Now that MLB’s All-Star Week festivities in San Diego are finished, we’re forced with the task of getting through the next couple days without any baseball. To pass the time, we’ll do what any self-respecting fan or analyst would do – look back at the first 80-90 games played and see who had the biggest impact.
Below are my first-half MVPs for each of the 30 MLB squads, with some facts to back up why they should be admiring some brand-new, imaginary hardware on their mantle before embarking on the second half of play.
Baltimore Orioles: 51-36
MVP: Manny Machado, 3B
The starting rotation is a source of endless headaches for manager Buck Showalter, but the offense and bullpen have been huge bright spots:
Baltimore ranks as one of baseball’s 10 best teams in nearly every important offensive statistic, and Machado is the most valuable part of the lineup. Since debuting as a 19-year-old in 2012, he’s improved his OPS each season; going from .739 as a rookie to this year’s .944 mark.
He’s on pace for his second consecutive 30-homer season, has a shot at driving in 100 runs for the first time ever and his 29 doubles is just one shy of his 2015 total. Oh, and he’s still awesome on defense.
Boston Red Sox: 49-38
MVP: David Ortiz, DH
It’s difficult to pin a designated hitter as a team’s most valuable player, but it’s pretty easy when you see what Ortiz is doing in his final season. That .332 average is currently tied for his highest ever in a single season (2007) while he leads the league in doubles (34), on-base percentage (.426), slugging percentage (.682), OPS (1.107) and OPS+ (184).
Toronto Blue Jays: 51-40
MVP: Josh Donaldson, 3B
There was simply no way to overlook Donaldson, especially when he’s arguably producing better this year than he did in his MVP campaign of 2015. All of the stats he’s produced are eye-popping – including his 63 RBI and 80 runs scored in just 89 games played – but his 5.4 fWAR is more than double the next closest Toronto player (Kevin Pillar, 2.2).
New York Yankees: 44-44
MVP: Carlos Beltran, OF/DH
Not even a year removed from being one of baseball’s highest scoring teams, the Yankees are among the league’s worst in 2016. It’d be a whole lot worse without Beltran in the picture, though. He needed 478 at-bats and 133 games to belt 19 homers and drive in 67 runs last year, but just 298 at-bats to hit the same amount of dingers and collect 56 RBI this year.
Tampa Bay Rays: 34-54
MVP: Evan Longoria, 3B
We’re not handing out awards for 2016’s most disappointing team, but if we were, the Rays would be contenders. The offense has performed marginally better than last year, but the pitching has been just terrible – especially when compared to the anticipated production.
Potentially lost in this is Longoria’s best offensive performance since 2013. That’s good for Tampa Bay because the 30-year-old won’t become a free agent until 2023 at the earliest.
Cleveland Indians: 52-36
MVP: Danny Salazar, SP
There were a few different players to choose from here, which happens on a team with one of baseball’s best records. Corey Kluber has a higher fWAR, but I view Salazar as the anchor of this great rotation. He’s already produced a 10-3 record with a 2.75 ERA and 118 strikeouts, and is well on his way to hit career bests in each category.
Detroit Tigers: 46-43
MVP: Michael Fulmer, SP
Where the heck would the Tigers be without this rookie? Well, they’re 11-2 when Fulmer starts and 35-41 when he doesn’t. Not only has Fulmer already produced seven quality starts, but he also put together a very impressive scoreless streak throughout the month of June:
Chicago White Sox: 45-43
MVP: Chris Sale, SP
I don’t like using the same kind of stat to prove a point twice in a row, but I’m going to do it anyway. When Sale starts, the White Sox are 14-4. When he’s not on the bump, the Southsiders are 31-39. The southpaw’s strikeouts per nine innings has reduced from a career-high 11.8 last year to 8.9, but he’s still taking the ball every fifth day and should easily win 20 games for the first time in his career.
Kansas City Royals: 45-43
MVP: Salvador Perez, C
The defending champs have been hit hard with injuries to impact players like Lorenzo Cain, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas, but Salvy is a constant presence behind the plate. Since becoming the everyday catcher in 2013, he’s played in no less than 138 games per year, winning a Gold Glove and being on the AL All-Star team each time.
What’s different in 2016 is the emergence of his power – he’s slashing .283/.318/.500 through 290 at-bats, which would easily give him a career-high OPS of .818.
