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Baseline Times First Half MLB MVP Winners

The first half of the 2017 MLB season has been a very interesting one. In the National League, you have surprising breakout seasons with the Diamondbacks, Rockies, and Brewers all sitting in playoff spots at the moment. Then you have the Cubs, Mets, and Giants, all teams who made the 2016 playoffs, currently sitting under .500. Of those three teams, the Cubs are the only one with a real shot at the playoffs, with the Mets and Giants around the bottom of the MLB in wins. At the top of the NL, the Dodgers sit at 61 wins by the All-Star break, eight wins above the number two Diamondbacks, with 26 wins in their last 30 games.

In the American League, there are a far greater amount of teams in the middle compared to their NL counterparts. Four of the top five teams by wins in the MLB are NL teams. Three of the bottom four teams by wins in are NL teams. 13 of the other 21 teams are smack dab in the middle of the pack from the AL. The Red Sox are the only 50 win team, 11 games over .500, with the Rays sitting three wins back only four games over .500. Besides the White Sox, Tigers, and A’s, every other AL team has between 41 and 50 wins. The NL has just five teams between 41 and 50 wins.

First Half MLB Award Winner and Candidates

As far as individual players go, the leagues essentially switch when it comes to parity when considering the first half MLB MVP winners. Below are my top five choices for each league for the first half MVP awards. If you are interested, check out our article on the Baseline Times First Half Cy Young Winners as well.

Apr 17, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; New York Yankees right fielder Aaron Judge (right) is congratulated after hitting a two run home run against the Chicago White Sox during the fifth inning at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

Apr 17, 2017; Bronx, NY, USA; Mandatory Credit: Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

American League – OF Aaron Judge – .329/.448/.691 30 HR 66 RBI 197 wRC+ and 5.5 fWAR in 84 G

Could anyone else have been in this spot? Judge has lit the baseball world on fire in 2017 and is not only the best player in the AL this season but in all of the MLB. He leads the MLB in home runs, wRC+, and fWAR. In the AL, Judge had a 1.1 fWAR lead over the second highest ranked position player. Not only is judge the first half MVP winner, he has a great head start for the second half as well.

2. SS Carlos Correa – .325/.402/.577 20 HR 65 RBI 161 wRC+ and 4.0 fWAR in 81 G

Correa had a rough first few weeks of the 2017 season, hitting just .196/.292/.250 with 1 extra base hit in his first 65 PA. Since then, Correa has hit an astounding .347/.421/.638 in 302 PA, good for a 181 wRC+. Correa has been one of the better hitters in baseball this season while at the same time playing good defense at SS for the Houston Astros. On a team with at least three players good enough to be in the discussion for the first half MVP award, Correa is the best to me.

3. 2B Jose Altuve – .347/.417/.551 13 HR 18 SB 161 wRC+ and 4.4 fWAR in 86 G

For the fourth straight season, Altuve is a hit machine. He has had 200 or more hits each of the last three seasons and is well on his way this season already sitting at 116. What has changed the last two seasons for him is that along with those hits, he’s starting to hit for very good power. Last season he slugged .531 with 71 extra base hits, and this season is already at a better pace with a .551 slugging percentage and 40 extra base hits to this point. You could easily flip Correa and Altuve around here because they have been both so amazing great for the Astros.

4. OF Mike Trout – .337/.461/.742 16 HR 10 SB 208 wRC+ and 3.4 fWAR in 47 G

No one likes to see players get injured, but the injury to Mike Trout in 2017 has been my least favorite (with apologies to Freddie Freeman). The injury to Trout robbed of us an excellent MVP race between he and Judge, seeing which player could amaze us more. In just 47 games Trout was worth 3.4 fWAR this season, right around a pace of 10 or so fWAR. Amazingly enough 10 fWAR would actually be just the third highest of his career after his first two season totals.

Currently, Trout is rehabbing and may be back soon, but with the time missed, it’s hard to believe he could overcome the gap between Judge and the rest of the league. However, if he comes back and plays as great as ever, it will be interesting to see what people think about 120 or so games of peak Mike Trout vs the full season of the others.

