Wednesday, July 4, 2007

MLB first half awards -- the MVP race

With the 2007 All-Star Game only about a week away, the debating of early MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year awards has already begun. Here is a look at the players that I believe should be in the running for such honors (statistics as of 7/3/07):

MVP Race

National League:

- Prince Fielder, 1B, Brewers -- .278 avg, 27 HR, 66 RBI. Not many baseball analysts predicted that the Brewers would be a first place team for the first half of the season. Fielder has been the biggest reason for their 48-35 start. Fielder is on pace to hit around 60 home runs and drive in almost 140 runs. The Brewers have lots of young talent, and if they can hold onto the NL Central lead in the second half, Fielder deserves the MVP.

- Jose Reyes, SS, Mets -- .316 avg, 57 runs, 34 RBI, 40 SB. The Mets' lineup is loaded this season with talent such as Carlos Delgado, Carlos Beltran, David Wright, and Paul Lo Duca. But Reyes is the most feared of the bunch. Reyes hasn't hit for much power, but he continues to slap the ball all over the field and disrupt the game from the basepaths. With 40 stolen bases already, Reyes has eight more than the next closest player (Juan Pierre has 32). Reyes also has started every game for the Mets this season and continue to play great defense too. He's committed only four errors this season, which is tied for the NL low for shorstops with the slick-fielding Omar Vizquel.

- Matt Holliday, OF, Rockies -- .347 avg, 14 HR, 65 RBI. Holliday has been the best player on the Rockies this season and leads the NL in batting. While the Rockies are currently in 4th place in the NL West with a record of 40-43, they possess a lot of talent and are still in the race -- seven games out of the wild card race. Though it seems unlikely that Holliday will be able to lead the Rockies to a playoff berth, he does have the talent to win a batting title this season and show off all of his skills.

- Russell Martin, C, Dodgers -- .306 avg, 9 HR, 55 RBI, 16 SB. This may be a surprising name on the list for MVP candidates, but Martin should definitely be in the mix right now. Martin continues to contribute offensively out of arguably the most physically demanding position in the game. While Martin only has nine home runs, he's helped hold the middle of the Dodgers lineup together. Surprisingly, Martin is an excellent base runner, and he's also compiled more stolen bases than Rafael Furcal and Jimmy Rollins -- not bad for a catcher, typically a position of slow runners.

- Chase Utley, 2B, Phillies -- .322 avg, 15 HR, 66 RBI. I could have put Jimmy Rollins's name in this list too, but Utley has a little better numbers. Utley will be the starting second baseman for the NL in the All-Star Game, and he's also the best at his position in the entire MLB. If they Phillies come on strong in the second half and somehow make the playoffs, Utley's name may be right in the middle of MVP consideration.

Other possible candidates: Jimmy Rollins, J.J. Hardy, Jake Peavy, Brad Penny

My early prediction: Fielder

American League:

- Torii Hunter, OF, Twins -- .299 avg, 17 HR, 63 RBI, 11 SB. Usually, the main two players that get mentioned from the Twins' lineup are Justin Morneau and Joe Mauer. Morneau, who won the MVP award last season, has played well this season too. But Hunter has been more valuable this season for the Twins because of his combination of hitting for average and power while playing solid defense and also stealing a few bases. No matter how close Hunter gets to being considered for the MVP this season, he will surely receive a big payday when he becomes a free agent after this season.

- Magglio Ordonez, OF, Tigers -- .369, 13 HR, 68 RBI. No one predicted before this season started that Ordonez would have gone on a tear like this. Ordonez leads the AL in batting and has produced in a solid lineup including Gary Sheffield, Placido Polanco, Curtis Granderson, Sean Casey, and Carlos Guillen. But Ordonez has been the most feared hitter and has taken the league by surprise. If he continue to produce like this, he presents a strong case for the MVP, for sure.

- Alex Rodriguez, 3B, Yankees -- .322 avg, 28 HR, 80 RBI. Rodriguez has the best numbers of anyone in the AL MVP race this year, but he also plays on the team with the worst record, at least so far. I have to say, though, that no one in the league continues to play so well when things off the field have been so weird. But no matter what takes place, A-Rod has continued to play well, even when many of his fans can't even stand him. Will he stay after this season or will he opt out? No one knows for sure, but he just may win another MVP award.

- Vladimir Guerrero, OF, Angels -- .328 avg, 14 HR, 73 RBI. There's not much to say here, except that Guerrero is having another solid season. The Angels have amassed a 51-31 record and are in first place in the AL West. Guerrero has been so good this season that no one seems to notice that Gary Matthews Jr. has been batting fourth on the team with one of the best records in the league. But with Guerrero's bat leading the way, it may not even matter.

- Danys Baez, RP, Orioles -- 6.52 ERA, 0-4 record, 17-16 K-per-BB ratio. JUST KIDDING....

- The Entire Oakland A's starting pitching staff -- Dan Haren (2.20 ERA), Joe Blanton (3.09 ERA), Chad Gaudin (2.92 ERA), Joe Kennedy (3.91 ERA), and Lenny DiNardo (3.04 ERA). Obviously, a group of players can't win the MVP award together, but maybe they should. This starting rotation has kept the A's right in the middle of things in the NL West. The A's have dealt with many injuries this year, but so far the A's best hitter has been either Jack Cust or Shannon Stewart -- not exactly the ingredients for success. But led by this pitching stuff and some timely hitting, the A's have managed to stay over .500 and give themselves a chance to compete for the wild card. If you even knew who Chad Gaudin and Lenny DiNardo were before the season, give yourself a pat on the back.

Other possible candidates: Gary Sheffield, Ichiro Suzuki, Justin Morneau, David Ortiz, Grady Sizemore

My early prediction: A-Rod or Ordonez. Still too close to tell, depending on where the Yankees finish.

Posts on the Cy Young and Rookie of the Year mid-season races are to follow...

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