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July 12, 2009

On the Beat

Mid-Season Snapshot

by John Perrotto

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The theoretical, if not exact, first half of the season ends today. While it's a long way to the finish line, certain hitters and pitchers have already established themselves as strong contenders for the major post-season awards. Here is one observer sees the awards at the halfway point, leaning on some of BP's more popular measures in the decision-making process and blatantly stealing an idea patented by old friend Jayson Stark of ESPN.com by picking the worst hitter and pitcher in each league.

National League MVP: Albert Pujols, Cardinals
Nobody else is even close, as Pujols continues to show why he is the best player in the game. He has .338/.463/.778 slash stats, and also does well in BP's statistical measures; if EqA (.376), VORP (63.2) ,and WARP3 (11.7) were the triple-crown categories, Pujols would be on his way to winning it, as he leads the league in all three. The All-Star festivities are in St. Louis this week; there is no safer prediction in baseball than to figure on Pujols either winning the Home Run Derby on Monday night, the Most Valuable Player Award in the All-Star Game on Tuesday night, or both.
The rest of the ballot: 2. Chase Utley, Phillies; 3. Prince Fielder, Brewers; 4. Ryan Braun, Brewers; 5. Hanley Ramirez, Marlins; 6. Raul Ibañez, Phillies; 7. Adrian Gonzalez, Padres; 8. Matt Kemp, Dodgers; 9. Carlos Beltran, Mets; 10. David Wright, Mets

American League MVP: Joe Mauer, Twins
That Mauer has been the best player in the AL this season is not all that surprising, as he is an already-established superstar. However, the impressive part is Mauer has been the MVP even though he missed all of spring training and the first month of the season because of lower back problems. He also couldn't work out as normal last winter because of kidney surgery. Like Pujols, Mauer leads the AL with a .369 EqA, 49.1 VORP, and 8.8 WARP3, all of that reflecting his hitting .381/.455/.636. The Twins wouldn't be close to contention without him.
The rest of the ballot: 2. Justin Morneau, Twins; 3. Ben Zobrist, Rays; 4. Jason Bartlett, Rays; 5. Ichiro Suzuki, Mariners; 6. Jason Bay, Red Sox; 7. Torii Hunter, Angels; 8. Russell Branyan, Mariners; 9. Shin-Soo Choo, Indians; 10. Adam Lind, Blue Jays

National League Cy Young: Dan Haren, Diamondbacks
No, he does not top the league in wins, but he's 9-5 with a 2.01 ERA, and only out of the limelight to some extent because he plays for a team that has taken five steps back since going to the National League Championship Series two years ago. Haren has been consistently outstanding all season as he leads the NL pitchers with .770 Expected Win Percentage, a 13.9 WARP3, and 51.1 VORP. He also has had quality starts in 17 of his 18 outings.
The rest of the ballot: 2. Tim Lincecum, Giants; 3. Matt Cain, Giants

American League Cy Young: Zack Greinke, Royals
The amazing pace that he set in the early portion of the season was unsustainable and he has looked somewhat human in June and July. Nonetheless, his overall body of work is clearly better than any other pitcher in the league, as he is 10-5 with a 2.12 ERA with 15 quality starts in 18 outings. He tops AL pitchers with .725 Expected Win Percentage, a 9.5 WARP3, and 45.0 VORP. It has been yet another miserable season for the Royals, but at the least Greinke gives the perennial losers some relevancy.
The rest of the ballot: 2. Felix Hernandez, Mariners; 3. Roy Halladay, Blue Jays

National League Rookie of the Year: Colby Rasmus, Cardinals
He's playing like the Cardinals hoped he would, perhaps just a year later than expected. After bombing in spring training last season, Rasmus has bounced back and is hitting .280/.325/.485 with 14.3 VORP, 4.2 WARP3, and a .282 EqA. He is not playing at star level, but he is the best of a lackluster NL rookie class.
The rest of the ballot: 2. J.A. Happ, Phillies; 3. Casey McGehee, Brewers

American League Rookie of the Year: Brad Bergesen, Orioles
Bergesen is considered by many to be a placeholder in the Orioles' rotation until such top prospects as Chris Tillman, Brian Matusz, and Jake Arrieta reach the majors (either later this season or in 2010). However, Bergesen is going to be a tough guy to unseat considering he is 5-3 with a 3.59 ERA in 15 starts, with 5.3 WARP3 and 21.7 VORP.
The rest of the ballot: 2. Elvis Andrus, Rangers; 3. Ricky Romero, Blue Jays

National League Worst Hitter: Jimmy Rollins, Phillies
It's hard to believe that he was the NL MVP just two years ago; he has needed a recent surge just to get to .228/.285/.353 with a .223 EqA.
Dishonorable mention: 2. Willy Taveras, Reds; 3. Alex Gonzalez, Reds

American League Worst Hitter: Dioner Navarro, Rays
It's perhaps equally hard to believe that he played in the All-Star Game last season and was a key member of the AL pennant-winning Rays, as he is currently hitting .223/.254/.332 with a .209 EqA.
Dishonorable mention: 2. Orlando Cabrera, Athletics; 3. Ronny Cedeño, Mariners

National League Worst Pitcher: Manny Parra, Brewers
He helped the Brewers to their first playoff appearance in 26 years last season, but has done plenty to sabotage their chances of getting back to the postseason this year, his first start since returning from Triple-A Nashville notwithstanding, as he's delivered a dead-even SNLVAR of 0.0.

