Well, it’s just about halfway through the MLB season, and as fans of flailing teams call for the roll out of the tanks, and fans of contending teams pray that their team nabs a big name at the trade deadline, there are ten things we can really take away from the first half.
1. Mike Trout is really, really, really good
But you knew that already…
In the “least surprising news of the year” section of this list, we present you, Mike Trout. The two-time MVP is looking like he is well on his way to his third, leading the league with a massive 6. 9WAR as of July 6th, which is already higher than 40 previous MVP seasons in baseball history. He is on pace for one of the best seasons of all time, over 13 WAR. He continues to be the best player on the planet and shows absolutely no sign of stopping any time soon.
2. Manny Machado is killing his own value by playing at short
Remember those highlight videos you used to see of Manny Machado at third base? The clips of him, five feet in foul territory, leaping in the air to nail the man at first and make it look easy? Did you ever, like me, get into an argument about him being the best defensive third baseman, even over Nolan Arenado?
That’s because he really used to be a tremendous third baseman. His best defensive season racked up 4.4 dWAR and a platinum glove to go with his pair of gold gloves.
Then came the news last season that he wanted to play short. Many of us saw this as good news, hoping his defensive talent would translate, but we were very, very wrong. Manny just doesn’t have what it takes to play short, the skills that made him a blue chip hot corner glove just didn’t translate to the toughest defensive position in baseball, being worth -20 DRS and -7.8 UZR, which, to simplify, means that he has cost the Orioles 20 runs due to his defending and is on pace for a “awful” defensive classification from Fangraphs.
All of this would be fine if he realized this and listened to what everyone is telling him, but he instead is burying his head in the sand, claiming that he will only play Shortstop from here on out.
This declaration will not only hurt is trade value for the Orioles, who are trying to move him before the deadline, but will also cost him millions of dollars when free agency comes around at the end of the season.
Ego is one hell of a thing.
3. Injuries suck
I will now provide you with a list of major names who have missed or will miss significant time this season:
Corey Seager, Miguel Cabrera, Shohei Ohtani, Noah Syndergaard, Zack Cozart, Howie Kendrick, Julio Urias, Matt Shoemaker, Brian McCann, Josh Donaldson, Troy Tulowitzki, Zach Davies, Matt Albers, Wade Miley, Jimmy Nelson, Steven Vogt, Adam Wainwright, Yu Darvish, Carl Edwards, Drew Smyly, Steven Souza Jr, Taijuan Walker, Tony Cingrani, Hyun-Jin Ryu, Clayton Kershaw, Rich Hill, Kenta Maeda, Johnny Cueto, Jeff Samardzija, Hunter Strickland, Carlos Carrasco, Lonnie Chisenhall, Andrew Miller, Jay Bruce, Yoenis Cespedes, David Wright (obviously), Steven Strasburg, Matt Weiters, Ryan Zimmerman, Dustin Pedroia, Masahiro Tanaka, etc.
I’m stopping here, not because that’s everyone, but because I am tired of listing them. There are so many more, and these are just the bigger names.
4. Bryce Harper isn’t going to get paid as much as we thought
I’m sure you heard some of the hot takes going into the season about Bryce Harper. Talks of a $500 million contract, the list of things teams wanted to throw at him, the arguments of where he would go. It was a LeBron-level sweepstakes. He was a 5 time all-star and former MVP, and is still only 25.
Now… not so much.
It wouldn’t be fair to say that Bryce Harper is having a BAD season. He’s worth 0.5 bWAR thus far, technically positive, but those aren’t “potentially the biggest contract in sports history” numbers. Sure, he is leading the league in walks and has the second best walk percentage in baseball, but he has completely lost himself at the plate. Maybe being walked so much has harmed his swing because he is so conscious of being disciplined. Sure, he is definitely being avoided by pitchers, but he is hitting .215, just above the Mendoza line. He’s hitting a good number of homeruns, but he already has more hitless games this season than all of last season. Not to mention he is also having his worst defensive season of his career.
