Ah, the All-Star Break. The three worst days of the year. The only good thing about it is reading people’s crazy half-season awards, which usually amount to "who has the most SportsCenter highlights this week?" Here’s Jeff Passan to get the crazy rolling:
AL MVP of the Half: Miguel Cabrera, 3B, Detroit Tigers
The correct choice. Any bets that it’s for all the wrong reasons?
Chris Davis is having an all-time first half. He may well hit 60 home runs. The last person not on steroids to finish the season with a slugging percentage over .700 was Larry Walker in 1999, and Davis’ is .712. It is not easy to put into words how good Davis has been.
Good. Good arguments in favour of Miguel Cabrera. Look at all those team-killing home runs! Some of them were probably three-run homers, which anybody who’s ever seen, read, or heard a piece of sports journalism knows is the worst possible outcome for a hitter. Also: nice baseless assumption that 1999 Larry Walker was not on steroids. Also 2013 Chris Davis, for that matter. I guess it’s awesome for the rest of us that you’ve spoken with God on this subject and have The Truth.
Which is why this is so shocking to say: Cabrera has been better. He more than makes up for whatever slugging deficiency he has with an on-base percentage of .457 to Davis’ .395.
Well… here’s the thing. As of today (Jeff wrote this a few days ago; I’ve just been lazy) Miggy’s OBP is .456 and his SLG is .676. Those are awesome. Awesome numbers. Crash Gordon’s? .389 and .690. So, uh, yeah; Miguel Cabrera’s extra 70 points of OBP do in fact overpower Davis’ 14-point SLG lead. This is why we have analysts: to tell us these unpopular truths.
He plays a far more difficult position – and even if he’s not very good at third, there’s more value in playing there than first base.
Whoa, whoa, whoa there, hoss. This is not true. A good defensive first baseman is vastly more valuable than a butcher at third. You don’t think this might be the case? Otherwise, why not just stack all of our fielders at short and let the other positions lay empty? Just think how much more value we’d get from having all those shortstops!
No, the real reason Miggy’s shit 3B play is more valuable is because Davis is a horrible butcher at 1B, too! He’s showing -7 DRS, which is awful. Granted, Miggy’s at -12, but the positional adjustment just cancels that out, leaving Davis at -1.2 DWAR and Miggy at -1.0. So, actually, it turns out that your 1B has to be as awful as Chris Davis before he’s worth less defensively than Miggy at third!
NL MVP of the Half: Carlos Gonzalez, LF, Colorado Rockies – Were one to rely on Wins Above Replacement, the choice is Carlos Gomez, the dynamic center fielder from Milwaukee. Problem is, WAR weighs so heavily on defensive metrics that aren’t altogether reliable.
So, what, then? We just let sportswriters decide for us based on what their entrails tell them? I mean, don’t we have more than one metric we can consult? Seems to me that if Carlos Gomez looks great according to multiple metrics — just to take a random example, if he’s at 24 DRS, 11 TZ, and 14 UZR — it’s probably safe to conclude that he’s pretty good in the field. What’s so scary about that?
Also: weren’t you just — in your very last entry — comparing the value of Miguel Cabrera’s defense to Chris Davis’? So if you weren’t using defensive metrics, what, you consulted with your shaman and he asked Great Spirit?
Scouts, on the other hand, love Yadier Molina. Love. Him. They love how he handles a pitching staff, how he has made himself into an elite hitter, how he barely strikes out. There is indeed a lot to like about him, too.
Fucking everybody loves Yadier Molina, Jeff. This is no longer 2006, where scouts kept gushing about his "potential" while he busied himself hitting .216 / .274 / .321. Yadier Molina, 2013: .343 / .388 / .485. That is awesome hitting for a catcher. I don’t give two shits about his strikeouts — he’s still striking out half again as often as he walks, which is bad — but he’s a good hitter who catches 45% of baserunners this year, and by all accounts (and framing science is super young) is a terrific pitch framer. So, yeah: Yadier is awesome, and we don’t need crusty old scouts spinning us anecdotes about the fire in his eye to know that.