The rest of the ballot: 2. Josh Geer, Padres; 3. Billy Buckner, Diamondbacks

American League Worst Pitcher: Chien-Ming Wang, Yankees
It was pretty obvious early on that he wasn't going to win 19 games (as he did in 2006 and 2007), not when he had a 34.50 ERA after three starts. He has reduced that figure to 9.64 but has a -1.0 SNLVAR and is now on the disabled list with a shoulder injury.
The rest of the ballot: 2. Fausto Carmona, Indians; 3. Adam Eaton, Orioles

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Blue Jays general manager J.P. Ricciardi admitted this past week that he would listen to offers for ace pitcher Roy Halladay, who can become a free agent after the 2010 season. While Ricciardi later downplayed the idea of pulling the trigger on a deal, finances will likely dictate a trade.

The Blue Jays have an $80 million payroll this season, and already have committed more than $81 million to seven players in 2010, including $15.75 million to Halladay, who tops a list that includes third baseman Scott Rolen, first baseman Lyle Overbay, right fielder Alex Rios, center fielder Vernon Wells, left-handed reliever Scott Downs, and second baseman Aaron Hill. Furthermore, the Jays ate the roughly $15 million remaining on left-handed reliever B.J. Ryan's five-year, $47 million contract when they released him on Wednesday. Wells and Rios are both signed through 2014; Wells is owed $107 million unless he opts out after 2011, which is doubtful. Rios has $67.7 million coming to him along with a $13.5 million club option for 2015.

Halladay would at the very least command a contract similar to the five-year, $82.5 million deal that right-hander A.J. Burnett got from the Yankees last winter to leave the Blue Jays as a free agent. With that in mind, it seems nearly impossible that the Blue Jays can keep Halladay beyond next season.

"I don't think anything has changed. I just think, you know what, why not listen? The worst we can say is no," Ricciardi said. "If someone wants Roy and they're willing to blow us away, we'd be willing to listen, that's all I'm saying. That doesn't mean we'd trade him. That doesn't mean we're looking to trade him. All it means is we'd be willing to listen."

Ricciardi said he would drive a hard bargain, though: "It would take a lot for us to part with him. We've gotten a lot of calls from teams, but none of them are telling us at this point what they're willing to give up. If you're coming at us with a B-list of young players, don't bother. This is one of the five best players in baseball. It's going to take a significant package of players for us to even listen. As the teams call, we'll go through the ones we feel are the serious ones and then we'll start scouting their farm systems to see if there's anything we can do."

Halladay said he has not asked for a trade and didn't anticipate pushing for one in the future unless the Blue Jays go into total rebuild mode. "Whether or not our organization and my goals line up, it's (not) always going to be that way," Halladay said. "Sometimes teams have to take a step back, and I understand that."

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Left fielder Ryan Braun spoke his piece last weekend after the Brewers lost three games to the Cubs in a four-game series at Wrigley Field. He has since made his peace with Brewers GM Doug Melvin. Braun had criticized the Brewers' pitching staff and challenged Melvin to make a trade to rectify the situation, something along the lines of the deal last July in which left-hander CC Sabathia was acquired from the Indians. Melvin took umbrage at that suggestion and called Braun's comments "irresponsible" and "inappropriate."

However, the two talked things out. "I take full responsibility for everything that I say, for all of my actions," Braun said. "At times I'm emotional, I'm passionate. It's derived from just wanting to win, but I definitely take full responsibility for that. I apologize if I offended anybody in the organization. That clearly wasn't my intent. I wasn't trying to disrespect anybody, wasn't trying to call anybody out. I was just basically responding to a question. I try when I'm dealing with the media to be honest, and sometimes I'm honest to a fault. It gets me in trouble. I recognize that. It's a strength and a weakness. It's something that I need to be more aware of at times."

Melvin said there would were no need for apologizes and no grudges to be held. "Both of us said what was said," Melvin said. "We know where each other is coming from."

Brewers manager Ken Macha was just glad the situation was resolved before it became a distraction. "He's pretty good at what he does," Macha said of Melvin said. "Last year, he wound up getting a pretty good pitcher for this ballclub. That's enough said."

---

Firing manager Bob Melvin and replacing him with farm director A.J. Hinch has not exactly had the desired effect the Diamondbacks hoped when they made the move May 8. The Diamondbacks were 12-17 under Melvin, and have gone 25-33 under Hinch as they are 38-50 and in fourth place in the NL West, 17½ games behind the Dodgers.

