The Mid-Season Awards: American League
There are two very notable players this year in the American League, both of whom should very easily qualify for multiple awards. Last season, Cliff Lee was not only banished from the rotation, but demoted to Triple-A and left off the Indians post-season roster. Josh Hamilton was in the process of re-establishing his career, but injuries continued to be his Achilles’ Heel. Both are huge comeback stories, one from a horrible nightmare called 2007, the other from the demons of years of drug and alcohol abuse. There are no bigger comeback and success stories this year in the American League than those of Lee and Hamilton.
Josh Hamilton, Texas, OF: For a guy that has yet to play a full season in the majors and was out of the game for four years dealing with his well-documented drug and health problems, to post the numbers he is putting up is truly amazing. With 21 homers and a league-leading 95 RBI at the break, Hamilton has now seen his career come full circle. To be leading the league by 25 RBI at the break is a truly outstanding accomplishment. Now, if the Rangers with Nolan Ryan at the helm could only find a way to build a starting rotation…
Grady Sizemore, Cleveland, OF: And the leading home run hitter in the American League at the break would be…yes, Grady Sizemore. When your top-of-the-order bat is leading his team in home runs, RBI, stolen bases and OBP it is certainly worthy of MVP consideration. Is a 40-40 season in the works for the 25-year-old Sizemore in 2008?
Ian Kinsler, Texas, 2B: Kinsler has raised his stock dramatically this year for the Rangers and for his fantasy owners. With a .337 BA, 14 homers, 58 RBI, 23 thefts and a league-leading 84 runs-scored — 17 more than the nearest competition — Kinsler is a true five-category stud, and definite MVP candidate. Taken in the sixth round in most drafts this spring, Kinsler has ascended to the title of the best offensive second baseman in the league, bar none.
Alex Rodriguez, New York Yankees, 3B: Even with missing 17 games with a strained right quad, A-Rod has rather quietly put together a great first half. Currently, he is tied for fifth with 19 homers, is sitting in third spot with a 972 OPS and has pitched in with a very solid 13 stolen bases. How valuable is Rodriguez to the Yankees? The paltry seven wins they totaled in the 18 games he’s missed this year pretty much says it all. He has the potential to carry both the Yankees and your fantasy squad in the second half.
Justin Morneau, Minnesota, 1B: Morneau is probably one of the true team MVP candidates of the first half. Currently, the Twins’ offensive leader has driven in 68 runs, a staggering 22 more than the number two guy on the squad. He is the principle reason that the Twins are within two games of the first-place White Sox at the break.
Roy Halladay, Toronto, SP: With seven, Halladay has more complete games at the break than any combined pitching staff in baseball, this side of the NPB ( Yu Darvish of Nippon Ham just got his 8th). Doc’s strikeouts are back to 2003 levels, the walk total is at a stingy 21, and with 11 wins at the break he could be very well on his way to a second Cy Young award. Posting these numbers while pitching for one of the worst offenses in the game makes this even a more incredible achievement.
Joe Saunders, Los Angeles Angels, SP: The 27-year-old southpaw has stepped up his game in ’08. Saunders is currently tied for the league lead in wins with 12 and is sporting a fine 3.07 ERA and 1.13 WHIP. He’s seen a distinct drop in his hit rates this year, leading to a very successful first half. Is it sell high time here?
Justin Duchscherer, Oakland, SP: You have to love those junk ball pitchers that toss them in at 68 mph. The converted reliever takes a 10-5 record into the break with a league-leading 1.82 ERA. Food for thought: Duchscherer has only allowed more than two earned runs in one start this season. Is this sustainable? Probably not, but for those that gambled early and grabbed him off the waiver wire, enjoy the ride!
Cliff Lee, Cleveland, SP: Lee has had a truly amazing first half. That run of eight starts to commence the season (allowing a total of only four earned runs) was one of the best we’ve seen in a long time. At the break, Lee was tied for the league lead in wins with 12 and second in ERA with a 2.31 mark. He wrapped up the first half by earning the successful start in this year’s All-Star game. Lee is another fine example of why we don’t draft starting pitching in the early rounds of fantasy drafts — because clearly, you can use later picks or even the wire to find difference makers.
Ervin Santana, Los Angeles Angels, SP: What a turnaround Santana has enjoyed after that disappointing 2007 campaign. Currently the “other” Santana is sitting with 11 wins, a solid 3.34 ERA and is tied for third in the league with 122 strikeouts. He’s even found a way to pitch on the road this year. The 25-year-old righthander looks to be proving that his solid sophomore campaign in 2006 was no fluke.
ROOKIE OF THE YEAR
Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay, 3B: Longoria started the 2008 campaign at Triple-A Durham and was called up April 12 to replace the injured Willy Aybar. After six games and 20 or so at bats, he signed a six-year deal with the Rays for a reported $17.5 million. Three months later, he’s hit 16 homers, driven in 53 runs and made the All-Star team. Evan Almighty, without a doubt, is the leading candidate for top rookie in the AL.
Jacoby Ellsbury, Boston, OF: It looks like the long-standing Boston stolen base record of 54 set in 1973 by Tommy Harper is going to be shattered. Ellsbury has 35 thefts at the break and has scored 60 runs batting leadoff. Apparently, the hype generated by his September run last year has been more than warranted.
Masahide Kobayashi, Cleveland, RP: It took a bit longer than I was expecting, but Kobayashi looks like he’s moved into the closer role for the Tribe heading into the break. Kobayashi has all the skills that a closer needs and he hopes to build on his success from those NPB days with Chiba Lotte. The Indians are already looking ahead to 2009 and the next couple of months will determine Kobayashi’s role in the Tribe bullpen for next year. I’m betting on success.
