: Billy Hamilton, Cincinnati Reds

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    Gene J. Puskar/Associated Press

    The National League Rookie of the Year race is less stacked than the race in the American League, but that only makes Cincinnati Reds center fielder Billy Hamilton an easier pick.

    Hamilton is doing pretty much what we expected on the bases. He's swiped 31 bags in 72 games, and FanGraphs has him tied for third in baserunning runs.

    What's more surprising is Hamilton's hitting. His .270 average and .694 OPS are nothing special at first glance, but things look better if you look past his hitless start to 2014. He's a .283 hitter with a .724 OPS in 67 games since then.

    Maybe even more surprising is how good Hamilton has been defensively. He leads all qualified center fielders in UZR and is tied for first in DRS, making him an elite center fielder in my book.

    Hamilton may only be about an average hitter, but as an all-around player, he's been terrific.

American League Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Seattle Mariners

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    Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

    With his 11-2 record and 2.11 ERA, Masahiro Tanaka is probably the more obvious choice for the midseason American League Cy Young.

    But I'm going with the better choice: Felix Hernandez.

    The Seattle Mariners right-hander is right there with Tanaka in ERA at 2.24, but he's compiled his over 120.1 innings to Tanaka's 106.2. King Felix also has a very strong 6.74 K/BB ratio and is sixth in ground-ball rate among qualified AL starters.

    Basically, he's a hard man to hit. Probably harder than his ERA suggests, even, as the FIP, xFIP and SIERA metrics all agree that Hernandez deserves the lowest ERA of any American Leaguer.

    Tanaka can have the midseason Rookie of the Year. But the Cy Young? That belongs to a king.

National League Cy Young: Clayton Kershaw, Los Angeles Dodgers

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    USA TODAY Sports

    Boy oh boy, is this a tough one. There's a strong case to be made for Adam Wainwright, and an even stronger case to be made for Johnny Cueto.

    But though he's only made 11 starts, Clayton Kershaw has been good enough for me.

    We know about the no-hitter, but that's just part of what's been an entirely new level of dominance that Kershaw has reached in 2014. His 2.24 ERA is good enough on its own, but his season looks even better when you consider other things.

    For instance, Kershaw is leading all NL pitchers (minimum 70 innings) in strikeout rate and walk rate, making it downright unfair that he's also leading in ground-ball rate. As nice as his ERA is, it's hard to argue with the metrics' opinion that he deserves an ERA in the mid-1.00s.

    Wainwright and Cueto have been superb. It's just that Kershaw has been that much superb-er.

American League MVP: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels

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    Todd Kirkland/Associated Press

    For the first time since his rise to superstardom in 2012, it's basically impossible to argue that Mike Trout isn't at the top of the American League MVP race.

    Trout has it all this year. He's the AL's top hitter by OPS and other more advanced hitting metrics like OPS+, wOBA and wRC+. He's also driving in runs, as his 56 RBI tie him with Josh Donaldson for sixth in the AL. And as he usually is, he's leading the AL in WAR.

    But the big difference in 2014 is that the Angels are winning. At 43-33, they're second in the AL West and in line for one of the AL's two wild-card spots. For once, they're not wasting Trout's many talents.

    Trout could have won the AL MVP in 2012 and 2013. If the season ended today, he would have to win the 2014 AL MVP in a landslide.

National League MVP: Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

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    Rob Foldy/Getty Images

    There's no obvious choice for the midseason National League MVP, so I'll go with Giancarlo Stanton.

    The Miami Marlins right fielder is having a terrific season offensively, batting .307 with a .986 OPS and a league-best 20 homers and 58 RBI. The only NL hitter having a better season is Troy Tulowitzki, whose OPS at Coors Field is over 500 points higher than his OPS on the road.

    It isn't just Stanton's hitting, though. FanGraphs also likes his baserunning and defense in right field. Combined with his offensive output, it's no wonder he's second in the NL to Tulo in WAR.

    Then you can consider the narrative of Stanton's season. He actually has support in the Marlins offense this year, but they certainly wouldn't be in contention at 39-39 if they didn't have him.

    Plus, any guy who can do this to a baseball deserves some kind of award.

Team of the Year: Oakland A's

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    Tony Avelar/Associated Press

    Duh, I guess.

    The A's aren't the best team in baseball if it's just the records you're looking at. At 48-30, they're not that far ahead of the 48-32 Brewers or 46-32 Giants.

    But we know better than to look at only records, right?

    The A's have a ridiculous run differential at plus-129, and that's the result of total dominance. They lead baseball in runs scored with 398. They're second in ERA at 3.14. And according to Baseball Prospectus, they lead baseball in defensive efficiency—which assesses how often teams turned batted balls into outs.

    No team in baseball is as good as the A's. And by season's end, they might be one of the great teams of all time.

     

    Note: Stats courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs unless otherwise noted/linked, and some are only current through play on Tuesday, June 24.

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