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Rany Jazayerli

Players of the Year

1) Derek Jeter
2) Nomar Garciaparra
3) Jeff Bagwell
4) Tony Fernandez
5) Ken Griffey, Jr.
6) Larry Walker
7) Alex Rodriguez
8) Sean Casey
9) Shawn Green
10) Tie, Roberto Alomar & Manny Ramirez
HM) Dave Nilsson

Can anyone really argue that Jeter and Garciaparra are not head and
shoulders above the rest? Tony Fernandez may come back to earth, but this
is one impressive swan song. Bagwell is being Bagwell, and Griffey is being
Griffey. Denver or no, no one’s within 75 points of his OPS, so Larry
Walker belongs on this list. A-Rod missed more than 30 games in the first
half, but what’s scary is that his OPS actually ranks third among the
Shortstop Triad.

Sean Casey is the reason the Reds are in first place, and Shawn Green is
the reason the Blue Jays may still be in the wild-card hunt. For those who
were in doubt–and there were many–Roberto Alomar still has plenty left.
He just got tired of being an Oriole, so now he’s the biggest reason why
Ramirez is leading the free world in runs batted in. And Dave Nilsson gets
a nod, if for no other reason than showing how stupid the Brewers were to
call on Mike Matheny all those years.

Pitchers of the Year

1) Pedro Martinez

2) Jeff Zimmerman
3) Randy Johnson
4) David Cone
5) Scott Williamson
6) Kevin Millwood
7) Billy Wagner
8) Jose Rosado

Pedro is having one of those historic Lefty Grove seasons. It’s just a
great year superficially, which hides just how dominant it is relative to
the run context. Yes, Jeff Zimmerman is a middle reliever, but when your
ERA is four runs lower than the league’s, it’s amazing how quickly a few
innings can translate into wins, and he’s thrown more than 50.

Lost in the Big Unit’s amazing six-hits-in-four-starts offensive
"support" is the fact that he went into the break with 212
strikeouts. This could be a huge story come September. David Cone quietly
continues to be, inning for inning, one of the most effective pitchers in
baseball. Scott Williamson may be as much a catalyst in the Reds’ winning
ways as Sean Casey: he’s thrown even more innings than Zimmerman.

Kevin Millwood is showing that Cox and Mazzone didn’t get lucky in
developing Smoltz and Glavine–Smoltz and Glavine got lucky in pitching for
Cox and Mazzone. To give you an idea how dominant Billy Wagner has been,
consider this: no one in major league history has ever struck out three
times as many hitters as hits allowed. Wagner is currently at around 4.5.
And Jose Rosado is doing a better Glavine imitation than Glavine himself,
while the Royals’ bullpen insures that he remains one of the best-kept
secrets in the game.

Rookies of the Year

1) Jeff Zimmerman
2) Scott Williamson
3) Jeff Weaver
4) Carlos Febles
5) John Halama
6) Ronnie Belliard
HM) Billy Koch, Brian Daubach, Carlos Beltran

Well, if they’re two of the eight best pitchers in the game, they probably
should rank pretty high in ROY voting. The guy they call ROY here in
Detroit, Jeff Weaver, is giving every indication he’s going to be one of
the premier starters of the next 15 years. If you’ve never seen him pitch,
you’re missing something. Febles has been spectacular on the field and has
introduced something new to Kansas City at the plate, something about
knowing a strizon or a strykzo or something.

Halama is the new Jamie Moyer, which, like Jamie Moyer, doesn’t sound
nearly as good as it actually is. Belliard and Febles are eerily similar
players, and Belliard only ranks lower because he didn’t get his start
until May.

It’s been one hell of a year for rookie relievers, as Billy Koch can tell
you – he has as many saves as Williamson and Zimmerman combined, but is
completely overlooked among this year’s top rookies. Journalists are
shocked at how the Red Sox are winning with Daubach batting third, but Dan
Duquette isn’t a journalist; journalists don’t know how to read minor
league statistics. And Carlos Beltran is about as impressive as a rookie
can be without knowing the strike zone.