Greg Smith, Oakland, SP: Where does Oakland find its starting pitching? Smith is another in a long line of young A’s pitchers who have come up to the majors and been able to contribute. The 24-year-old southpaw has posted a very steady 3.43 ERA and 1.25 WHIP, to go along with 74 strikeouts in 110 1/3 IP. On the downside, Smith has allowed 47 free passes in the first half. If he is going to sustain those solid first-half numbers, he will have to find a way to limit the walks or those early results will be hard to duplicate in the second half.
David Murphy, Texas, OF: Murphy has hit 13 homers, driven in 60 runs and managed five stolen bases in the first half. Not bad for a guy that didn’t have a full-time job coming out of Spring Training. When you have Hamilton, Kinsler, Michael Young and Milton Bradley getting on base in front of you, the RBI opportunites are going to be there. Undrafted in most formats, Murphy has been another huge bonus for those gambling early on the waiver wire.
COMEBACK PLAYER OF THE YEAR
J.D. Drew, Boston, OF: At the end of May, Drew was either buried deep on your fantasy bench or sitting on the waiver wire. In 115 at bats from mid-April until the end of May he hit the grand sum of one long ball. It was looking like the 2008 season was going to be a carbon copy of that disappointing ’07. And then came June. Twelve homers and 27 RBI later, and he’s back to being the player that the Red Sox thought they were getting when they shelled out $70 million to sign the free agent in the 2006 offseason. It’s been quite the turnaround for this Phillies’ fans favourite, so no worries that Drew will be dodging batteries any time soon at Fenway.
Mike Mussina, New York Yankees, SP: Many thought that after last year’s disaster, the fine career of Mike Mussina might be over. Not only is he alive and well in New York, but he’s been an integral part of the Yankee rotation. At the break, Mussina is tied for third in the league with 11 wins and has posted a solid 3.61 ERA and 1.23 WHIP. He is currently on pace to have his lowest base-on-balls total in his career, with a stingy 16 so far. With the injuries to Chien-Ming Wang and Philip Hughes, and the failures of Ian Kennedy and Kei Igawa, Moose will need a solid second half if the Yankees are to make the postseason again in 2008.
Troy Percival, Tampa Bay, RP: Percival commenced his comeback last fall by pitching very effectively for the Cardinals down the stretch. Signed by the Rays in the offseason, he has been a stabilizing force in the Tampa Bay pen. Still the fierce competitor, Percy has 19 saves and has allowed only 16 hits in 28 innings pitched this year. Coming back and pitching at the level he has after being out of the game for virtually three full seasons is an amazing accomplishment and one that will have to be sustained if the surprising Rays are going to reach the postseason this year.
Jermaine Dye, Chicago White Sox, OF: Dye is enjoying a fine resurgence this year for the division-leading White Sox. He is currently hitting to the tune of a .306 BA, with 21 homers and 56 RBI. This year, Dye is putting together a season reminiscent of that fine 2000, his last as a Royal, and he’s a big reason for the early-season success of the White Sox in 2008.
Aubrey Huff, Baltimore, DH: We haven’t seen numbers like this from Huff since the Rays had a bit of the Devil in them. With 18 homers already, he has surpassed his season total from 2007. Huff is another one of those early waiver wire acquisitions that has paid huge dividends for fantasy owners this season.
BUST OF THE YEAR
Victor Martinez, Cleveland, C: Over the past four seasons, Martinez has been the premier offensive catcher in the game. I remember thinking, ‘now here’s a safe pick for the third round in my bloggers’ league. Let’s grab a power bat at a relatively scarce position and run with it.’ Uh, yeah. At the break, in 198 at bats, he amassed the grand total of zero, that would be no home runs, and yes, I am bitter. Let’s hope the time off recovering from the elbow surgery helps him rediscover some semblance of a power stroke over the last six weeks of the season.
Alex Rios, Toronto, OF: For those that took the opportunity to read our pre-season picks to miss column back in late-March, we listed Rios as a player who would potentially disappoint — and disappoint he has. Four home runs from a player at a power position who was a third round pick in most formats is beyond disappointing. On the positive side at least he’s running, with a career high 23 thefts so far. With Vernon Wells missing a substantial amount of time due to injury, it would have been nice to see Rios step up to the plate, rather than away from it.
Kenji Johjima, Seattle, C: With Johjima coming off two very successful years in Seattle, who saw this one coming? Obviously not the previous Mariner regime, which rewarded Johjima with a three-year contract extension at $24 million. Yes, catchers have a history of rapid descent as they approach their mid-30s, but with three homers and a .213 BA, this would appear to be more of a crash than a descent. Now that Richie Sexson has been released, is moving Johjima the next part of the dismantling process? Johjima would be a very nice fit on a financially secure east-coast team for that stretch run, wouldn’t he?
Gary Sheffield, Detroit, OF/DH: This had to happen eventually. Sheffield has enjoyed a great career, but the combination of age, shoulder woes, and a strained oblique has finally taken its toll. Five homers and 18 RBI with a .217 BA is not what we were counting on when we made Sheffield a mid-level draft pick this spring. There’s definitely the potential for a bounce back in the second half in a strong Tiger lineup, but I’m not betting on it.
Travis Hafner, Cleveland, DH: Here’s another one of those picks that has done some serious damage to fantasy rosters throughout the land. Hafner amassed the staggering total of four homers, 22 RBI, and a .217 BA in 157 at bats this season before hitting the DL with a strained shoulder. With the Indians playing for 2009, and Hafner currently without a timetable for his return, don’t count on any reasonable levels of production this year from “Pronk.”