Handing out awards for the first half of the 2014 MLB season.
Like wine and the songs of Journey, Felix Hernandez gets better with age.
Otto Greule Jr / Getty Images North America
By Joel Beall
Welcome to the American League portion of our MLB first-half awards presentation. Click here for the National League.
AL MVP: Mike Trout, Angels
At a high school journalism lecture this spring, a student asked where I thought Trout’s ceiling could reach. After a second of deliberation, I replied, “Imagine Ken Griffey Jr. from Slugest in Tecmo Bo Jackson’s body.” Given these kids were 17 years old, they had no idea what I was talking about. The lesson: always know your audience.
A contingent of readers will roll their eyes if I break out the advanced stats to illustrate Trout’s mastery, so let’s stick with the bread and butter: .310/.400/.606, 22 homers, 73 RBI, 65 runs and 10 swipes. Trout also leads the AL in OPS and total bases. Tagged with obscene defensive range, Trout is the undisputed MVP of the first half.
Side note: this hombre has a chance to be one of the game’s icons, yet he’s logged over 425 big-league games and still lacks a preeminent nickname. The half-hearted puns towards his last name aren’t helping the cause. What about “The Archangel,” eh? Has a smiting-the-wicked ring to it and, just as significant, it doesn’t have anything to do with fish. I’m not saying that has to be his nickname, just that we need to put more effort into facilitating some type of handle for the guy. Honorable Mentions: Jose Bautista, Adam Jones
AL Cy Young: Felix Hernandez, Mariners
The All-Star starter is tops among AL arms with a 2.12 ERA and 0.90 WHIP and ranks second to David Price in innings and strikeouts. For those Doubting Thomases who believe Hernandez’s diminutive figures are an offshoot of Safeco Field’s pitching-friendly dimensions, put this in your pipe and smoke it:
Felix Hernandez 2014 Splits
Home (10 starts, 74.2 IP)
Away (10 starts, 69.2 IP)
Despite nearly 2,000 innings of wear, Hernandez’s strikeout rate is at a career high, and just as stunning are a mere 25 free passes on the season (also a career-best rate). The craziest part of Hernandez’s work is that, according to a 2.04 FIP, the Seattle ace has been better than his pitching line suggests. In short, it’s good to be the king. Honorable Mentions: Chris Sale, David Price
AL Manager of First Half: Buck Showalter, Orioles
The AL East features the reigning World Series champions, two other franchises that rank in the top-10 in payroll and a perennial underdog that boasts the best GM in baseball. In the face of these obstacles, Showalter has guided his O’s to a 52-42 record, including a 26-18 mark in the division. Not bad when factoring in Matt Wieters’ season-ending injury, Chris Davis’ battle with the Mendoza Line, J.J. Hardy’s sudden loss of power and Baltimore’s underperforming starting rotation (the starters’ 4.09 ERA ranks in the bottom third of the league). This means only one thing: the Orioles have switched to cotton uniforms. Honorable Mentions: Lloyd McClendon, Bob Melvin
AL Rookie of First Half: Jose Abreu, White Sox/George Springer, Astros
I’m splitting this category into two: one for international studs who are not technically neophytes, the other for players that fall under the more conventional sense of the “rookie” label. For the former, the 27-year-old Abreu has been a one-man wrecking crew, slamming an MLB-best 29 homers along with 73 RBI, .292 batting average and .342 OBP. To give that context, that’s two fewer jacks than Yasiel Puig’s had in the past two years.
Springer gets the nod in the traditional group thanks to 19 homers, 50 RBI and 44 runs. His 33.2 strikeout percentage is alarming – the guy’s leading the league in whiffs despite spending the first three weeks in the minors – but he’s flashed the electricity that made him a top-20 prospect entering the season. Honorable Mention: Masahiro Tanaka
AL Epiphany of First Half: Michael Brantley, Indians
The Indians outfielder had been solid as a full-time starter the previous two seasons, posting yearly averages of a .286/.340/.399 line with eight homers, 66 RBI and 14 steals in that span. However, Brantley has waved a newfound power stroke, going yard a team-leading 15 times in the first half. Better yet, the 27-year-old has not compromised his plate discipline for strength, hitting .322 with a .382 OBP. Fused with his aptitude on the base paths, Brantley has transformed into the total package on offense. Honorable Mentions: Lonnie Chisenhall, Garrett Richards
AL Train Wreck: Joe Mauer, Twins
The departure from backstop was supposed to save Mauer’s body which, in theory, would preserve his bat. Alas, Mauer is hitting 50 points below his career average with zero oomph (two homers, 28 RBI). Worse, with Minneapolis serving as host for this year’s All-Star festivities, 2014 was supposed to be Mauer’s stage to shine. Instead, owed $23 million per year until 2018, Mauer may single-handedly impede the Twins franchise for the next decade. Dishonorable Mentions: Chris Davis, Billy Butler
AL Head-Scratcher: David Ortiz, Red Sox
I love Big Papi, but 2014 has not been a good year for the Red Sox slugger. Photo-bombing the President for a Samsung promotional stunt. Multiple criticisms of the official scorer. Taking offense that the MLB Network would bring up his failed steroid test. With 20 long balls and 64 RBI, he’s not having a bad season on the diamond, but with a media dust-up seemingly every other week, Ortiz has already distanced himself from last fall’s heroics. Dishonorable Mention: Chris Davis - again
AL Best Offseason Move: Nelson Cruz, Orioles
Due to the lingering doubts from last season’s suspension for performance-enhancing drugs, Cruz fell to Baltimore at a ridiculously-discounted one-year, $8 million deal. Cruz has made his doubters pay, thumping 28 homers and 74 RBI for the division-leading Orioles. At 34 years old, Cruz is proving there’s still life in the Boomstick, and, more importantly, that it’s not chemically-induced. Honorable Mention: Robinson Cano
AL Worst Offseason Move: New York Yankees
They lost franchise cornerstone Robinson Cano. Carlos Beltran can’t stay healthy. Jacoby Ellsbury has been good…but not $153 million good. Brian McCann looks like he needs to visit a shrink. And they signed Masahiro Tanaka to a $155 million deal, which started out promising…until you realize the 25-year-old already has over 1,400 innings under his belt. Not exactly the way Jeets deserved to go out. Dishonorable Mentions: Shin-Soo Choo, Ervin Santana