Midseason awards: American League

As we near baseball’s All-Star break, it’s time to take a look at the players who have really stood out in the half-season gone by. There has been a plethora of outstanding individual performances so far, so it is difficult to determine who specific award winners would be if the season were to end today. That said, it’s an entertaining exercise to predict which players will take home the trophies, specifically the MVP, Cy Young, and Rookie of the Year awards. We’ll see how they stand up at the end of the year.

Don’t view this list as the be-all and end-all, but more as a way to better understand what each player has done up to this point. Today I’m going to take a look at some American League standouts. I’ll do the same for the National League tomorrow.

AL Most Valuable Player

In the American League, a handful of players have really pulled ahead in the race for MVP. Angels’ center fielder Mike Trout, possibly the best all-around player in baseball, is having another outstanding campaign. His batting average (.303) and stolen bases (10 SB, 0 CS) are slightly down from previous years, but his 20 home runs and 64 RBIs are on pace to set career highs. He has scored 60 runs, has a .986 OPS, and leads the league in the sabermetrician’s favorite stat, Wins Above Replacement (5.1) .

Joining Trout as possible front-runners for the MVP are Nelson Cruz, Edwin Encarnacion and Victor Martinez. Cruz leads the American league with 28 home runs and 73 RBIs, to go along with a solid .292 batting average. However, Cruz loses points to me both because he plays in a hitter’s park at Camden Yards and is a designated hitter, thus not contributing on defense.

Meanwhile Blue Jays first baseman Edwin Encarnacion is third in the league in home runs (26) and tied for second in RBIs (70). What is most impressive about him is that he only hit 2 home runs in all of April, but exploded with 16 in May, bringing him into MVP consideration.

Finally, Victor Martinez, the DH for the Tigers, is third in the league with a .328 batting average, fourth in home runs with 21, and has the highest OPS in the American League, at .991. Perhaps most impressive is that he has struck out only 23 times all year, and has the rare opportunity to have more home runs than strikeouts in a season.

Taking all things into consideration, the MVP should go to Mike Trout. Not only can he do virtually anything on offense, but he continues to be a stud in center field. Perhaps most importantly, his team has the second-best record in all of baseball, and Trout is without a doubt the best hitter in the lineup. He truly has been the most valuable player to his team, which is why he should finally take home his first MVP.

AL Cy Young

As for the best pitcher in the American League, the field can be narrowed down to just two candidates: Masahiro Tanaka and Felix Hernandez. This is not to take anything away from pitchers like Scott Kazimir, Jon Lester, Mark Buehrle and Yu Darvish, who are all performing brilliantly, or the emergence of Garret Richards and Corey Kluber. Rather, it serves to show just how dominating these two have been.

Masahiro Tanaka, (12-4, 2.51 ERA), has been everything the Yankees paid for and more. He gives at least seven innings almost every time out, and his strikeout to walk ratio is out of this world, at 135 to 19. The Yankees placed Tanaka on the 15-day DL yesterday. Though an arm injury is never good news for a pitcher, the timing is somewhat helpful, as the All-Star break reduces the number of games he’s out. If he’s able to return, I expect him to continue to stun hitters.

Felix Hernandez (10-2, 2.11 ERA) has been just as, if not more dominating. He is third in the league in strikeouts, with 145, second in ERA, and has only walked 23. In a standout career with the Mariners that already includes one Cy Young award, Hernandez might be on the way to his best season yet.

Between these two phenomenal pitchers, I have to give the edge to King Felix. Both Hernandez and Tanaka have been fantastic, but Hernandez just a little more so. Right now, he would win the Cy Young, but the pitchers have both been so good that anything can change over the course of the rest of the season.

AL Rookie of the Year

The 2014 American League ROY race is made more interesting by the fact that two of the top rookies, Jose Abreu and Masahiro Tanaka, both have experience pitching for leagues in their home countries. Regardless, they are both extremely talented, and both should have the opportunity to be recognized for their significant achievements. Along with relief pitcher Dellin Betances, these rookies have both performed at All-Star levels, and each deserves praise for what he has managed to do.

As previously mentioned, Masahiro Tanaka has been brilliant since day one with the Yankees. The fact that he is in the Cy Young running as well as the ROY race just proves how well he has performed. If he returns to health soon, he should be right back on track to proving his worth.

His teammate on the Yankees, Dellin Betances, is a relief pitcher, but no average one. Several years removed from being a highly regarded starting prospect, Betances has reentered the scene in 2014, striking out an absurd 81 batters in 53 1/3 innings, and maintaining a superb 1.52 ERA.

Finally, White Sox slugger and Cuban defector Jose Abreu is in the running for ROY on the merit of his 28 home runs (tied for first in the AL) and 70 RBIs (tied for second). He may come to close to breaking Mark McGwire’s rookie home run record of 49, and is showing that the $68 million the White Sox are paying him over six years might turn out to be a bargain. (Read more about how Abreu has lit up the league here.)

It is particularly hard to compare the stats of these three players, since they each serve different roles on their respective teams. However, Tanaka has been the best rookie of the three because of what he has had to do to succeed. He came from Japan to New York, possibly the most high pressure city in the world to play in. Not only that, but he starts against teams in the AL East, traditionally one of the toughest divisions in baseball. These things, combined with his other-worldly stats, warrant him the ROY award.

AL Manager of the Year

It goes without saying that in baseball, the players do all the playing. However, without someone to motivate, instruct, and lead them, it can be difficult for a team to find its own particular identity and chemistry. That is the manager’s job, and a good manager will make the best of any situation he finds the team in. Many American League managers have shown that they can win games, but two come to mind that have done a particularly good job getting their teams to finally put it all together and be competitive in the pennant race.

For the Angels, Mike Scioscia has successfully helped his team finally take the next step. After the Angels struggled for several years despite no shortage of star talent, the team is finally back in contention. It appears that the Angels are finally meshing, and the presence of an experienced manager is a big reason why.

Another manager who finds himself in the running for MOY is Blue Jays’ skipper John Gibbons. In 2012 and 2013, many believed that Toronto had the talent to compete in the AL East, but they never came close to making the playoffs. In 2014, though, they are in second place in this tough division, only three games behind the Orioles. Gibbons has done a good job of driving his players to do better, after several years of unmet expectations.

Gibbons deserves the award over Scioscia because of what he has been able to accomplish with his team in a short period of time. Gibbons had previously managed the Blue Jays from 2004-2008, but only just returned to the team this year. He took over a squad that finished last in the division in 2013, and with very few personnel changes, has led his team to contention in 2014.

Joe Setyon, sports editor of The Collegian at Grove City College, contributes to Three for Ten Sports as a baseball writer.

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