5. 3B Jose Ramirez – .332/.388/.601 17 HR 10 SB 157 wRC+ and 3.9 fWAR in 86 G

Putting Ramirez fifth on this list may look a bit odd, seeing as he has been as good or better than everyone mentioned so far minus Aaron Judge. What that really says is that the group below Judge are all so insanely close together in value, that no matter what order I arranged them in there would be people who had a problem with it.

With that said, Jose Ramirez has been quite spectacular this season after being a very good utility type player last season. Ramirez has upped his offense to a very high level in 2017, especially the last month and a half or so. Since 5/26, Ramirez has 33 extra base hits and is hitting .398/.441/.747 with a 210 wRC+ in 179 PA.

Honorable Mentions: Chris Sale, George Springer, Mookie Betts

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

National League –  3B Justin Turner – .377/.473/.583 10 HR 183 wRC+ and 4.1 fWAR in 65 G

Over the last four seasons with the Los Angeles Dodgers, Justin Turner has changed from mediocre utility infielder to a legitimate star 3B. This season, Turner not only leads the NL in batting average, but the entire MLB. A high batting average is not all Turner has accomplished in 2017, despite Eno Sarris calling it an empty BA just a week or so ago. Turner also has the highest OBP in the MLB sitting at .473, and the highest wRC+ in the NL by 16 points over Joey Votto at 183. Currently, Turner does not technically qualify for the leaderboards but is likely to after this weekend or into early next week.

Another big value to Turner is his excellent glove at 3B. Turner is not the best fielding 3B in the NL, an honor which Nolan Arenado currently holds, but it may be the next best thing. If you couple that excellent defense at 3B with his league leading hitting, this puts Justin Turner at 4.1 fWAR, tied for the NL lead, and with 15-20 fewer games played than his competition.

2. 1B Paul Goldschmidt – .312/.428/.577 20 HR 67 RBI 13 SB 153 wRC+ and 4.0 fWAR

Paul Goldschmidt is having yet another elite year. What is different from this to previous years of his elite play is that it is actually for an Arizona Diamondbacks team that is actually right in the thick of the playoff hunt. At the moment the Diamondbacks have 53 wins, which is the third most in baseball. They have a 2 game lead over the Rockies for the first Wild Card spot and 9.5 over the Cardinals and Cubs after that.

The only offensive category that Goldschmidt leads in is runs scored, but he is top 10 in HR (8th), RBI (4th), SB (8th), BA (10th), OBP (3rd), SLG (8th), wOBA (4th), wRC+ (4th), and fWAR (3rd). Goldschmidt hasn’t been the best in any significant category but has been exceptional in every offensive category this season.

3. 1B Joey Votto – .315/.427/.631 26 HR 68 RBI 167 wRC+ and 3.8 fWAR

What can you say about Joey Votto? Outside of an injury-shortened 2014, Votto has not had a wRC+ under 155 since his second full season in the majors back in 2009. Outside of that 2014 season, he has not had an fWAR under 4.6 since 2009. Votto is a model of offensive consistency, and maybe the most overlooked star of this generation.

In 2017 Votto is not only getting on base like usual, with his .427 OBP, but is hitting for the best power of his career to this point. Votto leads the NL in slugging percentage at .631, .031 points higher than his previous career high. He is already with 26 home runs through 88 games, with his career high being 37 back in 2010, the same year of his previous career high .600 slugging percentage. There is very little reason why Votto couldn’t be second and Goldschmidt third on this list, but I gave a very slight edge for Goldschmidt helping lead the Diamondbacks to the third best record in the first half.

4. 3B Anthony Rendon – .304/.407/.552 16 HR 54 RBI 148 wRC+ and 4.1 fWAR

Despite being tied for the NL lead in fWAR with Justin Turner, Anthony Rendon was not voted to the All-Star team. It definitely seems like one of the bigger oversights in recent memory, despite 3B in the NL being absolutely stacked this season. Rendon is not only putting up a great offensive season, tied for 5th in wRC+, but has been a tremendous fielder at 3B this season, similar to Justin Turner.

