Wednesday, July 12, 2006

First Half Awards: The National League
By Ben Valentine

Yesterday I tackled the first half’s top performers in the American League. We saw a few surprises, some controversial selections (even as candidates) and a couple of All Star snubs get the respect they deserve. Today we head over to the NL, fresh off their 3-2 defeat at the hands of the AL. I should care, because… it counts! But I don’t. It’s still just an exhibition, no matter how much Major League Baseball tries to tell us otherwise.

In any case, that’s not why you’re here. It’s awards time, this time NL style. In other words, there’s no designated hitter to mess with the MVP voting and press us with the question of “how much does defense count?” Actually check that, defense does matter, as we will see with our first selection. Once again, my definition of my selection process is placed by the award, followed by the candidates, their arguments and who I picked for the winner.

MVP: The player who is the most valuable to his team with OPS being the most important stat but defense taken into consideration. A team’s record is not, unless needed to break a tie between two equal candidates.

Candidates: Carlos Beltran- CF New York Mets, Miguel Cabrera- 3B Florida Marlins, Albert Pujols- 1B St. Louis Cardinals

In most years, Carlos Beltran would be the front runner for the MVP. He’s posted an .995 OPS at a pitcher’s park. For those who doubt Shea Stadium’s effects, the centerfielder is OPSing a Pujols- esque 1.194 away from home this year and just .802 at home. Defensively he ranks 6th among centerfielders in range factor and 8th in zone rating. Cabrera is OPSing .998 in a pitchers park in a weak lineup. But what about Pujols’ ridiculous offensive numbers? His OPS is 1.138, 140 better than Cabrera and 143 points better than Beltran. He’s first in the NL in home runs despite missing three weeks with a pulled oblique muscle.

Winner- Pujols: Who cares if he plays first base? He’s too good a hitter not to get the award. Beltran puts up the best argument against, because of the great defense he plays in center, which makes this closer than one might expect. But Pujols still takes it.

Cy Young: The pitcher who’s peripherals suggest he’s been the best, balanced out by his contribution in innings pitched. ERA does play a factor but is third in importance. Wins play no factor whatsoever.

Candidates: Bronson Arroyo- Cincinnati Reds, Chris Capuano- Milwaukee Brewers, Brandon Webb- Arizona Diamondbacks

Perhaps the biggest player surprise in baseball has been the emergence of Bronson Arroyo for the Reds. Despite pitching in extremely hitter friendly Great American Ballpark, he’s kept his ERA to just 3.12 in the first half. His K rate has been solid at 6.79 and his K/BB is an excellent 3.06. But Chris Capuano has been even better; posting a better K/9 (7.81), K/BB (4.48) and a slightly better GB/FB ratio (1.03 to .96). Capuano’s ERA is a touch higher, 3.21, yet he’s been the better pitcher.

Then there’s Brandon Webb with a K/9 is 6.65, K/BB of 4.91 and GB/FB ratio of 3.79. Basically he’s hard to hit, and harder to take deep, since you never see a ground ball leave the yard.

Winner-Webb: Surprising starts are nice, but they don’t make up for sheer dominance. Webb’s started out fast and has maintained his pace even as his team has fallen off. This is an individual award and Webb has been phenomenal this year. He might be the best pitcher in baseball this season.

Rookie of the Year: The rookie who has dominated the most. In ties, a dominant pitcher gets the nod over a dominant hitter, since top flight pitchers are rarer. Team record is no factor.

Candidates: Josh Johnson- SP Florida Marlins, Dan Uggla- 2B Florida Marlins, Ryan Zimmerman- 3B Washington Nationals

Mike Jacobs could have made this a Marlins sweep, but Zimmerman has close enough numbers and plays 3B. Of course both pale in comparison to Uggla, who’s .875 OPS has been one of baseball’s biggest surprises. But is that enough to beat out teammate Josh Johnson, who’s got a 2.21 ERA this season? Johnson’s K rate is excellent at 7.77, but his K/BB sits at just 1.76, which leaves something to be desired. With a GB/FB of 1.37 he’s been neutral, but that matters less in the cavernous Pro Player Stadium. Uggla’s .365 OBP has been bolstered by a .307 average, which suggest his eye could use a little work.

Winner- Johnson: I’m tempted to declare this one a tie, but you’d trade a good second baseman for a good pitcher any day. Therefore Johnson takes it home.

Manager of the Year: Judged by team performance balanced out by expectations.

Candidates: Joe Girardi- Florida Marlins, Jerry Narron- Cincinnati Reds, Willie Randolph- New York Mets

While the Marlins are under .500 this year, manager Joe Girardi deserves a ton of credit. Most predicted this team would be the worst in baseball, yet they’ve been far from it, as their tiny payroll is neck and neck with everyone in the NL East not in New York. Speaking of those Mets, they are the current holders of the best record in the National League, and Willie Randolph will get the credit for that. I have issues with his lineups and his misuse of the pen, but the record speaks for itself. The Reds were thought to be bottom feeders alongside Pittsburgh in the NL Central this year, yet sit just two back in the loss column of the Cardinals for first place.

Winner- Girardi: I have too many issues with Randolph to give him the award. Narron deserves serious consideration but in the end, I have to go with Girardi. His Marlins maybe talented, but they are young. He’s nurtured the arms, but has done an underrated job with their hitters, who have the same OBP as the high flying Mets! (.333) And the Marlins current Pwin total is 42, versus their actual 38, which suggests they’ve been unlucky this year as well.

So those are my first half picks in the respective leagues. Surprisingly, more Marlins were up than any other team. Even more than my Mets. What does that say? All and all, despite the joke that owner Jeffery Loria is, management knows what they’re doing. If baseball can keep Loiria in check, this team has a real bright future.

As is, I don’t think anyone will want to play them in the second half. Who knows, in this awful National League, maybe, just maybe, they can make a run at a wild card spot. It’s crazy yes. But then if I had told you the Marlins would have a better run differential than the Phillies at the all star break, what would you have called it?

One half done and it was fun. The break is tough for the fans but necessary for the players. Still, I don’t think I’m alone when I say:

Thursday can’t come soon enough.


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