Top Eight Teams of the Half

1) Cleveland Indians
2) Atlanta Braves
3) New York Yankees
4) Houston Astros
5) Boston Red Sox
6) New York Mets
7) Texas Rangers
8) San Francisco Giants

I’d love to see the Indians not trade for a starter, just to see if they
can steamroll everyone anyway. Let’s face it: when the Braves make a move,
no matter how dumb (Neagle, Tucker and Rob Bell for Boone and Remlinger?)
it looks, we should all realize that they know what they’re doing. Neagle
is hurt, Boone hasn’t been too bad, and Remlinger, of all people, is
pitching wonderfully. And now that Maddux has dispensed with the longest
slump of his career, they’re back to staring at 100+ wins.

The Yankees are old, but two prime-of-life MVP candidates at shortstop and
in center field go a long way; how long depends on whether Cone stays
healthy and the bullpen gets it together. With Dierker back, the Astros
could be ready to leave the Reds in their afterburners; Biggio still hasn’t
gotten hot, and he could still break the single-season record for doubles.
The Red Sox aren’t a fluke. Good starting pitching, a middle infield of
Garciaparra and Offerman, and finding minor league veterans who can swing
the bat goes a lot farther than you’d think.

The Mets are among the wild-card leaders in the NL, and they haven’t hit on
all cylinders yet. When the rotation rights itself–and I think it
will–they should pass the Reds without looking back. The Rangers will go
as far as Jeff Zimmerman will take them, a phrase I did not plan on writing
four months ago;. With Ruben Mateo supplementing an already-terrific
offense, they can win the division even with John Burkett in the rotation.
Again. And the Giants, if Bonds can keep his newly-fragile body together,
can win the NL West. Just for the record: their names are Rich Aurilia and
Bill Mueller, not “smoke” and “mirrors”.

Jeff Hildebrand

Players of the Year

1) Derek Jeter
2) Jeff Bagwell
3) Manny Ramirez
4) Nomar Garciaparra
5) Ken Griffey, Jr.
6) Sean Casey
7) Shawn Green
8) Chipper Jones 
9) Jason Kendall
10) Bobby Abreu

The time A-Rod lost to injury is the only reason there aren’t three AL
shortstops on my list. I couldn’t find a worthwhile third Sean/Shawn
either. And no, I don’t really believe Abreu is the 10th-best player out
there, but it’s my small part to counteract the fact that he is
extraordinarily underrated.

Pitchers of the Year

1) Pedro Martinez
2) Curt Schilling
3) Randy Johnson
4) Jeff Zimmerman
5) David Cone
6) Jose Lima
7) Jose Rosado
8) Kevin Millwood

The top spot is the easiest selection of the four categories here. After a
brief slip in late May and early June, Schilling has resumed his dominant
form, thanks in large part to Terry Francona’s decision to stop letting him
throw complete games regardless of how many pitches he throws. Johnson and
Rosado can commiserate about how a lack of support plays havoc with the
won/loss record.

Rookies of the Year

1) Jeff Zimmerman
2) Ronnie Belliard
3) Warren Morris
4) Carlos Febles
5) Jeff Weaver
6) John Halama

My fondness for the Northern League may be pushing Zimmerman higher than he
really deserves, but he has been amazing. Beyond that, this seems to be the
year of the rookie second baseman. (Among other much-hyped rookie 2Bmen,
Joe McEwing is close to being on the list, while Marlon Anderson is not.)
Halama is showing that the Randy Johnson trade was nowhere near as lopsided
as the mainstream reporting last summer made it out to be.

Top Eight Teams of the Half

1) Braves
2) Indians
3) Yankees
4) Reds
5) Astros
6) Red Sox
7) Giants
8) Diamondbacks

The Braves get the nod over the Indians mainly because of their pitching
depth. The Reds and Astros will likely prove once again how the wild card
has eliminated great pennant races. The D’backs had a great early run, but
a fade to mediocrity seems likely.

Michael Wolverton

Players of the Year

1) Derek Jeter
2) Jeff Bagwell
3) Chipper Jones
4) Roberto Alomar
5) Ken Griffey, Jr
6) Shawn Green
7) Sean Casey
8) Nomar Garciaparra
9) Luis Gonzalez
10) Bernie Williams

This is pretty much in the order of the latest
VORP rankings
with slight adjustments for players who have
especially good defensive numbers (Alomar, Green), or especially bad
defensive numbers (Garciaparra, who’s once again dead last among AL
shortstops in zone rating; Tony Fernandez). If you exclude pitchers from
the discussion, Jeter and Bagwell are the clear MVPs of their respective
leagues.

