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AL 1st half grades | NL 1st half grades
So with the majority of the season now behind us, and the All-Star break over, it’s time to look back and see who’s done well and poorly so far this season. My grades here will be based partly on the teams 1st half play, but also on how that play compares to their expected performances from the pre-season. “C” is an acceptable grade, above that and you’re doing well, below and it might be time to re-assess things for the front office. Let’s get into it, starting with the AL…
Baseball’s best record, but only an A? Well the Yankees were expected to be at, or near, the top of baseball at this point of the season. Once again a strong line-up has papered over some cracks in the pitching, once again the pinstripes are getting the most out of tired veterans like Andruw Jones and Raul Ibanez who seemed completely spent with their previous ball clubs. In my podcasts we’ve talked about how good Robinson Cano, and despite his shutout at the Home Run Derby, he’s got a real chance to be the AL MVP when all’s said and done.
Team MVP: Robinson Cano, 2B
If everyone expected the Yankees to be atop the AL East, no one expected the Orioles to even be close to it, let alone having topped the division just over a month ago. A break-out season from outfielder Adam Jones has helped propel their offense through some troubling pitching difficulties while Matt Wieters (.277/.344/.437 since June 1st) has produced well both at and behind the plate, giving the Orioles a lot of hope for future seasons. Their trade for Jim Thome, and reports that they would be interested in making a move for Zack Greinke shows they’re not prepared to throw in the play-off towel just yet despite the rest of the division threatening to overtake them.
Team MVP: Adam Jones, OF
I’ve talked about how the lack of Evan Longoria (just 85 plate appearances this season) has hampered the Rays offense, but it’s not just there where things are going a little off-script. The much-vaunted starting rotation has not been up to scratch so far. After an impressive but uncharacteristic 2011, James Shields has fallen back towards his career numbers in things like BABIP, HR/9, Left on Base percentage as well as posting his highest walk rate since 2006, which has seen his ERA jump from a career best 2.82 to 4.17 this year. Together with worse than expected output from Matt Moore, Jeremy Hellickson and Alex Cobb and you have a tenuous situation in Tampa. Although I give the benefit of the doubt to Joe Maddon’s talents and keep them just above the C boundary of acceptability.
Team MVP: David Price, SP
Injuries galore have hurt the Red Sox. 2011 MVP runner-up Jacoby Ellsbury has only played 7 games so far, Carl Crawford none, Dustin Pedroia is on the DL and Adrian Gonzalez, despite a recent 18-game hitting streak, has been far worse than expected so far. And yet, the Red Sox are 2nd in runs per game behind only the Rangers. The pitching woes (leading the league in 1st inning runs allowed) continue to plague them though. When Ellsbury and Crawford get back the Red Sox will have an abundance of outfield bats, I wouldn’t be surprised to see Daniel Nava or Ryan Sweeney sent off to pitching help (would it be too much to expect Zack Greinke in return??)
Team MVP: David Ortiz, DH
Given the raft of pitching injuries, particularly in the starting rotation, being .500 at the break is actually quite the achievement. It’s not been pretty in Toronto for a lot of the season, but they’re only 12-16 vs the rest of the division, and it doesn’t get any easier with 16 games left against the Yankees. The Jays will have to hope that the well of late-career power than Jose Bautista and now Edwin Encarnacion have tapped into can spread to others in the team and that Brett Lawrie can build on a solid 1st half and hit the heights that many expected of him in 2012.
Team MVP: Jose Bautista, OF
Welcome to the successful side of Chicago. An awful lot of things have gone right on the Southside; Paul Konerko continues to fend off Father Time, Jake Peavy has stayed healthy, Alex Rios is finally putting together the kind of season the Blue Jays expected from him in 2008 when they signed him to a long term deal, and Adam Dunn has bounced back from a dreadful 2011 to be 5th in the majors in Isolated Power. Throw Kevin Youkilis in as well as a fantastic 1st half from Chris Sale and most of the bullpen and the White Sox are a legitimate threat to run away with this division in the 2nd half.
Team MVP: Chris Sale, SP
Our first A+ goes to Cleveland. In the 2007 ALCS the Indians gave away a 3-1 series lead to eventual World Series Champions Boston, since then players like CC Sabathia, Cliff Lee and Jhonny Peralta have departed, while stars like Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner have declined to mere shadows of their former selves, it’s been a hard road for Cleveland to get back towards a competitive level. Last season the Indians were 47-42 at the break with a better run differential than they currently have and were closer (by 2.5 games) to the division leaders, only to end up 80-82 and 15 games back. Although the immergence of young star 2nd baseman Jason Kipnis has been a big help this season, players like Carlos Santana and Justin Masterson have taken steps back. It will be very tough for the Indians to maintain such competitiveness, but the building blocks are in place for more consistency in years to come.
