Boy, has this season gone by fast. It feels like just yesterday the Boston Red Sox were hoisting the 2013 World Series trophy, and everyone else was waiting for the season to start again. It feels like just yesterday that Opening Day was here and that the teams were back on the field to start a new season with a clean slate. But this first half of the season has gone by fast. Really fast. Now we are at the All-Star break, and it is time to give out some "first-half awards," talk about some surprise teams, and just recap what went on during this fantastic first half of the 2014 season.
American League Awards:
MVP: Mike Trout, OF, Los Angeles Angels
Trout can do it all. He can hit for average, hit for power, runs well, plays decent outfield, and has an average arm. He is the closest player in the major leagues to being a true five-tool guy. It's about time that the 22-year-old gets an MVP award, don't you think? Trout is having another fantastic season at the dish, posting the highest fWAR and wRC+ in the major leagues with 5.5 and 181 marks, respectively. He has a 1.005 OPS, which ranks tops in the American League. And he has a .310 average, good for 13th in the majors. If he is not the AL MVP, then who is?
Honorable Mentions: Josh Donaldson, Jose Abreu, and Miguel Cabrera
Rookie of the Year: Jose Abreu, 1B, Chicago White Sox
If Masahiro Tanaka had stayed healthy, it would have been a tough choice for this award. But he couldn't. The 27-year-old Abreu, right out of Cuba, was thrown into the American game of baseball and had to adjust. The adjusting part was likely the easiest for Abreu, who has taken the major leagues by storm. With 29 homers, Abreu leads the American League in bombs, and only needs 20 in the second half to tie Mark McGwire for most home runs in a rookie season. That by itself is deserving of the Rookie of the Year award, but for good measure, Abreu has a .292 batting average and a .630 (!!!) slugging percentage.
Honorable Mentions: Masahiro Tanaka and George Springer
Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, RHP, Seattle Mariners
This season, Felix has just been plain old Felix. Having perhaps the greatest season of his career, Hernandez is 11-2 with a 2.12 ERA and a 2.04 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching). His 5.2 fWAR leads all pitchers, and his 2.43 xFIP ranks second to only Clayton Kershaw, who, as we all know, is a National League pitcher. The amazing thing about Hernandez is that his change-up, the pitch he uses second-most (to his sinker) holds hitters to a minuscule .157 batting average (32-for-142). If Hernandez records just eight more wins, he ties his all-time high.
Honorable Mentions: Jon Lester, David Price, and Garrett Richards
Manager of the Year: Mike Scioscia, MGR, Los Angeles Angels
Many people still question the contracts the Angels gave to Albert Pujols and Josh Hamilton, and how they have not turned the team into a World Series contender. Well, the contracts are still bad, but the critics have to be quiet, at least for this year. The Los Angeles Angels are getting the job done in the American League West, and both Pujols and Hamilton have performed. Scioscia has managed the Angels since 2000, and he is on pace to finish with the third-highest winning percentage in his managerial career. The Angels are on pace for a record of 98-64.
Honorable Mention: Lloyd McClendon
The National League first-half awards will be announced tomorrow. Here's a teaser: Troy Tulowitzki will not win the MVP award. Be sure to check them all out!
It is time for the Cleveland Indians to part ways with shortstop Asdrubal Cabrera. The time is now and there never may be a better opportunity during his entire career.
Cabrera is a free agent at the end of the season at the conclusion of his three-year, $21.05 million deal signed with the Indians in 2012. While teams may be shied away from Cabrera and want to create a long-term relationship with him, this could also be a good thing for others. Cabrera could be less risky than players who still have many years left on their contract. If a team does not want him to return, they do not have to worry about it, he will be a free agent anyway. If they do, they can just re-sign him in free agency or extend him during the season.
Cabrera's free agent status could be bad for the Indians as well. If they decide to re-sign Cabrera, he would be due for his "big" contract. At age 28, and after finishing up his "middle 20s" contract, he is ready to sign the contract that many stars do. He is a two-time All-Star, and is one of the main on-base guys in the Indians lineup. While he may not be due for a deal worth over $100 million, he could see an average annual value (AAV) of around his salary this year, which is $10 million. That could mean the Indians could be paying Cabrera a salary north of $50 million, if they sign him to a five-year deal or longer.
While an AAV of $10 million does not seem like a lot of money for a large market team, the Cleveland Indians salary is only about $80 million. Do the Indians really want to lock up a guy that is not quite of "elite" status to a deal that could be worth an eighth of their total payroll? That could hurt the talent they bring in into the future and hurt their chances at the postseason later on. They need to do a quick turnover if they want to stay young and fresh. Moving Cabrera also could open the door for top shortstop prospect Francisco Lindor right away, which would help the Indians quick turnover. He would not have to wait in the minors, or be forced to find a new position, like many other prospects have to do.
For a good example of quick turnovers, the Indians should turn their heads west. The Oakland Athletics are the best at doing that. They take production from the players in their "middle 20s" contract (the deal right before the player's mega deal) and when that contract is up, they are fine letting him go. In this case however, the Indians do not have to let Cabrera go completely. If they deal him at the trade deadline, they could get a good return for him, especially in a market that is deprived of right-handed hitting (Cabrera is a switch-hitter) and shortstops in general.
Cabrera's name has come up in trade talk, or at least rumors, but the Indians have been reluctant to move him. While his value could be higher, in this type of situation it seems ideal that the Indians decide to go ahead and move the anchor on their team. While it may not pay off now, it could really be the right decision into the future. It could really help the Indians turnover and continue to be good for awhile.