Pitchers of the Year

1) Pedro Martinez
2) Randy Johnson
3) Curt Schilling
4) Jeff Zimmerman
5) Omar Olivares
6) David Cone
7) Brad Radke
8) Jeff Suppan

The big question here is where Zimmerman fits in among the starters. I
believe he should be no lower than fourth, and you could make a case for
putting him as high as 2nd. Reason #4516 that W/L records mean next to
nothing: three of my top 10 starters have losing records (Radke at 6-7,
Suppan at 4-5, Jose Rosado at 5-6). Kudos to Joe Torre for seeing past
Rosado’s record and putting him on the All-Star team, even if he was the
token Royal. On the other hand, putting Charles Nagy on the team was a joke.

Rookies of the Year

1) Jeff Zimmerman
2) John Halama
3) Jeff Weaver
4) Scott Williamson
5) Chris Singleton
6) Alex Gonzalez

A weak year for rookie position players, with the preseason ROY
favorites–Eric Chavez and J.D. Drew–failing to live up to the hype so
far. Zimmerman’s Eckersley-esque half-season makes him the runaway Rookie
of the Year. When you consider Halama’s work both as a starter and as a
reliever, he gets a slight edge over Weaver for the number two spot. This
list is unusual for who’s not on it, with all three of the famous rookie
second basemen (Carlos Febles, Warren Morris and Ronnie Belliard) missing
the cut. I didn’t forget about them; I just think they’ve been a notch
below the above six so far.

Top Eight Teams of the Half

1) New York Yankees
2) Atlanta Braves
3) Cleveland Indians
4) Houston Astros
5) Boston Red Sox
6) Cincinnati Reds
7) Toronto Blue Jays
8) New York Mets

This ranking is based not on performance so far, but on how I think the
teams will do the rest of the year. Cleveland will be even more formidable
if they trade for an ace, but the latest I’ve heard is that the very top
starters just aren’t available (in particular, Schilling and Radke are
rumored to be off the market). No team from either West division makes my
top eight. If I were to pick a West team, it would be either the last-place
Dodgers or the next-to-last-place Mariners. But then I’m always overrating
the Mariners; I just don’t see how their bullpen can continue to be this bad.

Chris Kahrl

Players of the Year

1) Derek Jeter
2) Jeff Bagwell
3) Jason Kendall
4) Manny Ramirez
5) Shawn Green
6) Chipper Jones
7) Sean Casey
8) Andruw Jones
9) Ken Griffey, Jr.
10) Bernie Williams

I don’t see anyone being particularly close to Jeter and Bagwell so far, so
the top picks were easy. The Kendall vote is a bit of a sympathy thing, but
he was having an outstanding season. I couldn’t pick between Manny Ramirez
and Shawn Green, so I didn’t, and Chipper’s been quietly potent. I tossed
in the other Jones because his defense isn’t merely outstanding, but
basically critical for the Braves as they battle through their assorted
pitching setbacks.

Pitchers of the Year

1) Pedro... Guerrero? Sanchez? One o'them Jonesy-type common Latin names
2) Curt Schilling
3) David Cone
4) Randy Johnson
5) Omar Daal
6) Mike Hampton
7) Mike Sirotka
8) Mike Mussina

Okay, so Pedro and Curt Schilling are pretty cut-and-dried, at least in my
book. For a New Yorker, Cone has gotten very little press for an
outstanding season, arguably the second-best behind Martinez. Randy Johnson
drops to fourth: strikeouts are nice for Sportscenter, but his run
prevention puts him behind my front three.

I’ve probably pushed Daal too high, but in the group of starters after the
big four, I simply like his stuff the best; that curve is mesmerizing.
Sirotka’s obviously a sentimental choice; I could just as easily put Parque
up there. Despite some ugliness, Mussina has to put up with bad defense
while pitching in a bandbox, and deserves some sympathy for the good year
he’s nevertheless managed to put together.

