In lieu of a week in review post, since baseball's first half officially has come to a close I figured I'd do a Baseball's First Half in Review sort of thing. I'm going to avoid talking about some of the more obvious things like the breakout first halves of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper, the success of the Nationals in general, R.A. Dickey's sudden change to one of the best pitchers in baseball, or Tim Lincecum's fall of a cliff. I'm also going to avoid spotlighting obvious things anyone could have predicted coming into the season like Stephen Strasburg being unhittable, Joey Votto being a pimp daddy, or Nick Blackburn regularly getting lit up like a Christmas tree or a Portland hippie. I'm also not writing any Twins stuff in this because I've covered them plenty, especially the Twins' two biggest success stories this year in Ben Revere and Trevor Plouffe, so if you don't care about the rest of the majors I feel your time would probably best be used doing something else. Also Chris Sale is pretty awesome but I just wrote about him too so I'm not going to do it again.
So what did I find? Stuff. Will it be interesting? READ ON.
WHO WAS AWESOME
1. Gio Gonzalez. Generally moving from the AL to the NL benefits pitchers quite a bit, and Gonzalez is the latest and perhaps greatest example of that after the A's traded him to Washington prior to this season. He had always flashed significant potential, finishing in the top 10 in AL ERA twice, strikeouts twice, and HR/9 twice, but he also struggled with control, leading the league in walks in 2011 and finishing second in 2010. He hasn't exactly stopped walking people, and still ranks 7th in the league, but he's cut down a bit and compliments that by striking out more people than ever (10.5 per nine ips). He's giving up fewer homers and fewer hits, and has basically become an absolute monster and would be the ace of pretty much any staff that didn't also already have Stephen Strasburg on it. So, nice trade Beane.
HONORABLE MENTION (in this same type of category): Brandon Morrow.
2. Austin Jackson. Jackson, who if you remember was the key
component in the Curtis Granderson trade, had been heading towards a
solid career as a less speedy Gary Pettis - decent defense, poor
average, big strikeout totals, and very little power. In fact, two
years ago Jackson became the first player in MLB history to whiff 170+
times and hit less than 5 home runs, and the following season he because
the first player with 180+ strikeouts and 10 or fewer home runs - not
exactly a good trend. Then there were reports over the offseason that
Jackson was revamping his swing and unlike most of those kind of
adjustments boy has this paid off with Jackson basically becoming a
completely different player. His K rate is down to a more manageable level (still high, but more like Josh Willingham than Adam Dunn), his walks are up to where he's actually a respectable leadoff hitter, and he's second in the AL in batting average at .332. That's guaranteed to drop in the second half because his BABIP is a ridiculous .420, but his line drive rate is up and, after popping up 5% of the time last season he has yet to hit a single infield pop-up this year, one of just four players who hasn't this season - a key thing for a speedy player. Simply put, he identified his weaknesses, worked to fix them, and it's worked. It's actually really cool, and although it's not at the Jose Bautista revamped his swing and reinvented himself level, I still think he deserves a ton of credit.
HONORABLE MENTION: Andrew McCutchen.
3. James McDonald. McDonald has always been a nondescript pitcher. He was drafted in the 11th round by the Dodgers in 2002 and then traded to Pittsburgh in 2010 in the Octavio Dotel deal. Whether with LA or the Pirates he's basically been the definition of league average. Now, suddenly, he like, gets it. His strikeouts are up, homers and walks are down, and he's holding opponents to a batting average under .200. Sure he's getting a bit lucky, but he's also got a wicked curveball that, according to fangraphs pitch values metrics, ranks alongside such noted curvesmiths as Justin Verlander, A.J. Burnett, and Stephen Strasburg . Not too shabby. He probably can't keep up at quite this pace, but for now he's first in the league in fewest hits allowed per nine and 3rd in ERA, and a big reason why the Pirates are actually in first place. Well I suppose Andrew McCutchen is really the biggest reason, but McDonald is on that list there somewhere. Near the top, too. Like, way ahead of that Garrett Jones.
HONORABLE MENTION: Jason Hammel.
4. Carlos Ruiz. If you're like me, you just assumed Carlos Ruiz was just some big dumb fat catcher who couldn't hit, and before this year you'd have been correct. He always had a good batting eye, with more walks than strikeouts in his career and a career OBP nearly 100 points higher than his career batting average, but that batting average was just .265 coming into this season. This year, however, he's been more aggressive at the plate and has stopped hitting so many flyballs and pop-ups, and it's resulted in a huge increase in average (hitting .350) and a monster increase in power (ISO of .237 over double last season's number), and he's already surpassed last year's totals in HRs and RBI. Like most jump-ups like this he's had quite a bit of luck on his side this year, but it doesn't look completely fluky, and Ruiz has taken himself from journeymen to all-star by being more aggressive. Just think what that could do for Joe Mauer. Just kidding, I think the real problem is the chicken arms.
HONORABLE MENTION: Yadier Molina.
5. Josh Reddick. No matter what you think of Billy Beane, and there's no doubt he's a pretty divisive figure, one thing you have to give him credit for is realizing that saves are more a product of opportunity and environment than skill and constantly shipping out his closers for prospects. He's traded Billy Koch, Billy Taylor, and Huston Street, and this offseason he traded Andrew Bailey to the Red Sox for a couple of minor league dorks and Reddick, who I'm guessing the Sox figured they didn't need with studs who never get hurt like Carl Crawford and Jacoby Welker running around in the outfield. Well, Reddick has been absolutely mashing this year, to the tune of 20 homers (8th in the AL), 37 extra-base hits (10th), and an ISO that ranks 12th. He'll never hit for a super high average, but he can probably be a Josh Willingham type for them, except he leads the team in average, homers, rbi, hits, OBP, doubles, runs, walks, slugging, and OPS and would lead most teams in triples with four but Jemile Weeks has five, and he's under team control until 2017. So again, no matter what you think about Beane, this was a fucking slam dunk of a win on this trade, especially since Bailey hasn't pitched this year. And if you're wondering how the A's can manage after shipping off their closer the guy currently manning the role, Ryan Cook, has a WHIP of 0.91, ERA of 1.46, and just made the all-star team. In other words, PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD TRADE MATT ASSHOLE CAPPS.