Each is a worthwhile candidate, which is why the support here thrown behind Gonzalez isn’t as much half-hearted as it is fleeting. His first half for the Rockies has been spectacular. He leads the NL in slugging percentage by 36 points, and his 24 home runs top the league as well.
So that was, what, three paragraphs of disclaimers (one of which I didn’t quote because it was boring) before your utterly conventional pick? There are no guarantees! I could be wrong! Things could change! Don’t listen to this! Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain!
He plays a reasonably good left field and is a superb baserunner, with 15 steals in 16 attempts.
So. Fielding metrics should not be used to evaluate Carlos Gomez and only Carlos Gomez. They are suspect when it comes to Carlos Gomez, but rock-solid for every other player. Got it.
All of this could change this week, of course.
Confident predicting, Jeff.
AL Cy Young of the Half: Max Scherzer, SP, Detroit Tigers – The perfect candidate: He appeals to traditional fans with his 13-0 record and statheads with an absurd strikeout rate.
Is it only statheads who care about strikeouts? I thought that was a fairly mainstream pitching statistic, personally. But what do I know? My entire head is a stat, so I can take my statty head and my made-up "strikeouts" and "walks" and "home runs" and fuck entirely off.
He could induce more groundballs, and he could give up fewer home runs, and there are others – Chris Sale, Felix Hernandez, Yu Darvish – who could thieve the award were the luster of that zero to turn into a one before the break.
Backpedal, backpedal, don’t commit
For now, it’s Scherzer’s alone, and on a staff with a Cy Young-winning MVP and an $80 million man, that’s even more impressive.
Verlander didn’t win the Cy Young or the MVP this year, man. Greg Maddux won four Cy Youngs, and he’s currently working for the Rangers; so, hey, Yu Darvish can fuck right off, yeah? Come back when you’ve won four Cy Youngs and maybe we’ll consider you, Darvish. You shit.
Also: who cares how much Anibal Sanchez gets paid? Or is this the real reason you picked Carlos Gonzalez as your NL MVP: because Todd Helton makes a lot of money?
NL Cy Young of the Half: Matt Harvey, SP, New York Mets – No disrespect intended to Clayton Kershaw (who’s got a better ERA than Harvey), Adam Wainwright (who’s got a better strikeout-to-walk ratio), Cliff Lee (who’s got more victories) and all of them (who have got more innings). Harvey simply has been better.
NL Pitching WAR leaderboard:
Kershaw, LAD (5.3)
Wainwright, STL (4.9)
Lee, PHI (4.4)
Harvey, NYM (4.3)
Huh. Maybe he meant, like, ERA?
Kershaw, LAD (1.89)
Locke, PIT (2.15)
Wainwright, STL (2.30)
Harvey, NYM (2.35)
Oh. Wait, park factor! Dodger Stadium is a huge pitchers’ park. Harvey must be dynamite in ERA+.
Kershaw, LAD (194)
Locke, PIT (169)
Corbin, ARI (162)
Wainwright, STL (160)
Strasburg, WAS (155)
Harvey, NYM (154)
For fuck’s sake. To save us a little time: the only thing Harvey’s leading the league in is strikeouts. So I guess Jeff is just too much of a stathead for me!
More dominant with a 10.3-strikeouts-per-nine rate that leads the NL. Stingy with home runs, his rate fifth lowest in the NL. He is Justin Verlander: a complete monster.
He is about 3/5 as good as Clayton Kershaw. Much like 2013 Justin Verlander!
NL Rookie of the Half:
Shelby Miller, SP, St. Louis Cardinals
Much like last year, when Wade Miley won the award with full knowledge he’d cede the actual one to Bryce Harper, Miller is but a placeholder for Puig.
Seriously, what is wrong with this man’s brain? If Miller is just a "placeholder for Puig," then give the damn award to Puig. Is that a challenge to comprehend? It’s not like Puig is still in AAA — he’s been in the majors long enough to accumulate more WAR than Miller, in fact. Especially since you gave your AL Rookie of the Half to Jose Iglesias (in an entry so dull I didn’t make fun of it) who has exactly as much time in the bigs this year as Puig.