Rookies of the Year

1) Jeff Weaver
2) Ronnie Belliard
3) Jeff Zimmerman
4) Warren Morris
5) Carlos Febles
6) Chris Singleton

It’s an interesting crowd of rookies this year, especially since so many of
the early favorites have faltered. Weaver’s been handled well and pitched
extremely well in a tough park for a lousy team; in a season as
offense-oriented in this one, I guess it’s the contrarian in me that can’t
help but pick a pitcher.

There are a passel of rookie second basemen, and Belliard has clearly
outplayed the lot. I don’t often put relievers on top of any lists, but
Jeff Zimmerman is probably the Rangers’ MVP at this point, although it will
be interesting to see if the league adjusts to his slider or he just keeps
humiliating everyone. Then comes the next-best pair of rookie second
basemen, Morris and Febles. I suppose which one you prefer is a matter of
taste, but Morris’ hitting has been slightly better, and both of them leave
the much-heralded Joe McEwing in their dust.

What is Chris Singleton doing here? He’s outplayed Carlos Beltran
offensively and defensively, and this is his moment in the sun. I don’t
seriously expect him to still be on my list at the end of the year, as I
expect people like Beltran or Gabe Kapler or J.D. Drew or Eric Chavez to
have worked their way onto the ballot by then. But he’s been a major
surprise so far, and deserves credit for it.

Top Eight Teams of the Half

1) Atlanta Braves
2) New York Yankees
3) Houston Astros
4) Cleveland Indians
5) Cincinnati Reds
6) New York Mets
7) Boston Red Sox
8) San Francisco Giants

When in doubt, choose the Braves. For as many things that have gone wrong
for them this year (Galarraga’s cancer; injuries to Lopez, Weiss and
Smoltz; the early stretch of ineffectiveness by Maddux and Glavine; Otis
Nixon), they still have the best record in the National League. The Yankees
have endured their share of hurts, but they still have the lineup and the
rotation that should be favored in any short series.

The Astros have also endured a huge number of setbacks, yet remain at the
top of their division; they can expect reinforcements in the second half,
especially with Scott Elarton in the rotation. The Indians drop to fourth
because of their rotation and their ambivalence about improving it.
Trusting their postseason fate to Dave Burba and Charles Nagy just doesn’t
inspire any confidence in me, and nobody gets bonus points for the extra
runs or extra wins during the regular season that the Indians will get to
pile on.

The Reds have come far despite some rotation problems; unlike the Indians,
they’ve been working on improving it, and Denny Neagle may yet win a game
for them. The Mets deserve credit for building a much stronger team than
the one that would have had Bobby Bonilla and Brian McRae playing every
day, and they can hope Rick Reed bounces back and/or Octavio Dotel breaks
through. The Red Sox could still make a big improvement if they managed to
find one or two outfielders more dangerous than Damon Buford or Trot Nixon.
The Giants remain a team with basic strengths (getting on base, no weak
regulars, a deep bench, a good pen), and a mediocre rotation. They should
be able to stay in front of the Snakes from here on out.

Steve Rubio

Players of the Year

1) Derek Jeter
2) Jeff Bagwell
3) Shawn Green
4) Chipper Jones
5) Sean Casey
6) Manny Ramirez
7) Ken Griffey, Jr.
8) Bernie Williams
9) Nomar Garciaparra
10) Roberto Alomar

I have nothing useful to say here except I’m surprised Alomar is on my
list. But he’s fourth in the AL in RAR, and that’s good enough for me,
although it may say more about the paucity of good 2B in the AL right now.
I have probably ignored defense far more than I should. Giant fans will
wonder how come I didn’t include Jeff Kent, J.T. Snow or any other white
guy who doesn’t look like Barry Bonds.

Pitchers of the Year

1) Pedro Martinez
2) Randy Johnson
3) Curt Schilling
4) Mike Sirotka
5) Kevin Millwood
6) Jose Lima
7) Jose Rosado
8) Jeff Zimmerman

I’m with Chris, I don’t think relievers belong on lists like this, but
Zimmerman is so important he has to be included. I think the overestimation
of a closer’s value is one of the most destructive problems with the large
majority of major-league franchises; Arizona just gave up Brad Penny and
two other players because they decided even a relatively untested,
not-so-hot Mantei was worth the price. We’re running some excellent
articles on the importance of a bullpen these days…hopefully someday
teams will realize having a handful of Zimmermans is more important than
having one Mantei.