Team MVP: Jason Kipnis, 2B
Above .500, and not far off their record at this time last year, but expectations were extremely high in Detroit following the $200million contract that was handed to Prince Fielder, so 3rd in division and just 2 games above .500 is far from ideal. The problem has been the supporting cast are amongst the worst every-day players in baseball. Brennan Boesch, with 79 games played and over 300 plate appearances, has a league-worst -1.3WAR (among qualified hitters on fangraphs.com), and Delmon Young isn’t too far behind either. If it weren’t for what is very much looking like Austin Jackson’s break-out year (although the BABIP of .417 is a bit higher than normal) then the Tigers would be in serious trouble.
Team MVP: Justin Verlander, SP
But all accounts Kansas City put on a very good All-Star week (Unless you’re Robinson Cano of course), if only the Royals could be so good in KC. A horrible 14-23 home record as well as having the 3rd fewest runs scored in the AL despite playing in one of the more neutral homefields in baseball kind of sums up Kansas. Their offense, which isn’t short of young potential, is slow mostly due to Eric Hosmer’s BABIP-induced nightmare of an offensive season. 40 points off his career norm, and 70 off of where it was in his Major-league numbers last season, Hosmer’s BABIP of .244 (and it’s been much lower earlier in the season) is blunting what was expected to be one of Kansas’ most potent weapons. There’s still time to turn it around, and as he’s still young one should be far from panic. But it would be nice to see some of these young guys reach their potential at KC.
Team MVP: Billy Butler, DH
Speaking of neutral homefields. Target Field, opened in 2010, was thought to be a pitchers park as the big leftie bats of Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer were really struggling to drive the ball out. But this season that seems to be have been squashed by the rightie power on show from Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe. Minnesota’s pre-season expectations weren’t great after just 63 wins last year, and while they are on a pace to beat that, it’s only just. The rollercoaster of Francisco Liriano continues to both amaze and annoy, while the rest of the rotation is pretty ugly.
Team MVP: Joe Mauer, C
One loss worse off than the Yankees, but they’ve been a little more fortunate with injuries. None of their big, and normally injury-prone, hitters have missed much time. Injuries at pitcher have been absorbed by the signing of Roy Oswalt and a fantastic 1st half from Matt Harrison. Yu Darvish is bedding in well, and while his walk rate is higher than desirable his K rate is superb (10.26 per 9 innings). When Neftali Feliz, Alexi Ogando and others get back the Rangers will have a wealth of talent, especially as they seem to be in the market to trade for even more, But if they do then the 2nd half still won’t be a cake-walk.
Team MVP: Josh Hamilton, OF
It’s hard to think how a team that has as much talent as the Angels could possibly get off to such a slow start, but that’s all turned around now. The 4 game gap to the Rangers is easily surmountable, especially as Albert Pujols is heating up, Dan Haren is getting healthy on the DL and they have 3 players in Mike Trout, Mark Trumbo and Jared Weaver all over 2.5WAR already. If Torii Hunter can keep up the production he’s had since coming back from injury, and the lights-out performances of Scott Downs and Ernesto Frieri are sustained then they’re well worth the money that was being put on them after the off-season spending spree.
Team MVP: Mike Trout, OF
Life, as ever, is tough for the Athletics. With the lowest average salary of just $1.8million it’s always going to be tricky, so to be at .500 is an impressive feat. Again, they’ve been able to get great talent in via trades, sending injury-prone closer Andrew Bailey & outfielder Ryan Sweeney to Boston and getting back Josh Reddick (and others), who is putting together a really nice year and leads the team in OBP, SLG, HR. If they can get Yoenis Cespedes back towards his best after a series of hand injuries then the heart of the line-up suddenly looks a lot better.
Team MVP: Josh Reddick, OF
Another tough season so far for the Mariners. A line-up of young potential has struggled to get it going, Felix Hernandez has had a few rough patches and lower velocity on his fastball this season and behind him there’s very little to get excited about. One of the more interesting things about the Mariners this season is that SAFECO field, which traditionally plays badly for hitters, has been playing even worse than normal, really hurting the production of young stars like Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak and Kyle Seager.
Team MVP: Felix Hernandez, SP
AL MVP: 1. Josh Hamilton 2. Mike Trout 3. Robinson Cano
AL Cy Young: 1. Justin Verlander 2. Chris Sale 3. Felix Hernandez
AL Rookie of the Year: 1. Mike Trout 2. Yu Darvish 3. Will Middlebrooks
AL Manager of the Year: 1. Buck Showalter (Orioles) 2. Robin Ventura (White Sox) 3. Manny Acta (Indians)