However, Rendon has been a bit overshadowed this season by teammates Bryce Harper and Ryan Zimmerman, both of whom got major attention for a huge first couple of months. As it’s turned out, Rendon has done better for longer than both of his Washington Nationals teammates in overall value and is very deserving of being in the NL MVP discussion. More people may prefer Bryce Harper in this spot, but for me Rendon has done just a bit more to be here instead.

5. SS Corey Seager – .298/.395/.502 13 HR 139 wRC+ and 3.6 fWAR

As the reigning NL Rookie of the Year, Corey Seager has not only improved his game from last season with better on-base skills (7.9 BB% in 16 to 13.5% in 17), but continues to hit for good power and measure very favorably in fielding by UZR. Seager does not have flashy HR or RBI numbers but has a great line drive swing that results in a lot of extra base hits. His numbers aren’t flashy like you would expect an MVP candidate to be, but his overall game being so good to great at everything with very few holes provides a huge amount of value.

Honorable Mentions: Bryce Harper, Buster Posey, Daniel Murphy, Marcell Ozuna, Cody Bellinger, Max Scherzer, Clayton Kershaw

As always for those wanting to learn more about some of the advanced stats mentioned here, go to Fangraphs.com

Phillies’ Galvis emerges as clubhouse leader in losing season

To say it’s been a rough season for the Philadelphia Phillies would be one of the understatements of the 2017 baseball season so far. In this rebuilding year, few of the organization’s young major-leaguers have made a developmental leap forward, but the team’s longest tenured player is becoming a leader in the Phillies young (and getting younger) clubhouse.

Freddy Galvis came up to the big leagues in 2012 with a reputation as a stellar glove-man with questions about whether his bat could stick at the major league level. Today he’s still got that reputation, making challenging plays look routine and leading the National League in fielding percentage in 2016. Despite hitting for some power and a possessing a penchant for clutch hitting, it’s clear at this point in his career that he’ll never be an offensive force.

This article isn’t about Freddy’s on-the-field performance though. Recently, the shortstop unleashed a profanity-laden rant about the team’s effort level.

“In spring training, if you told me we were going to have this record, I wouldn’t believe it,” said Freddy. “I believed we had a good team. But we just can’t put anything together. We play well for five or six games and then we go to another six- or seven-game losing streak.

His frustration is understandable. After playing well in April, the team has been mired in a prolonged slump that has them on pace for well more than a hundred losses. In Galvis’ rookie year the Phillies went 81-81 and that is the most successful season he’s had since getting to the show.

“It’s hard. It’s hard to see. It’s hard to believe it. (Bleep) it. We have to (bleeping) play harder every single day. We need to try to do better,” said Galvis.

That was last Monday night.

Tuesday, Freddy went three for five with two RBI, spurring the Phillies to an 8-2 win over the Mariners. Maikel Franco hit a double and a home run and Aaron Nola allowed two runs over seven innings.

Wednesday saw the Phillies tie the game on a Tommy Joseph homer in the ninth. That cleared the way for rookie Cameron Perkins to draw a walk and advance to second on a balk. Perkins would be hit in for the winning run by fellow rookie Andrew Knapp. This all, of course, came after rookie Ricardo Pinto threw three scoreless innings to keep it close.

Seeing a pattern here?

“It’s nice to have a leader like that to be able to call us out a little bit. It’s been a tough stretch,” said Knapp after the game. “He’s right. We need to start playing a little bit better. That’s what we’re capable of. So I don’t think he’s asking too much of us. It lit a fire a little bit.”

“I think everybody takes that personally,” said second-year first baseman Tommy Joseph. “It wasn’t an organized meeting or anything. We all know what was said. Now it’s a matter of taking it personally and making a difference.”

I suppose it’s fitting that the Phillie who’s been around the longest takes up the mantle of clubhouse leader. Galvis wasn’t on the 2008 championship team but he played with that Utley-Howard-Rollins infield and he’s the current roster’s last, best link to them.