Rookies of the Year

1) Jeff Zimmerman
2) Jeff Weaver
3) Ron Belliard
4) Warren Morris
5) Carlos Febles
6) Vladimir Nunez

A lot of "making a point" choices here. Zimmerman for reasons
noted above. Belliard because a couple of years ago on one of these polls,
I chose him over Aramis Ramirez for a BP Top Prospect list, and I want to
feel like I didn’t screw up too badly. Nunez because I want to remind
Arizona how stupid they were to think Mantei was so much better thanhim
that they needed to throw in Penny and PTBNL to even up the deal.

Top Eight Teams of the Half

1) Cleveland Indians
2) Atlanta Braves
3) Cincinnati Reds
4) Houston Astros
5) New York Yankees
6) San Francisco Giants
7) Arizona Diamondbacks
8) Texas Rangers

If I had to pick one of these teams to to falter in the second half, it
would be the D’Backs. I confess I’m embarassed to even put them on this
list, given that they insist on playing Tony Womack. If and when Bell,
Williams and Gonzalez come back to earth, Arizona will be wishing they had
something more than Matt Mantei to show for their midseason shopping spree.

Greg Spira

Players of the Year

1) Derek Jeter
2) Jeff Bagwell
3) Nomar Garciaparra
4) Ken Griffey, Jr.
5) Chipper Jones
6) Roberto Alomar
7) Shawn Green
8) Sean Casey
9) Luis Gonzalez
10) Jason Kendall

Jeter is way, way ahead of every other everyday player in either league; he
has stepped up his game even as most of his teammates have declined.
Bagwell is always on these lists, but this is the first time he’s clearly
been the NL first-half MVP since 1994. Garciaparra, Griffey, Jones and
Alomar are all established stars who have contributed both offensively and
defensively.

Shawn Green, freed from Cito Gaston, has emerged as a terrific offensive
player who also provides solid defense, while Sean Casey, freed from a
different kind of baseball prison last year, is my bet as the player who
will hit .400–with power–one of these years. He’s that good a hitter, as
he’s proven this year. Luis Gonzalez has always been a personal favorite of
mine, but he’s played way, way over his head, and is already coming down to
earth. Meanwhile, Jason Kendall’s great play earns him a place on my list
that he obviously won’t keep, but it’ll be a major loss to baseball if he
doesn’t recover fully from his injuries.

Pitchers of the Year

1) Pedro Martinez
2) Randy Johnson
3) Curt Schilling
4) Jeff Zimmerman
5) David Cone
6) Jose Rosado
7) Mike Hampton
8) Omar Olivares and Brad Radke

The first three are pretty obvious; Pedro’s in a zone all his own, while
Johnson and Schilling have both had extremely dominating seasons. Johnson’s
recent lack of support is weird, but ultimately irrelevant.

Normally, relievers don’t make any of my lists of top pitchers (Eckersley
1990 and Eichhorn 1986 are the two exceptions I recall), but Zimmerman’s
amazing stats (.106/.162/.153, 0.86 RA) and his use in extremely
high-leverage situations–as opposed to how most closers are used–earns
him the fourth spot. David Cone is in fifth place as a result of his fine
overall performance, but he’s been more crafty than dominating thus far and
I expect his numbers to fall off in the second half.

Jose Rosado is finally healthy again, though his support from the Royals
has been anything but, and pitching like he did when he first came up. Mike
Hampton’s surprisingly strong half makes him the Astro of choice over the
more publicized Jose Lima, while Brad Radke and Omar Olivares split the
eighth spot. Olivares has been effective with smoke and mirrors (more walks
than strikeouts?), just like last year in the first half. I expect him to
fall apart somewhat after the All-Star break, just like he did last year in
the second half. Meanwhile, Radke has pitched nobly and effectively for an
awful team.