AL Manager of the Half: Joe Girardi, New York Yankees
Fuck the heck? Now I get that the manager of the year (or half, or whatever) is a stupid award. But how could you conceivably not give this award to John Farrell? The Red Sox were supposed to finish, like, fifth. They were supposed to be in a massive rebuild. And here they are, leading the division wire-to-wire. Maybe that should be worth more than Joe Girardi’s amazing achievement of "managing in New York."
Seriously, have you seen some of the lineups the New York Yankees have used lately? This is one from 10 days ago: Gardner-Nix-Cano-Wells-Ichiro-Almonte-Stewart-Adams-Gonzalez. Where do you even begin with that? Jayson Nix hitting second? Vernon Wells in the cleanup spot? And at DH? David Adams, career utilityman, playing first base? And Alberto Gonzalez? Who is Alberto Gonzalez?
I agree: those lineups have been awful. Horrible. Horribawful. But remember for me, Jeff, who is it who made those lineups. Why, none other than all-time best manager of the forever, Joe Girardi! It was Joe Girardi who constructed those idiotic lineups. Perhaps you should not mention them in your weirdo Joe Girardi hagiography.
With this team, this lineup, Joe Girardi has the Yankees eight games over .500 and a half-game out of the final wild-card spot. This fauxward was made for managing jobs like that.
Your 2013 New York Yankees:
3.77 team ERA (4th in the AL)
1.255 team WHIP (4th in the AL)
3.12 team K/BB (2nd in the AL)
357 runs allowed (2nd in the AL)
.242 team BA (13th in the AL)
.304 team OBP (13th in the AL)
.378 (!) team SLG (14th in the AL)
87 team OPS+ (13th in the AL)
358 runs scored (11th in the AL)
Probably you could have mentioned pitching somewhere in your screed about how great the Yankees are, Jeff. Also, before you refer to this as a "fauxward," you might consider how much that looks like "fuckwad." Or maybe don’t, because it’s really funny that you went to print with that.
NL Manager of the Half: Clint Hurdle, Pittsburgh Pirates – Enjoy the midseason award. The full-season one won’t be his. Why? Well …
Ooh! Ooh! I know! It’s because Pittsburgh is a tiny city that sportswriters don’t pay any attention to, and they’ll hand this award to Mike Matheny because oh wow the Cardinals are so dreamy did you see Yadier’s eyes I think he’s just the bestest.
The Pirates’ pitching is significantly outperforming its peripherals. It’s got the highest strand rate and the lowest batting average on balls in play. And even if the Pirates’ defensive shifts can account for some of that, their groundball rate is by far the highest in the game, and groundball rate and BABIP are supposed to be inverse. The plain fact: This is not sustainable. Not even close.
Okay, but isn’t that an exact description of the 2012 Baltimore Orioles’ pitching? And didn’t they make the playoffs?
The Pirates’ hitting isn’t very good. Their .310 on-base percentage is in the bottom 10 in baseball. Their slugging percentage is just outside of the bottom 10. Only the Astros and Braves strike out more. They steal a lot of bases, but they also get caught more than a quarter of the time. There are holes, and they’re rather significant.
And we all know the old saying: pitching wins headlines, but hitting wins championships. Isn’t that how it goes?
In all seriousness: why is it that, when the Yankees suck at hitting but are really good at pitching, it’s an amazing management job by Joe Girardi and the Yankees are just the bestest, but when the Pirates do the same thing, they’re a fading mirage? For fuck’s sake, the Pirates are hitting better than the Yankees! Why won’t you give Clint Hurdle the award you jizzed all over Girardi?
The Pirates’ fielding has been excellent. That includes notoriously stone-handed Pedro Alvarez. Dubiousness is warranted.
How would you know? Oh, right — Carlos Gomez plays for the Brewers. It’s safe to evaluate the Pirates’ defense.