Minnesota Twins: 32-56
MVP: Eduardo Nunez, SS/3B
All you have to do is see Minnesota’s fWAR leaderboard and know it’s been a tough season since Nunez tops the position players at 1.9. He’s turned himself into a decent trade chip thanks to his power/speed combo, though. Nunez has 12 homers in 315 at-bats. It took him 785 at-bats from 2012-15 to hit that many. If the power remains, he has a legitimate chance for a 20-20 season since he’s already stolen 22 bases.
Texas Rangers: 54-36
MVP: Ian Desmond, CF
Entering this season, the Rangers expected an outfield that included Josh Hamilton, Delino DeShields and Shin-Soo Choo. Desmond, who was coming off an awful season, signed a one-year, $8 million deal to play some outfield and be more of a super-utility guy.
Fast-forward to three months later and he’s now their All-Star center fielder. What’s even more impressive is what he had to do just to reach the .322/.375/.524 triple slash he currently owns. Desmond produced a miserable .685 OPS in April, but followed that up by posting a .923 mark in May, 1.019 in June and is sitting at .945 so far in July.
Houston Astros: 48-41
MVP: Jose Altuve, 2B
Seattle Mariners: 45-44
MVP: Robinson Cano, 2B
That awful performance from the first half of 2015 sure seems like a long time ago now, doesn’t it? Cano’s huge second half from last year was masked a bit because he started so slow, but he’s healthy and back to being his old self in Seattle. His 3.7 fWAR in 2016 already easily passes the mark he produced in 2015 (2.1), and with the highest hard-hit rate he’s produced since 2013, we should expect his offensive production to continue.
Oakland Athletics: 38-51
MVP: Rich Hill, SP
This is easily one of the best $6 million investments Billy Beane has ever made. With a starting pitcher trade market left without many ace-caliber hurlers, it’d be shocking if he doesn’t cash in before August 1.
The southpaw missed just over a month with a groin injury, but still is Oakland’s fWAR leader (2.5). After bouncing around from team-to-team throughout his professional career, he’s stayed healthy enough to post an 11-4 record with a 2.06 ERA, 0.97 WHIP and 126 strikeouts in 105 innings pitched over the last 365 days.
Los Angeles Angels: 37-52
MVP: Mike Trout, CF
The Angels are terrible, but they’d be a whole lot more terrible if Trout wasn’t in center field every night. Even with the miniature “slump” he experienced in April and huge performances from guys like Donaldson, Machado and Kris Bryant, he still leads all position players with a 5.5 fWAR.
Washington Nationals: 54-36
MVP: Daniel Murphy
Looks like that unreal postseason he had for the Mets last October wasn’t a mirage. After spending most of the first two months hitting around .400, Murphy’s batting average has come back down to Earth a bit at .348, which still leads both leagues. His 17 home runs are already a single-season career-high and outside of Harper’s unreal two-week stretch in April, he’s carried the offense.
Plus, if Harper says Murphy is the MVP, I’m not going against that.
Miami Marlins: 47-41
MVP: Jose Fernandez, SP
Despite having some dude named Clayton Kershaw in the National League, Fernandez is still in the Cy Young award conversation. The offense has stayed afloat during Dee Gordon’s suspension and Giancarlo Stanton’s huge slump, but the rotation wouldn’t survive without Fernandez.
He came back strong from Tommy John surgery in the second half last year and has shown no ill effects as his SO/9 is sitting at a career-high of 12.9. That’s good, because if the Marlins plan on staying in playoff contention throughout the summer, they’ll need both him and Stanton to be healthy and productive.
New York Mets: 47-41
MVP: Yoenis Cespedes, OF
Is there much more that needs to be said? It cost the Mets a lot of money to bring back one of their most fruitful trade deadline acquisitions ever, but he’s been worth every penny. Just imagine how bad some of their offensive stats from the first half would be if he weren’t in the middle of Terry Collins’ lineup.
Philadelphia Phillies: 42-48
MVP: Odubel Herrera, CF
It sure seems like Philadelphia’s rebuilding process won’t be as long as initially expected. After an impressive rookie year, Herrera has further developed his power and speed, but what’s most encouraging is the 24-year-old’s increased patience (5.2% walk rate in ’15, 11.6% in ’16) and decrease in strikeouts (24% in ’15, 18.3% in ’16).
Atlanta Braves: 31-58
MVP: Freddie Freeman, 1B
Julio Teheran has certainly re-established himself as Atlanta’s ace (unless they get overwhelmed with a trade offer), but it’s undeniable how valuable Freeman is to this uninspiring offense. He’s been the one player Atlanta has never entertained trade offers for during their rebuild, and he’s shown why it makes sense.
The Braves rank last in the majors with 55 home runs. Their first baseman accounts for nearly 30 percent of that total with 16 bombs.