HONORABLE MENTION: Edwin Encarnacion.
1. Ricky Romero. Through the first 3 years of his career Romero looked like a future star for the Blue Jays. His ERA got beater in each of his three seasons, with his strikeouts rising and WHIP falling, culminating in a 10th place finish in Cy Young voting last season after going 15-11 with a 2.92 ERA. Everything looked like he was ready to become a true ace this year. But yeah, that didn't even come close to happening. Rather than taking the next step forward he's taken two giant leaps back, and goes into the break with an ERA of 5.22, which is nearly double his ERA from last season, and for those who are true nerds his FIP and xFIP are significantly higher than last year as well. And this isn't someone who started poorly and is trying to claw his way back, he's been bad throughout the year. His first start of the season ended with his ERA at 7.20 and in his last six starts his ERA is over 8.00. His Ks are down, his walks are way up, and he's getting laced around the park with a Line Drive rate far higher than either last year or his career number. The Blue Jays needed dudes to really step up if they were going to legitimately compete in the AL East - Brandon Morrow and Edwin Encarnacion did, but Ricky Romero and his family is a dick.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: Justin Masterson.
2. Detroit Tigers. I can't remember a team being so anointed as easy division champ getting off to such a horrible start, and seeing as we're halfway through the season this may be approaching trend rather than mirage territory. And their studs are doing what they're supposed to; Cabrera and Fielder and hitting well, Austin Jackson (see above) is having a great season, and Justin Verlander has been just as good this year as last year when he won both the Cy Young and MVP awards. It's just everyone else who has been horrible. They actually rank middle of the pack in both Runs Scored and Runs Allowed in the AL, but mainly that's because of those good players doing good stuff. The rest of the rotation has been terrible (although they'd all be aces on the Twins, fyi) with Scherzer unable to take the next step in his development and Fister unable to replicate his success at the end of last season, and they have the worst hitting 2b and RF stats in the league and are in the bottom five in LF and SS as well. Plus, what everyone said would be their biggest issue - defense - has been. They rank dead last in Ultimate Zone Rating in the majors. All it really means is they're going to throw money and prospects around and pick up guys like Marco Scutaro and Shane Victorino and suddenly end up in great shape. God I hate these guys. But I'd still much rather see them win than the god damn White Sox.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: Philadelphia Phillies.
3. Justin Upton. Upton is another guy who looked like he was about to become a super star after a monster 2011 for the D-Backs that landed him in 4th place in the MVP voting. His average was up, his strikeouts were down, he was walking more, and his power had jumped through the roof. After a 30/20 season, and based on his physical tools, it looked like Upton was going to fulfill the potential that his brother B.J. still hadn't. Not so fast, because instead he completely lost all power and is once again striking out a ton. He has just 7 home runs this year after 31 last season, and isn't hitting any doubles either. His power numbers (specifically ISO), which was in Miguel Cabrera/Albert Pujols tier last season has dropped to where he's more in the Denard Span/Marco Scutaro grouping - gross. He's gone from top 4 in the NL MVP to where he'd probably finish seventh or eighth on his own team. Also I drafted him in the first round of our fantasy draft, and he's OPSing just slightly better than Drew Butera. My bad, $nake.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: Albert Pujols.
4. Dan Haren. It always boggles my mind when an established "star" pitcher suddenly runs of the rails and just gets lit up night after night. Obviously Lincecum is the biggest example of this, but Haren is right there and right now both his WHIP and ERA would be career worsts. He has had a little bit of bad luck but mostly he's just getting raked, particularly in the home run category where his 16 allowed are the 8th worst in the AL and almost match his total from last season of 20. The slightly high BABIP and giant jump in HR/FB rate say this is a fluke, but he's also lost more than a mile per hour off his fastball from last season and at the same time is relying on it more often, and batters are chasing less often as well. All this tells me I'd be very, very nervous right now if I was hooked into him long-term, but luckily for the Angels they can buy him out next year for 3.5 million if he continues to suck. At which point somebody is going to end up giving him something like 5 years & $50 million and then we'll all be like hey look it's Barry Zito.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: Jon Lester.
5. Kansas City Royals. I'm going to shoot myself in the face for buying into this crap and betting Snacks $50 they'd win a division title by 2014, because once again, shocker, the Royals suck ass and literally the only positive thing you can say about their season is at least they aren't the Twins (or Mariners, Cubs, Phillies, Astros, Padres, or Rockies). When does all this talent come together? Eric Hosmer is hitting .231, somehow Eric Gordon and Jeff Francoeur are still prominently involved, and supposed future building blocks like Lorenzo Cain and Johnny Giavotella are struggling to hit around the mendoza line when they aren't down in AAA. And Humberto Quintero has 144 plate appearances for them for christ's sake, so they might want to get that position figured out as well. And don't even get me started on the pitching, because good god. The two guys with the most innings pitched this year, Luke Hochevar and Bruce Chen, are two of the most hittable pitchers in the history of baseball, and clown shoes like Luis Mendoza, Vin Mazzaro, and Everett Teaford have been fixtures in the rotation this year. I almost feel stupid for buying that KC hat, because I hate feeling like I've been duped. Prove me wrong, kids, prove me wrong.
DISHONORABLE MENTION: Miami Marlins.
I'm sure I missed a billion things. Sue me.