The Brewer Nation First “Half” Awards

With the second “half” of the baseball season finally getting underway tomorrow, many columnists hand out awards for the first half. You can call it “lazy” or “overdone” or “cliche” if you want to, but I was asked who I would give out first half awards to both league-wide and for the Brewers so I decided to write it up.

I will name recipients of awards for the American League, National League, and Milwaukee Brewers in each of the following categories:

  • MVP
  • Cy Young
  • Rookie of the Half

I fully realize that some of these will be obvious selections, but I’ll name them all the same.

AMERICAN LEAGUE

I know that I primarily write about the National League and specifically the Brewers, but I do have a dog in the AL fight each year. If you know me personally or follow along on the Twitter account (@BrewerNation) you probably know which team it is.

That little disclaimer just means that I do follow all of baseball and not just the Brewers.

Okay, on to “bidness”…

MVP – Paul Konerko

I realize that the chic pick is Mike Trout of the The Angels Angels of Anaheim, and there are great arguments to that end. The Angels starting winning when he was called up, he’s a catalyst, a game-changer on both sides of the ball, and really has sparked a team that sat double-digit games behind the Texas Rangers in the AL West very quickly this year.

But Konerko, the face of the Chicago White Sox franchise, is carrying his team in a way nobody at the age of 36 is supposed to be able to do anymore.

Posting at or near career-best paces in several offensive categories, Konerko has led his team to a 47-38 record, good for a three-game lead in the AL Central over the surprising Cleveland Indians.

He’ll truly be deserving of the award if he can help the White Sox maintain that lead throughout the balance of the year, especially seeing as how it appears that Detroit is about to make a run and they only sit 3.5 games back.

But for now, for the first “half”, Konerko gets my vote not only because of the standings of the team, and his individual numbers, but his leadership is making a major difference for a squad being led by rookie manager Robin Ventura.

One key example? The White Sox do a lot of infield practice, something that rarely happens at all let alone consistently any more with big league clubs during the season. If Konerko had played the “veteran” card and told Ventura to stick it, it would have greatly impacted the clubhouse unity and morale. Konerko bought in, his teammates no doubt saw that the 36-year-old veteran bought in, and they started busting ass too.

That’d be one of the “intangibles” you read about so many people disregarding these days.

Cy Young – Justin Verlander

I don’t think this pick needs as much explanation as the Konerko one maybe did, but I’ll justify it thusly…

Verlander is still the pitcher I feel gives his team the best chance to win every time he’s on the mound.

His record is…something that won’t be considered here.

Something that need noticing, however, are that he leads the Majors in starts of eight or more innings. That not only means he’s pitching well enough to stay in the game, but it means that the Detroit bullpen gets many nights mostly off. Limiting innings of your bullpen has been a factor in the success of many teams over the years. Verlander already has five complete games, more than any other full season of his career.

His K% is solid, his WHIP is a pretty spectacular 0.95, he leads MLB in WAR for pitchers, he’s got the highest WPA of all starters (second to only the Orioles closer), he’s all over the Top 10s of different statistical pitching categories.

To put it simply, I’ll reiterate what I said earlier. He’s got the best chance to help his team win when he toes the rubber.

Rookie of the Half – Mike Trout

All those things I said above when commenting on Konerko over Trout for MVP? Yeah, they earn Trout this distinction pretty easily.

He’s a dynamo and appears, at least very early on, to have the potential to be one of those special players that you’re going to want to see play live just so you can say you did.

This guy was highly-touted for a reason and he’s exceeding even the most glowing projections for himself to this point. He’ll likely cool off some during the second half, but chances are that he’ll still be plenty valuable when it’s all said and done in October.

NATIONAL LEAGUE

MVP – Andrew McCutchen

This came down to the fact that McCutchen’s Pittsburgh Pirates are leading Joey Votto’s Cincinnati Reds in the NL Central Division.