Look, I’m not saying Bryce won’t get paid big time. He still will. He’ll still go to a major market team, and still probably sign a $250 million deal at the VERY least, more realistically a $350 million to $400 million deal for up to 10 years. But should he? I’m not so convinced.
5. Juan Soto and Gleyber Torres are the rookies of the year (probably)
Speaking of injuries, the Rookie of the Year races have been plagued by them, the National League especially. A race that was widely believed to be a battle between Ronald Acuna and Walker Buehler has now gotten much more interesting, considering both have missed considerable time, letting many other rookies step up, chief among them being Juan Soto, who has accumulated 0.7 bWAR in only 134 at bats, along with the Marlins’ Brian Anderson, who may win based on sheer health. The AL has been a lot less competitive, with the brutal injury to Shohei Ohtani allowing the pair of young’uns out of New York, Miguel Andujar and Gleyber Torres leading the way, with Torres racking up 2.2 bWAR in under 250 PAs, being a plus defender at the same time.
6. Clayton Kershaw may never be the same again
This one hurts to write.
It is sad to see the best decline. Watching Randy Johnson on the Giants or Albert Pujols on the Angels is just difficult to watch, and while I am not quite ready to say that’s happening to Clayton yet, it is clear that he will never entirely be his 2014 self. The injury bug has also hit him badly, having back problems for many years and recently having arm problems as well. While it might not be fair to compare him to the Pujols or Johnson decline, as he is still elite and likely still will be for many years to come, it is tough to say whether or not he will ever be what he once was.
7. Jacob deGrom will win the Cy Young (unless he is traded to the AL)
Jacob deGrom is reverse Samson.
The story of the Nazerite that would lose his strength of his hair was cut seems to be having the opposite effect for deGrom.
deGrom is already worth 5 bWAR this season, with a sub 2 ERA and a WHIP hovering around 1. He hasn’t been injured, a problem that has plagued his career, and as long as he doesn’t get traded to the AL (which, if you didn’t know, would split his votes across both leagues, making it to he couldn’t win), he should be a lock for the NL Cy Young.
Okay, I’m not gonna say the short hair is the reason he is having a career year, but… look into it.
8. Justin Verlander is back, baby
Justin Verlander’s pitching is as hot as his wife right now.
When he was traded to Houston at the deadline last year, he had a great second half of the season and performed very well in the playoffs, too, but this year he has shown it is definitely not a fluke. He has slowed down a hair from earlier in the season, but he is still sitting at a 2.12 ERA and a magnificent WHIP of 0.860 and a 3.4 bWAR. He very well could be on track for his second Cy Young.
9. Have a year, Matt Kemp
When Matt Kemp was traded to the Dodgers earlier this year, almost everyone thought it wasn’t a baseball move, it was an accounting move.
The trade with the Braves freed up more than $40 million from the Dodger payroll and let the team fall beneath the luxury tax threshold. Kemp was just collateral, a chess piece who was likely going to be traded again immediately to see if there could be enough cap space to resign Yu Darvish. He wasn’t moved.
Spring training came around, and he was “in the best shape of his life,” a story we had all heard before. This time though, he meant it. He is now in line to start his third all-star game and is in the race to win the batting title, hitting at .318 and an OPS of .911. The bison is back, and he is hopefully here to stay
10. There will be a lot of new blood in the playoffs this year
Okay maybe not in the AL, but the NL definitely.
The American League looks pretty locked up by the familiar faces, the Red Sox and Yankees are running away with the East, only left to decide who gets the division and who gets the wild card. The Central is comedically weak, as it so often is, with only the Indians standing as a formidable team among the muck. In the West, the Astros are beginning to pull away from the Mariners, leaving basically the entire AL West (besides the Rangers) fighting for the second wild card spot.
But the National League is looking a lot more interesting. The Braves, Phillies, and Brewers are looking like serious contenders primed for long term runs, and not a single division is set in stone. It is entirely possible that all three divisions have new champs by the October.
What surprises may the second half of the season hold?