On the season, Cabrera is hitting .251/.312/.398 with eight homers and 37 runs batted in. He has provided a 1.0 fWAR this season in just 375 plate appearances. That is already a larger total than his fWAR last year, which was 0.6 in 562 plate appearances. Defensively, Cabrera is below-average. He has a -7 defensive runs saved and a -6.9 ultimate zone rating.
Jonathan Lucroy has been a steady cog on the Brewers since 2011, his first full season in the major leagues. Lucroy enjoyed success, posting a .703 OPS and a 90 OPS+ in 468 plate appearances. He was a smooth operator behind the plate. Pitchers pitched to a 3.63 ERA in when he was their backstop in 2011.
Lucroy's catching abilities with a sprinkle of offense landed him the starting job with the Brewers. He produced three steady seasons, only missing time due to injury in 2012. From 2011 to 2013, Lucroy was a .285 hitter while averaging 14 homers and 66 RBI per season. His .785 OPS and 112 OPS+ suggested that he was an above-average hitter. His defense, much underrated, continued to be superb.
Fast forward to now. Lucroy was just named first-half National League MVP by Jon Morosi of CBSSports.com. On the year, Lucroy is hitting .326/.396/.511 with nine home runs and 44 RBI before the All-Star break. His defense, which was underrated in the past, is coming out as just as good of an attribute as his offense. He leads all catchers with seven defensive runs saved. When he is catching, Brewers pitching has a 3.66 ERA. He also has caught 28% of runners trying to steal (27% is MLB average).
How did Lucroy break out offensively after all this time? The answer is quite simple: he walks more often.
This season, Jonathan Lucroy has better plate discipline. He swings at just 30% of pitches outside the strike zone, a good 2.1% lower than his career average, and 1.6% lower than last season. Lucroy is seeing just as many pitches inside the strike zone, with only a 0.1% drop over his last season. Even seeing just as many pitches inside the strike zone, Lucroy's walk percentage has spiked, from 7.9% last season to 10.3% this year. It is all because he has developed better discipline when at the dish.
His success could also be attributed to luck. He has posted a mile-high .348 BABIP, well above his career .314 mark. Back in 2012, when Lucroy had his best offensive season to at that time, his BABIP was .338. However, Lucroy is better this season than in 2012, posting an OBP nearly 30 points higher, while minting similar power numbers (.185 isolated power in 2014; .193 isolated power in 2012).
With better plate discipline comes more walks, but less strikeouts also come, which holds true in Lucroy's case. In 2011, when Lucroy first got his full taste into the big leagues, becoming the Brewers starting catcher, his strikeout rate was a whopping 21.2%. Over 20% of his plate appearances ended with a strikeout. His walk rate? A pretty low 6.2%. In 2011, Lucroy posted the lowest OPS+ and wRC+ of his career (min. 300 plate appearances). Now, his strikeout rate is a down-to-earth 10.9%.
Lucroy may have not had to make any adjustments to improve his play. It may have just come with age and experience. Of the 18 rookies this season to have over 180 plate appearances thus far, only Yangervis Solarte and Kolten Wong have strikeout rates below 17%. Of the 18 rookies, 11 have strikeout rates over 20%. So Lucroy may not have had to change anything in his approach, he just may be more used to big league pitching now more than ever.
Welcome to July. Just 30 days from now, the MLB Trade Deadline hits. Until then, the month will be filled with rumors, trades, and moves made by nearly every single team in a scramble to fix up their team for the postseason. Today, I want to look at the chances of the Oakland Athletics making a run for Arizona Diamondbacks pitcher Brandon McCarthy and why the move would be right up their alley.
Ken Rosenthal of FOX Sports wrote that Athletics GM Billy Beane will do something at the trade deadline, but he does not know what. Rosenthal mentions that the Athletics likely need one more starting pitcher that could get them over the hump. That is where D-Backs' starter Brandon McCarthy comes into play. He might just be the starting pitcher that the Athletics need.
First of all, McCarthy will not cost that much to acquire. Although he is making $10.25 million this season, you would have to assume that the Athletics either will not have to pay all his salary, or will not have to give up some serious prospects in order to get him. Why is that? Well, McCarthy is 2-10 with a 5.11 ERA, allowing the most hits (123) and earned runs (59) of any pitcher in the National League.
Why would the Athletics want to acquire a pitcher, in order to help them go deeper into the postseason, that has an ERA+ that is 27% league average (McCarthy has a 73 ERA+)?
The reason is that McCarthy really has not been that bad this season and the saber-metrics (the Athletics' favorite formula) show that. McCarthy has a 3.87 FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) and a 87:18 strikeout-to-walk ratio. He also comes with a low ground-ball rate, plus a bloated HR/FB rate, meaning that McCarthy might just be unlucky so far and that he could be better very soon.
There are more reasons to believe that McCarthy could come to Oakland. For one, he has already been an Athletic, playing with the team from 2011-2012. He could already be returning to his good form, recording just his second win of the season on Friday. He went seven innings, allowing six hits and only one run. He struck out seven Padres. He posted his third-highest game score on Friday.
The Diamondbacks have seemingly made McCarthy available. Even McCarthy himself thought that he would be traded, telling Jack Magruder of FOX Sports Southwest that it "certainly seems likely" he will be traded before the Trade Deadline:
“At this point, you become an asset the other way. Right now as a Diamondback, sometimes your best value is your future value and what they can get for you. I totally understand that side of the game. You accept it as reality, but it is not something I sit and worry about all the time, check every rumor. Just let it happen, and when I get a phone call and that happens, there you go.”
McCarthy could be coming to Oakland. It definitely seems like the right fit and he is comfortable wit the Athletics organization. But for now, he is a Diamondback. And the next couple of weeks will determine his future fate in baseball.