Both had an uh-may-zing first “half” at the plate. If you compare their stat lines, they look like this:

McCutchen: .362/.414/.625, 309 AB, 112 H, 58 R, 17 doubles, 5 triples, 18 HR, 60 RBI, 14 SB, 28 BB, 185 OPS+
Votto: .348/.471/.617, 287 AB, 100 H, 50 R, 35 doubles, 0 triples, 14 HR, 48 RBI, 5 SB, 64 BB, 186 OPS+

Those are pretty darn evenly-matched players. McCutchen plays the more valuable defensive position (though he’s hardly elite in the outfield) and he has much less help than Votto does.

Lastly, while the Pirates were in first place even later last year (it finally fell apart for them on July 25th), this year has a much different feel to it. McCutchen’s elevated play is a massive part of that change.

That’s value.

Cy Young – R.A. Dickey

There are several worthy candidates for this award. Several have better numbers in various categories, but the fact that a knuckleballer is even in this conversation is awesome to me.

I know that Dickey didn’t pitch spectacularly in two of his final three starts prior to the break but even with those 11 earned runs in 13 innings, he finished the half with a 2.40 ERA (it was 2.00 flat before that hiccup of a stretch).

He’s doing things that nobody in this younger demographic of baseball fans has seen a knuckleballer do. That’s awesome, and worthy of adulation.

Rookie of the Half – Bryce Harper

With apologies to Norichika Aoki who has posted strikingly similar numbers to Harper in several categories, this is a 19-year-old phenom doing this at the highest level of his sport. Is there a significant slump on the horizon? Perhaps but regardless of that, this is an award for the first half.

Harper has done more than enough to earn this award, and it’s merely amplified that he’s doing it at 19. Aoki is a 30-year-old former multiple-time batting champion of the Japanese league. He’s got a touch more experience even if he’s excelling in a new country and league.

The Washington Nationals outfielder has posted a .282/.354/.472 slash line and posted an OPS+ of 123 to this point. Yes he needs to improve his patience at the plate and some of his ratios, but he’s got a lot of room and time to keep getting better.

My favorite reason to give Harper this award? He plays the game so hard each and every day. He’s got a passion, drive, and commitment to chasing excellence on the baseball field. He’s enjoyable to watch.

MILWAUKEE BREWERS

To preemptively state the obvious, if you need extensive explanations about why I chose these players for these respective awards, then you haven’t been paying very close attention to the team this year. That’s okay, but it’s also confusing that you’d be here reading this in the first place, if I’m being honest.

Then again, you are reading it so here are the who and the how come…

MVP – Ryan Braun

As a player that could be included in discussions regarding league MVP, he’s an easy — if obvious — choice here. Braun has been amazing this season, posting numbers in several offensive categories that are better than last year…when he actually did win the league MVP Award for the full season.

The main difference? Team success. Many people say that shouldn’t make a difference, but it does to me and to plenty of other people including Braun himself.

Cy Young – Zack Greinke

With an honorable mention needing to go to Mike Fiers here for what he’s done in just seven starts, this award belongs to Zack Greinke. He’s answered the bell from Round 1 this year and has posted the strongest numbers on the team over the larger sample size.

Believe me, Fiers got serious consideration from me because of just how good he’s been able to be since his promotion, but he didn’t do it enough.

There’s a lot going on with Greinke right now, including his being on the precipice of tying a MLB record, but his first half was the best on the team.

Rookie of the Half – Norichika Aoki

Remember a little while ago when I said that Aoki has posted some similar numbers to Bryce Harper? Well, he has. And while not enough to overtake Harper as my league-wide award recipient, it’s plenty to be recognized as the top rookie on the team so far in 2012.

Aoki came with an incredible pedigree when the Brewers signed him away from his team in Japan. (Those accolades can be found on the blog if you’re interested.) The question was how Aoki would adapt to the play and pitchers of Major League Baseball.

After primarily coming off the bench to begin the year and struggling while doing so, Ron Roenicke had a talk with Aoki about his preparation and his play has been much improved since.

At this rate, he’ll be in the league’s ROTY discussion in September, and run away and hide with the Brewers’ team accolade.

Congratulations to all the award recipients! Here’s to a second “half” that rivals the first for all of them…except McCutchen, of course, because the Brewers are chasing them in the division so a drop off in his production would help the Brewers out.

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