Fight of the Half: Dodgers vs. the World – First it was the Padres. Then the Diamondbacks. They’ve got to brawl with the Giants at some point on sheer principle. And if ever they need a reason to rumble with the Rockies, we’ve got three words: Troy Tulowitzki’s mullet.
This part’s boring. I only quoted it so I can let everybody know that mullet jokes are officially way past their expiration date. If you ever find yourself writing a joke, and the only punchline you can come up with is "mullet," you should stop writing that joke.
Defensive Play of the Half: Peter Bourjos, CF, Los Angeles Angels – Before everyone goes crowning Manny Machado’s insane throw Sunday the play of the first half, please remember: It would’ve been merely a great play if he had fielded the ball cleanly in the first place.
Sure. And Bourjos’ play would have been entirely rudimentary if he were thirty feet tall. But since neither of those things happened, maybe we should evaluate the plays based on what actually did happen. Is that novel? Did I blow your mind?
Anyway, Manny Machado did this:
which is impossible. Peter Bourjos did this:
which is really cool, but we see it like eight times a year. Bourjos’ version wasn’t even particularly interesting.
There are no such do-overs on home run-robbing catches. We tend to romanticize them in the annals of great defensive plays, and with good reason: They are the diamonds, the platinum and the gold. They are almost always the domain of the fielding freaks, whereas even the biggest infield butcher can stumble his way into a diving stop and throw a guy out.
You hear that, Manny Machado? Absolutely literally anybody could have barehanded that ball and thrown an absolute laser all the way across the infield, exactly on target, without looking. Booooo-ring.
And while Bourjos’ won’t go down in the all-time annals, it had all the elements of what makes a great fielding play.
It sure won’t, huh. Which is too bad for him, since the Angels — his team — have a habit of monstrously overpaying for center fielders who make that exact play, like, once.
He ran an absurdly long way, nearly 20 steps to the fence.
So it’s okay to penalise Machado for missing his first stab at the ball, but Bourjos gets a pass for playing way way too shallow?
He single-handedly disproved the title of a wonderful ’90s movie.
Go back to mullet jokes, Jeff. This one is worse.
He banged into the fence before the ball arrived, which meant his equilibrium was shaken and his outstretched left arm simply along for the ride.
I’ve watched the video a few times looking for evidence of this, and guess what? It’s not there. He is, in fact, so entirely non-destroyed by that fence that, as soon as he lands, he throws the ball back in.
And he caught the thing. Brought it right back over the fence, almost a year to the day his teammate Mike Trout had done so against the very same batter, Orioles shortstop J.J. Hardy.
I’ll grant that that’s fun. In fact, it’s probably what you should have opened with, since the synchronicity is the only thing that makes this catch particularly interesting. Without that, it’s Machado all the way, goofball.
Bourjos’ catch barely beats Aaron Hicks’ pair of outfield robberies, the latter of which included a tip of the cap from the hitter, Carlos Gomez, who himself is one of the game’s best center fielders.
No way. His fielding is suspect. I’ve heard there’s a conspiracy of evil number-creating computers to rob Carlos Gonzalez of imaginary awards by tricking people into thinking Gomez is good. As soon as I find it, I’ll link you the article.
Other runners-up: Victor Martinez with a crazy no-look flip, Adrian Gonzalez playing extra smooth on a play at home and Yasiel Puig going all Vlad Guerrero/Dave Parker/Bo Jackson from right field.
"Going all X" is a really lousy construction for your joke. But you know what’s worse? "Going all X or maybe Y or possibly Z." There’s a reason you don’t see many jokes with like choose-your-own-adventure punchlines, Jeff.
Pitching Performance of the Half: Homer Bailey, SP, Cincinnati Reds – As difficult as it was to look past Shelby Miller’s one-hit, 13-strikeout, 27-straight-outs gem, Bailey wins because he actually threw a no-hitter.
No, Miller wins because he pitched better. As, perversely, you’re about to illustrate.