A two-game winning streak for a lousy team is barely a blip on the larger radar of the 2017 season, but in the larger narrative of the Phillies rebuild this could be a turning point.

And as the Phillies brass contemplates who stays and who goes as they try to build a new championship core, they’d be wise to consider Galvis, a player who may not light up the scoreboard every game, but who knows how to ignite the talents of the players around him.

 

Brett Miller, Baseline Times MLB Contributor

 

The Cubs are bad, but they’re also not the Cubs

It’s July, and the defending World Series champions have been hovering around .500 the entire season. Many things are contributing to the utterly disappointing championship hangover we’re witnessing this year. So, what gives?

Their rotation is a disaster, and their much-vaunted lineup of young studs has been middling, at best. They’ve been hurt and, although they’ve avoided catastrophic injuries, it’s added an extra layer of strain to an already struggling roster. With that in mind, it’s important to point out that, yes, the Cubs have been bad – but, in many ways, this is not the Cubs.

Kyle Schwarber is in AAA, Kyle Hendricks is hurt, Jason Heyward is hurt, Ben Zobrist is hurt, Addison Russell is nursing a season-long shoulder injury, and Kris Bryant just rolled his ankle catching a pop-up. Miguel Montero was DFA’d because of a clubhouse rift (which he created). John Lackey hasn’t been the innings-eating, upper-threes ERA guy he’s built a career on. Jake Arrieta has been a far cry from his 2016 season (which was already much worse than his 2015 Cy Young campaign). Brett Anderson Brett Andersoned, and, to top it all off, they’re trying to win ballgames with a slightly above-average spring training roster.

Let’s take a look at some of the current crop of youngsters who are being tasked with reviving the Cubs’ comatose season.

Eddie Butler, SP

When the Cubs traded James Farris for Eddie Butler, the intent was to acquire a talented starting pitcher who could try to work out a few of the issues that were keeping him from being a successful major leaguer. He was never supposed to be a staple of the rotation this season, yet here we are. To his credit, with a 3.71 ERA, Butler has been more than formidable. However, his 4.28 FIP and 5.27 xFIP suggest that he’s been more lucky than good.

Victor Caratini, C

As a consensus Top 15-ish Cubs prospect coming into the season, it’s not like Caratini came out of nowhere. He had a .923 OPS in Iowa before getting the call to replace Montero. Caratini is currently tasked with being the backup catcher, behind Willson Contreras. His bat is probably already above-average for a second catcher, but there are plenty of questions about his defensive ability. Drafted as a 3B in 2013, he’s only had a few seasons to become acclimated behind the dish. It’s likely that the Cubs will make a trade for a veteran backup before the deadline, but the job is his for now.

Jeimer Candelario, 3B

Blocked at third and first by Bryant and Anthony Rizzo, respectively, Jeimer Candelario has always been destined to be a trade chip for Chicago. Thanks to injuries and ineffectiveness, Candelario will now have an extended audition in the majors to showcase his bat for potential trade suitors. He’s been largely unimpressive as a fill-in, albeit in an incredibly small sample size. Before his call-up, he was batting .274/.366/.520 with 9 HR, 31 BB, and 59 Ks. His bat is legitimate but hasn’t been good enough to help cure the Cubs offensive woes.

Mark Zagunis, OF

Mark Zagunis, the Cubs #5 prospect according to MLB.com, was most likely to be called up in September so he could get a taste of major league pitching. Like the others in this article, Zagunis’ promotion was forced by some pretty unfortunate circumstances. In AAA, he was hitting .249/.399/.474 with 11 HR, 48 BB, and 60 Ks. Similarly to Candelario, his bat is probably close to ready, but he’s still very raw. Expect him to be the first to be sent back down when Heyward or Zobrist returns.

[UPDATE: Mark Zagunis has been optioned back down to AAA, as Ben Zobrist has been activated from the 10-Day DL]

In addition to the four players mentioned here, the Cubs current active roster features Felix Pena, who has been shuffled back and forth from Iowa with fellow reliever Dylan Floro – neither of whom are truly major league talents. Top prospect Ian Happ forced his way into a promotion, and has provided stellar value as a rookie. So, it’s not all bad news.