Chicago Cubs: 53-35
MVP: Kris Bryant, 3B
Bryant leads the National League with 25 home runs, is third with 65 RBI and first with 73 runs scored while his .962 OPS is fifth best. That’s all great, but what makes him so valuable to manager Joe Maddon is his ability to move around the field. Bryant has played six different positions this year (all outfield positions, third base, first base and shortstop), which is why he’s my first-half NL MVP.
St. Louis Cardinals: 46-42
MVP: Matt Carpenter, 2B/3B
I also used an entire article to gush about how valuable Carpenter is to St. Louis. Him going on the disabled list is a big blow to this squad and if they want to remain in the playoff picture, they need him back in the lineup as soon as possible.
Pittsburgh Pirates: 46-43
MVP: Gregory Polanco, RF
While general manager Neal Huntington regrets rushing Polanco to the majors, the soon-to-be 25-year-old has blossomed in his third MLB season. Both his line-drive rate (26.7%) and hard-hit rate (34.9%) are currently career bests and he’s displaying the kind of power the front office thought he could develop by slashing .287/.362/.500.
Milwaukee Brewers: 38-49
MVP: Junior Guerra, SP
Jonathan Lucroy and Ryan Braun have produced more consistently elite results for their respective positions, but we kind of figured they would. Lucroy will likely be traded within the month and there’s a chance Braun could follow (although it seems slim).
Guerra’s starts have become weekly events for Brewers fans to look forward to, as he’s produced a 6-2 record with a 3.06 ERA in 82.1 innings of work. Will he be part of the next competitive Brewers club? Maybe, but that’s up in the air since he’s in his age-31 season.
Cincinnati Reds: 32-57
MVP: Jay Bruce, RF
Sure, his fielding is still pretty horrendous, but an improved approach at the plate has allowed him to return to mashing at the rate we were accustomed to earlier in his career. Bruce has produced an .853 OPS with 18 homers through 318 at-bats so far this year, which would be the highest mark in his career if that holds up over the next three months.
San Francisco Giants: 57-33
MVP: Madison Bumgarner, SP
We’ve focused so much on MadBum’s prowess at the plate and the potential of him participating in the Home Run Derby that we tend to forget he’s one helluva pitcher. This could be his best year, too – the left-hander is 10-4 with a 1.94 ERA, 0.96 WHIP and 146 strikeouts in 129.2 innings.
Johnny Cueto started the All-Star game for the National League, but that’s only because Bumgarner twirled a one-hit, 14-strikeout complete game shutout to finish off the first half on Sunday night.
Los Angeles Dodgers: 51-40
MVP: Clayton Kershaw, SP
I shouldn’t have to explain this, but I will anyways. Kershaw leads the league in ERA (1.79), ERA+ (220), FIP (1.70), WHIP (0.73), and strikeout-to-walk ratio (16.11). Los Angeles is 14-2 when he’s on the mound and 37-38 when he’s not.
Colorado Rockies: 40-48
MVP: Nolan Arenado, 3B
A year removed from leading the league in home runs (42) and RBI (130), Arenado is back at it again, and maybe sometimes he does it while wearing white shoes. He’s slashing .287/.359/.570 with 23 homers and 70 RBI while bringing that Gold Glove defense to the hot corner on a daily basis.
San Diego Padres: 38-51
MVP: Drew Pomeranz, SP
Pomeranz has almost risen out of nowhere to be San Diego’s best trade chip in the starting pitcher market this summer. The organization probably figured to get some interest in either Andrew Cashner or Tyson Ross, but that’s not happening because of a mixture of ineffectiveness and time spent on the DL.
Exactly how valuable has Pomeranz’s 8-7 record and 2.47 ERA been this year? He’s produced a 2.5 fWAR in 102 innings of work, which is tops on San Diego’s pitching staff. The hurler in second place? Brad Hand at 0.8. Yikes.
Arizona Diamondbacks: 38-52
MVP: Jake Lamb, 3B
Lamb taking these honors is partly because Paul Goldschmidt got off to a slow start, but also partly because he’s putting together a huge year. As Arizona made bold move after bold move this past winter, there was a big question mark at third base.
After about three months of play, that’s no longer an issue. He leads the league with a .612 slugging percentage, and the progress he’s made in the power department is pretty apparent. Over his first 476 big-league at-bats from 2014-15, Lamb hit 19 doubles, six triples, 10 homers and drove in 45 runs. In 289 at-bats this year, he’s hit 19 doubles, seven triples, 20 homers and has driven in 61 runs.