Rookies of the Year

1) Jeff Zimmerman
2) Jeff Weaver
3) Carlos Febles
4) Alex Gonzalez
5) Ronnie Belliard
6) John Halama

Zimmerman, for reasons noted above, earns the top spot for now, but there’s
lots of competition in one of the deepest rookie crops ever. Jeff Weaver,
the young Detroit starter who was drafted just last year, has pitched
effectively but will have to make counteradjustments in the second half to
stay on top of his game. Fortunately, the Tigers have been relatively
cautious with his usage, and that should help.

Carlos Febles has shown on-base ability, defense and pop for the Royals all
year long and will be a mainstay at second base for years to come. Alex
Gonzalez, Florida’s young shortstop, is raw but talented and is probably
going to end up having a better season this year than his namesake in
Toronto has ever had. He clearly has a lot to learn about the strike zone,
though. Ronnie Belliard has been nothing but brilliant since he was called
up by the Brewers, and is relatively low on my list only because of his
lack of playing time. John Halama has somehow survived Lou Pinella’s
mismanagement and pitched effectively for Seattle both from the bullpen and
the rotation, a rare feat that clearly deserves recognition.

Top Eight Teams of the Half

1) Atlanta Braves
2) Cleveland Indians
3) Houston Astros
4) New York Yankees
5) New York Mets
6) Arizona Diamondbacks
7) Boston Red Sox
8) Cincinnati Reds

If the Braves can survive the troubles of Maddux, Smoltz and Glavine and
stay on their perch this long, they clearly deserve the top spot. The
Indians are the majors’ offensive powerhouse, but they still need what
they’ve lacked for five years; a rotation ace. The Astros have shown
weakness while Larry Dierker has been disabled, but with Dierker back I
expect the Astros to reassert themselves and move back into first in the NL
Central.

The Yankees are not quite the team which steamrolled over everyone last
year, but they still have depth everywhere. The Mets deserve credit for
playing their productive youngsters over veteran stiffs like Bonilla, even
if Agbayani is a total fluke, and will likely have stronger starting
pitching in the second half as they aim for the wild card. The
Diamondbacks’ offense has played way over its head, but if it can avoid
completely collapsing, the pitching should keep the D’backs in contention
in the second half in what should be a very competitive division.

The Red Sox have so far successfully ridden the backs of Pedro Martinez and
Nomar Garciaparra, but they still need to find more offense to hold onto
the AL wild card. The Reds’ great play so far is a testament to the talent
Jim Bowden has assembled, but there are definitely potholes–an overworked
bullpen for one–awaiting the team in the second half.

Joe Sheehan

Players of the Year

1) Derek Jeter
2) Nomar Garciaparra
3) Alex Rodriguez
4) Ken Griffey, Jr.
5) Larry Walker
6) Jeff Bagwell
7) Mike Leiberthal
8) Mike Piazza
9) Dave Nilsson
10) Jason Kendall

There’s a lot of players having great–and similiar–years at key
positions, and that’s refelected in the above. A-rod is probably high,
given how much time he missed, but he’s also been dominant when he’s
played. The catchers are a bear to separate, and Chipper Jones probably
belongs on here somewhere.

Pitchers of the Year

1) Pedro Martinez
2) Randy Johnson
3) Jeff Zimmerman
4) Curt Schilling
5) David Cone
6) Jose Rosado
7) Omar Olivares
8) Billy Wagner

There just aren’t very many starting pitchers having big years. Olivares is
fourth in SNWAR, which came as a shock. I doubt he’ll be in the top
15 by the end of the year. Greg Maddux, for all his struggles, is just off
this list, and could still win the Cy Young Award. It would help if he
would be compared to the other pitchers in the league, and not his own peak.

Rookies of the Year

1) Jeff Zimmerman
2) Carlos Febles
3) Ronnie Belliard
4) Jeff Weaver
5) John Halama
6) Scott Williamson

Zimmerman has just been ridiculous, and it was nice that everyone got to
see him Tuesday night. His movement and control are excellent, making up
for a fastball that isn’t exceptional. The rest of the class is deep and
wide, especially at second base, which sports three solid candidates; the
above two and Warren Morris.