Perhaps the Diamondbacks should have named third baseman Mark Reynolds player/manager. Reynolds went off on his teammates after they committed three errors in a 5-0 loss to the Rockies on July 3 that dropped the Diamondbacks a season-worst 18 games under .500 at 31-49, accusing some teammates of "packing it in" and saying his team played like "the Bad News Bears." Hinch had held three team meetings in three weeks prior to Reynolds' tirade to little avail. Since Reynolds went off, the Diamondbacks have won eight of nine.

"You can give all the rah-rah speeches you want and have all the team meetings you want and yell at guys, but guys have got to (care)," Reynolds said in his July 3 remarks. "I don't really see it. I know I care. I'm out there busting my tail every night trying to win. Physical errors are fine, but guys loafing, guys not being where they're supposed to be or guys giving up on ABs, it's not acceptable at any level."

The July 3 games was "low-lighted" by rookie left fielder Gerardo Parra throwing so wildly to second base that Dexter Fowler came all the way around to score while trying to stretch a single into a double, as well as center fielder Chris B. Young missing an easy fly ball, and an instance when nobody covered second base on a stolen-base attempt, so the throw from the catcher sailed into center field.

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MLB Rumors and Rumblings: Many executives and scouts believe the Angels are well-positioned to trade for Halladay, and they seemed poised to at least make an offer at some point; the Cardinals, Brewers, and Phillies are also expected to get involved, and the White Sox are considered a dark horse. … Second baseman Freddy Sanchez appears to be the next Pirates player to be traded, as the Giants, Rockies, Twins, and Mariners are all said to be suitors. The Pirates would prefer to swing a deal with the Rockies in which they would get second base prospect Eric Young Jr. … The Indians are going to cut payroll next season, which likely means two of their arbitration-eligible players, reliever Rafael Betancourt and catcher Kelly Shoppach, can be had in trade unless GM Mark Shapiro reverses course and decides to put left-hander Cliff Lee or catcher/first baseman Victor Martinez on the block. … The Royals are willing to deal right-hander Brian Bannister for offensive help. … The White Sox are more apt to trade right-handed reliever Octavio Dotel after acquiring Tony Peña from the Diamondbacks in a trade this week, and would consider giving up closer Bobby Jenks if they were overwhelmed by the offer.

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Interesting Facts

  • Rockies left-hander Alan Embree got the win over the Nationals on Tuesday night without throwing a pitch, as he entered in the eighth inning with the score tied at 4-4, runners on first and second with two outs, and picked Austin Kearns off first base. The last pitcher to get a win without throwing a pitch was the Orioles' B.J. Ryan on May 1, 2003 against the Tigers.
  • The Mets were shut out three times in a five-game span between Monday and Friday for the first time since getting blanked three games in a row from July 25-27, 1992.
  • Red Sox left-hander Jon Lester has not allowed a run in 28 of 30 career innings against the Royals.
  • Left-hander Jonathan Sanchez's no-hitter on Friday night against the Padres was the first by a Giants pitcher since John Montefusco on September 29, 1976.
  • The Phillies are the first team to have four players with 20 home runs at the All-Star break since the 2000 Blue Jays.
  • First baseman Paul Konerko became the first White Sox player to hit three home runs in a game when he did so on Tuesday against the Indians since Jose Valentin in 2003.
  • Pirates right-hander Virgil Vasquez is one of only two pitchers in major league history with the initials VV to start a game, joining Vito Valentinetti, who pitched for the White Sox, Cubs, Indians, Tigers, and Senators from 1954-59.
  • Red Sox knuckleballer Tim Wakefield, 42, and Phillies left fielder Raul Ibañez, 37, became just the 10th and 11th players to be selected to their first All-Star Games at the age of 37 or older, joining Satchel Paige (46, 1952), Jamie Moyer (40, 2003), Connie Marrero (39, 1951), Ted Lyons (38, 1939), Charlie Hough (38, 1986), Babe Ruth (38, 1933), Doyle Alexander (37, 1988), Takashi Saito (37, 2007), and George Crowe (37, 1958).
  • Wakefield is the eighth knuckleballer selected to an All-Star Game, joining Hough, Dutch Leonard, Joe Niekro, Phil Niekro, Jim Tobin, Hoyt Wilhelm, and Wilbur Wood.
  • Nationals outfielder Adam Dunn became the ninth Texas native to hit 300 career home runs. The only state to produce more 300-homer men is California with 21.
  • Twins first baseman Justin Morneau, who is Canadian, has the highest life-time batting average (.545) on the Fourth of July of any active player.
  • Padres catcher Jose Lobaton made his major league debut last Sunday at second base against the Dodgers. He had never played any position but catcher in his 417 minor league games.
  • The Nationals are the first team to have three different rookies pitch complete games before the All-Star break since the Twins and Athletics in 1978.

John Perrotto is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see John's other articles. You can contact John by clicking here

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