Their games were equally rare. There have been eight other one-hitters with no walks and at least 13 strikeouts and nine other no-hitters with one walk and at least nine strikeouts – including Bailey’s first.
I’m just not sure that’s what "equally" means. Eight times, nine times, fuck — that’s the same number of times! I can’t actually tell, and the internet was no help at all.
Miller did beat Bailey on Game Score, but the knowledge around the fifth inning or so that Bailey was pitching a perfect game and after the seventh that he still held a no-hitter exacerbated the physical strain of every pitch with mental anxiety.
So, to recap: if Manny Machado makes a play more difficult by not catching a ball cleanly, it’s not considered a good play when he gets the out anyhow. If Homer Bailey makes a whole game more difficult by getting super super stressed out about it — all of which is conjecture, by the way — then it’s considered a better game than it actually was. Makes sense to me!
Here’s another one: if Jeff Passan writes the phrase "exacerbated the physical strain of every pitch with mental anxiety," he still gets paid. Amazing!
The Victor Conte Award: Tony Bosch, Biogenesis founder – Want the greatest proof performance-enhancing drugs aren’t going anywhere? Players worth upward of a billion dollars thought it was OK to use a fake doctor who operated out of a strip mall and kept notes on a criminal conspiracy. Players could walk into any college chemistry lab, find the most brilliant student and offer him a million dollars a year to play Walter White with PEDs, but nooooooo. They’d rather lose their reputations and, in some cases, careers on account of this guy. Shameful in a dozen different ways.
Anybody have any clue what Jeff’s on about here? It sounds like he’s outraged about two different things, and he’s getting them mixed up. He ends up sounding like he’s mostly just outraged that players weren’t cheating the optimal way; like, hey, back in my day those guys played the game the wrong way the right way! By gum.
Good Lord You Strike Out A Lot Award: Chris Carter, DH, Houston Astros – Carter pinch hit Sunday and struck out. One could get nearly 2-to-1 odds that a Carter at-bat would end that way. He has struck out 120 times in 281 at-bats this year. In overall plate appearances, he is at a staggering 36.8 percent, almost 1.5 percent higher than Mark Reynolds in his legendary 223-strikeout season of 2010. It’s not like Carter is a dud; he averages a home run every 9.5 at-bats he doesn’t strike out, and his .784 OPS is second among Astros regulars. He’s just a microcosm of baseball today, where you can strike out an absurd amount of the time and be an All-Star. (Hello, Pedro Alvarez and a 33.9 percent K rate.)
I guess Jeff Passan has only just heard: strikeouts are just another type of out. Chris Carter has struck out a lot, yes, but his OBP is an Andre Dawson-esque .327, which isn’t good, but isn’t unspeakably bad. And he hits the ball pretty hard.
Now, Carter isn’t the best example here, because he’s actually kind of lousy. But the fact is that striking out isn’t materially worse than getting out any other way, and it really really doesn’t matter how you’re making your outs as long as you aren’t making too many of them. Strikeout rate also correlates pretty well with power, which is why players are striking out more. Turns out that striking out more but hitting moon shots is better for your team than striking out less but grounding weakly to short. Who would have guessed?
The Yasiel Puig Award For Complete Awesomeness: Yasiel Puig, OF, Los Angeles Dodgers
Completely awesome? Maybe. But definitely not awesome enough to be rookie of the half!
I kept the links in because they’re funny. Also: way to pick on Sammy for being old, Jeff. Oh, you hit 609 home runs? Good job, grandpa. And I can’t be the only one who expected that second link to be to this.
He can get thrown out trying to stretch a single into a double time after time, and it’s cool because he is cool.
It is decidedly uncool. Puig is way past aggressive on the bases, and all the way to careless and stupid.
Puig is going to make the All-Star Game despite fewer plate appearances than Omar Infante in 2010
He did not. There’s still a chance he’ll get picked by the manager to fill in for an injured player, but other than that: no. And thanks for reminding me that Omar Infante made the All-Star team in 2010, which was: batshit insane. At least Puig is actually good!