Top Eight Teams of the Half

1) Atlanta Braves
2) Cleveland Indians
3) New York Yankees
4) Houston Astros
5) Boston Red Sox
6) Arizona Diamondbacks
7) Toronto Blue Jays
8) Cincinnati Reds

There’s a sizable gap between #2 and #3, and a huge one between #4 and #5.
I expect the Jays to catch Boston for the wild card in the AL, while the NL
West and wild-card races will be great multiple-team train wrecks. I still
like Dodgers and Cardinals in each, but I’m a stubborn SOB.

Jeff Bower

Players of the Year

1) Derek Jeter
2) Jeff Bagwell
3) Nomar Garciaparra
4) Sean Casey
5) Manny Ramirez
6) Chipper Jones
7) Larry Walker
8) Shawn Green
9) Ken Griffey, Jr.
10) Mark McGwire

Why does it pain me so to put a Yankee at the top of this list? Sans
Dierker the Astros have faded, but Bagwell is keeping them afloat. If
Garciaparra can stay healthy, you can write the Red Sox in ink for the AL
wild card.

Comparisons to Mark Grace aren’t fair: Casey is much better. If Bowden is
as smart as we claim, he’ll lock up Casey for the next decade. Ramirez’s
RBIs are merely a by-product of the fact that he is the best pure hitter in
baseball. If Chipper Jones ever puts it together from both sides of the
plate in the same season, watch out.

Walker’s numbers say to rank him higher, but I can’t get by the fact the he
is packaged by Coors. God, what a sweet swing Shawn Green has. Can you
imagine if Olerud were still with the Jays? They’d have to distribute
spittoons at Skydome for all the drool. Ignore all the stuff about Junior’s
numbers plummeting at Safeco. Nice "off year" for Big Mac. I
don’t mind not seeing him on TV every day, though.

Pitchers of the Year

1) Pedro Martinez
2) Randy Johnson
3) Curt Schilling
4) Jeff Zimmerman
5) Jose Rosado
6) David Cone
7) Mike Hampton
8) Omar Olivares

My lousy commentary can’t do Martinez justice. Just once I’d like to stand
in against Randy Johnson–in full armor. Thankfully, Francona has backed
off a little with Schilling’s workload.

Zimmerman is the only thing standing between the Rangers and the rest of
the AL West’s sea of mediocrity. But he is quite a barrier. Rosado probably
shouldn’t be ranked this high, but how can you help but feel bad for him? I
don’t like the way Muser is inching up his pitch counts as the bullpen
implodes.

The most quotable Yankee is quietly having another fine year. Can you say
"Hall of Fame"? Jose Lima makes for better ESPN footage, but
Hampton is having the better year. Where would the Angels be without
Olivares, anyway? Last place. Oh, yeah, that’s where they are anyhow.

Rookies of the Year

1) Jeff Zimmerman
2) Carlos Febles
3) John Halama
4) Jeff Weaver
5) Scott Williamson
6)  Ron Belliard

Zimmerman has been so dominant that I almost forget he is a rookie. In ten
years, when Febles is creeping towards 2,00 hits, Frank White will no
longer be the best second baseman in Royals’ history. Halama has been
effective, and gets special bonus points earned for working under Piniella
that pushed him up this high.

Weaver got off to a great start, but is fading fast. Somebody in the
Cincinnati bullpen deserves recognition, and Williamson has been the best
of a terrific group. Yes, I know Belliard doesn’t even have 200 at-bats,
but his .400+ OBP is for real.

Top Eight Teams of the Half

1) Cleveland Indians
2) Atlanta Braves
3) New York Yankees
4) Houston Astros
5) Boston Red Sox
6) Cincinnati Reds
7) San Francisco Giants
8) Texas Rangers

The Indians’ offense isn’t as good, nor the pitching as bad, as they’re
made out to be. Bullpen problems? What bullpen problems? The Braves
continue to roll. The Yankees will improve on this ranking in the second half.

Look for the Astros to pull away in the NL Central when The Wrangler
returns to the bench after the All-Star break. The Sox are in good wild
card position, and is there a manager who handles a pitching staff better
than Jimy Williams? Jack McKeon manages the Reds’ bullpen like it’s 1973.
Look at his relievers’ ERAs and you wouldn’t guess that it’s 1999.

Note to Dusty Baker: Be careful with Russ Ortiz. In the other West, Texas
has the worst starting pitching in the division and is up by five games.
Oates deserves more credit than he gets.

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