What does all of this mean? The Cubs are currently without their second best starting pitcher, as well their opening day second baseman, left fielder, right fielder, backup catcher, and fifth starter. They’re trying to compete with a roster that is completely different than what they intended at the start of the season.

That, in combination with unspectacular play from players who were expected to flourish, has doomed Chicago to a disappointing first half. Luckily, the rest of the NL Central is equally anemic, which has kept the Cubs’ playoff hopes alive. The All-Star break can’t come soon enough, as it should give the team the mental break it needs, as well as provide ample time for Heyward, Zobrist, and Hendricks to return.

The Cubs’ 2017 has been a perfect storm of mediocrity, injury, and inconsistency, but every storm eventually runs out of rain.

 

Kory Schulte, Baseline Times 

Follow Kory on Twitter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

No Record For Sale, But Sox Offense Keeps Rolling

chris sale espn

Picture Source: ESPN

As it turns out, Chris Sale is not Superman. However, no one can deny that he’s having one hell of a season. In a bid to become the first pitcher in the modern era to post double-digit strikeouts in 9 consecutive starts in a season, Sale fell shy, fanning 6 through 7 ⅓ innings yesterday against the Rangers.

After striking out 3 of the first 6 batters he faced, it appeared that Sale was on track to break the record. But history was not to be made at Fenway Park Wednesday night. After holding the Rangers hitless through 5 ⅔ innings, Mike Napoli sent a shot deep into the Monster seats in the left-center field putting Texas up 2-1. The Rangers would add on another run in the 5th leaving the Red Sox trailing by 2 late in the game.

But in a rare display of run support behind Chris Sale, which has been noticeably lacking this season, the Red Sox offense came alive in the 7th. Sparked by a leadoff single by Sam Travis making his major league debut, the Sox combined for 7 runs on 5 hits. Taking on one run apiece in the 8th, the Red Sox would go on to pick up their third win in a row with a final score of 9-4.

“Seven runs right there. The guys pulled through in a game where I was probably pretty mediocre.” Sale said after the game. If the Boston offense can keep their pace (32 runs, 39 hits over last 3 games) Sale’s “mediocre” pitching will continue to win games.

And if you think Sale’s performance thus far has been a fluke, consider this: no pitcher has more strikeouts (1,233) through 158 starts since 1893, according to ESPN Stats & Info.

Keep up the mediocrity, Chris!

The Rangers and Red Sox conclude their 3-game series tonight in Boston. Nick Martinez (1-2) will take the hill for Texas facing Drew Pomeranz (3-3) starting at 7:10 PM EST.

 

Andy Ouellette, Baseline Times MLB Contributor 

Kyle Schwarber hit a bomb last night that may not have landed yet

We’ve seen Kyle Schwarber hit big home runs before, but the one he hit yesterday may still be orbiting Wrigleyville. In the bottom of the first inning Schwarber hit a 3-2 pitch off Johnny Cueto 470 feet out of Wrigley Field, which marks his 7th of the season and longest of his career. According to Statcast, Schwarber’s bomb had an exit velocity of 114 mph, which is the hardest hit by a Cub’s player since the statistic’s introduction in 2015.

Watch Schwarber’s bomb:

However, it was Jon Lester’s performance on the mound that stole the show in the Cub’s 4-1 win over the Giants Tuesday night. Following a rain delay, Lester made quick work of the .231 hitting Giant’s lineup, needing only 99 pitches to hold them to 1 run in his complete game performance. The Giant’s only run came off a line drive double hit by Brandon Crawford, scoring Buster Posey in the top of the 5th. With 10 strikeouts and no walks, Lester became the first Cubs pitcher since Carlos Zambrano in 2009 to complete a game throwing fewer than 100 pitches.

Two more home runs by the Cubs added to the slugfest with a solo shot by Jason Heyward in the 2nd and a two-run blast by Anthony Rizzo in the 4th.

The two teams square up again tonight in Chicago for Game 3 of the series at 8:05 PM EST.