Game's youth movement apparent in my picks for Midseason Awards
No matter which catcher you like in the National League or which slugging corner infielder you like in the American League, the most valuable players of the first half of the baseball season have something in common: they are in the traditional prime years of a player's career. When I checked the ages of the 20 players I picked to put on MVP ballots for the first half, none of them were older than their age-30 baseball season.
You can't go wrong with either Buster Posey or Yadier Molina in the NL or Miguel Cabrera or Chris Davis in the AL. But if you're the Angels, with $365 million invested in Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, or the Yankees, with $80 million this year wasted on the disabled list in Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Mark Teixeria and Curtis Granderson, or the Phillies, with $66 million this year going to Roy Halladay, Ryan Howard, Chase Utley and Jimmy Rollins, or the White Sox, with $43 million going to Adam Dunn, Paul Konerko and Jake Peavy, you can go very, very wrong with older, expensive players. The White Sox, Phillies, Dodgers and Yankees are four of the five oldest teams in baseball.
Long gone are the days when older players dominated baseball. Of the 20 MVP winners since testing for PEDs began in 2003, only two players older than 30 have won the award, and both have been connected to steroids: Barry Bonds (39 in 2004 and 38 in 2003) and Rodriguez (31 in 2007).
The best stories in baseball this year are about the new generation. The Pirates, with Gerrit Cole, 22, and Jeff Locke, 25, combining to go 11-1, are the best team in the game and have the seventh-youngest roster. Bryce Harper, 20, Mike Trout, 21, Manny Machado, 21, and Yasiel Puig, 22, are on the short list of the most exciting young players in baseball, with Wil Myers, 22, ready to join them. Matt Harvey, 24, is the most exciting pitcher in baseball. The first half award winners, listed below with their ages, reflect the power of youth in the game.
1. Yadier Molina, Cardinals, age 30
2. Buster Posey, Giants, 26
3. Paul Goldschmidt, Diamondbacks, 25
4. Carlos Gonzalez, Rockies, 27
5. Joey Votto, Reds, 29
6. Andrew McCutchen, Pirates, 26
7. Carlos Gomez, Brewers, 27
8. David Wright, Mets, 30
9. Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies, 28
10. Freddie Freeman, Braves, 23
Both Posey and Molina have strong cases. Posey leads Molina in on-base percentage, slugging, total bases, home runs and RBIs. Molina is the better defensive catcher. Molina gets the slight edge here because of his advantage on defense and his superior clutch hitting for one of the best teams in the league. But make no mistake, this is a coin flip of a call. The oddity of the vote here is such little representation from the NL East, including nobody from preseason favorite Washington.
1. Miguel Cabrera, Tigers, 30
2. Chris Davis, Orioles, 27
3. Mike Trout, Angels, 21
4. Manny Machado, Orioles, 21
5. Dustin Pedroia, Red Sox, 29
6. Evan Longoria, Rays, 27
7. Joe Mauer, Twins, 30
8. Edwin Encarnacion, Blue Jays, 30
9. Jason Kipnis, Indians, 26
10. Josh Donaldson, Athletics, 27
Only another historic season from reigning MVP and Triple Crown winner Cabrera keeps Davis and his monster season out of the top spot. Cabrera began the week leading the league in batting, RBIs, runs, hits, on-base percentage, OPS and OPS+ and was hitting .456 with runners in scoring position. And Cabrera keeps pitchers honest by being one of the most aggressive hitters in the league. When he swings at the first or second pitch, Cabrera is hitting .460 and averaging one home run every 10 at-bats.
Here's how good Harvey, who leads the league with a 2.00 ERA, has been: If you took out the seven games Harvey has won, he still would rank seventh in the league in ERA (2.39 in his one loss and nine no-decisions). Already he has three starts in which he walked none, struck out at least 10 and gave up no more than one earned run and wound up with a no-decision. Only four pitchers suffered more such hard-luck no-decisions in a full season: Randy Johnson (5) and Curt Schilling, Mike Mussina and Pedro Martinez (4).
Yes, he gets more run support than any other starter and is the first pitcher since Roger Clemens in 1986 to start 12-0. But Scherzer also has allowed the fewest hits per nine innings, is holding batters to a .092 average in all two-strike counts, has pitched seven or more innings in 11 of his 16 starts and ranks second in strikeouts. In short, he's about much more than his won-lost record.
Don't be surprised if somebody not even listed above winds up winning the award at the end of the season, such as Yasiel Puig of the Dodgers, Cole of the Pirates or Marcell Ozuna of the Marlins. But this is not a projection. This is about who are the best rookies of the first half. As much of an impact as Puig has already made, Gyorko has more hits, runs, at-bats, doubles, home runs, RBIs, walks and games played than Puig. That's a huge edge in production.
But the race right now is about pitching, with little separation among Miller, Ryu, Teheran and Fernandez. The edge goes to Miller, who leads the pack in WHIP, strikeouts and ERA.
Iglesias is the best of what for now is an extremely mediocre field of AL rookies. In the second half, keep an eye on the Rays' Myers, who has spent just two weeks in the bigs. But for now, by default, the choice has to be Iglesias, a guy who has started fewer than 30 games this year and has hit well above expectations: a .409 average and a .985 OPS in 39 games.
It's fairly simple: The 51-30 Pirates, holding the best record in baseball, are the biggest story of the first half of the season. They rank ninth in the league in runs, but the emergence of young starting pitchers, a lights-out bullpen built on the cheap and a formidable defense make Pittsburgh a legitimate playoff contender.
They may not win 100 games -- not when only the Cardinals have more wins against losing teams and when the offense can get cold -- but the Pirates could sure make the postseason. This could be the first pennant race in Pittsburgh in a generation. Everybody else can get in line behind Hurdle.
The train wreck of Bobby Valentine and the 2012 season are long gone. Changing the culture is one thing, but changing it and winning instantly are the stuff of Manager of the Year Awards. Farrell has negotiated an injury to his best starting pitcher (Clay Buchholz) and having to change his closer four times. His team plays hard for him and only once has lost as many as three games in a row.