At this stage in the year, most teams have already played half of their games and as we prepare for the all star break, it is a good time to reflect on some of the stars of the first half of the season.
On Wednesday, Nick Stellini identified American League players who are well positioned to win the season awards for Most Valuable Player, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, and Comeback Player of the Year.
Below are some thoughts as to the National League leaders in each of these races halfway through the season, and others who may be well positioned (either statistically or narrative...ly?) to make a run or actually win the award themselves.
NL MVP: Bryce Harper
Baseball fans have been waiting for a Harper breakout for several years and the first half of 2015 has certainly lived up to the hype. Harper leads the league in fWAR with 5.6 wins above replacement ----- nearly a full win over Paul Goldschmidt and is having the best year of his career by far.
Harper is hitting for power, and as of this writing has already mashed 25 home runs. Only Giancarlo Stanton has more homers (27) but Stanton's .265/.364/.606 slash line pales in comparison to Harper's .343/.471/.709. That's right, Harper is getting on base over 47 percent of the time. Crazy.
He's hitting 119 percent above league average, and currently possess a .341 isolated slugging percentage. The rest of season projections are more aligned with the production of a very good outfielder, despite an otherworldly first half, but even so, FanGraphs' projections have him with a .400 OBP the rest of the way, while hitting another 14 or so home runs. He is projected to finish above the 10-win mark which would be more than double his highest career value thus far.
Likely Winner: There's a slight chance this award goes to Max Scherzer, Paul Goldschmidt, or Andrew McCutchen, but the narrative surrounding Harper and the Nationals make him the easy favorite. The Nationals are in first place and despite a rough start to the season, very well may never lose the top spot in the East. All of this points to an MVP trophy for Harper as long as he can stay on the field.
NL Cy Young: Max Scherzer...probably
Max Scherzer just had one of the most dominant stretches in recent memory. He has already posted two game scores over 95, including a near perfect game against the Pirates last month. Scherzer leads the NL in fWAR, and is well ahead of second place Clayton Kershaw, 4.7 to 3.1. Mad Max leads the league in FIP (2.04), and is fourth in ERA only behind Zack Greinke, AJ Burnett, and Shelby Miller.
Scherzer is first in the National League in innings pitched and is second in strikeouts (he trails Kershaw in K's by only four). He is fanning over 30 percent of the batters he's facing, and only has walked 3 percent. He currently has an ERA 46 percent better than league average and a FIP 45 percent better.
Scherzer's biggest competition may be from a cross-country rival: Zack Greinke. It's certainly possible Kershaw makes a run at another Cy Young as his home run to fly ball rate will inevitably normalize, but Greinke is better positioned (and just happens to be playing for a new contract, as he most assuredly will opt-out of his current one so long as he is healthy).
Greinke is having an excellent season, having already put up a 2.8 fWAR. In 115 innings, he has a 1.48 ERA and a 2.77 FIP. He has cut his home run rate by nearly half, as he's only given up seven home runs. In 202 innings in 2014, he served up 19 dingers. In the first half, Greinke has only give up 19 earned runs.
Likely Winner: Scherzer looks to be making good on year one of his lengthy contract. There is always the chance Clayton Kershaw utterly dominates the second half, but he'd be hard pressed to do what Scherzer did in the first half, and he would really have to regress to move out of the top slot.
NL Rookie of the Year: Kris Bryant / Joc Pederson
This year's rookie class is extraordinary. The American League has Carlos Correa, Lance McCullers and Billy Burns, and the National League has highly touted prospects Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson leading the charge. Even Matt Duffy (who Matt Goldman profiled not long ago) has been an excellent surprise.
Kris Bryant leads all rookies in fWAR, having already posted 3.5 wins. He has hit 37 percent above league average and only Todd Frazier is ahead of him at the hot corner. Bryant has hit for average and is walking at a 13 percent clip. He is complimenting a .380 OBP with 12 home runs and is projected for about a dozen more. Bryant has also shown that he can play a solid third base, though he has some versatility and has logged time in left and center field as well. He is exactly what the Cubs were hoping he would be when he was called up.
Similar to Bryant, Joc Pederson has started his career as the Dodgers hoped that he would. A seemingly tried-and-true three ‘true outcome' hitter, Pederson homers, strikes out or walks in over 50 percent of his plate appearances.
Pederson's .230 batting average belies his excellence at the plate this year, as he is getting on base at nearly a 37 percent clip. He has already amassed 3.2 wins above replacement, and his 20 home runs are tied for fifth in the National League. Pederson has also risen to the top of a crowded Dodgers' outfield, and has saved LA two runs in 96 games with his defense.
Likely Winner: This is an interesting one because both players have shined since their call-ups. Bryant has the advantage with the more classically aligned sports writers based on reputation, average, and power; I have a hard time believing that even if Pederson amasses more value overall than Bryant, writers will vote for a rookie with a .230 to 240 average when his biggest threat is around .260 or .270. For the first half, there isn't a bad choice here, but I think Bryant has the edge.
NL Comeback Player of the Year: Matt Harvey
Several prominent pitchers have returned from their Tommy John surgeries but none have had the immediate impact of Matt Harvey. Jose Fernandez did not join the Marlins rotation until late June and Harvey has already logged over 100 innings. In 16 starts, Harvey is striking out nearly a quarter of the hitters he's faced, while only walking 5 percent.
Harvey's 3.11 ERA is slightly better than his 3.32 xFIP, but he has already been worth nearly two wins for the Mets, who are trying to ride their star pitchers to the playoffs. Although his strikeouts per nine are down slightly, Harvey has been largely effective post a quality start in 11 of his 16 starts.
A sleeper candidates in this category has to be Joey Votto. Votto played in only 62 games last season posting only one win above replacement. He never stayed healthy enough to amass much value and he hit only six home runs last season.
2015 has been an entirely different story as Votto has started 81 games already this season, has mashed 15 home runs and raised his average over 30 points from last season. Interestingly enough, his .390 OBP matches exactly what it was last season. Votto is projected for about a 5.0 fWAR.
Likely Winner: It will be tough for Joey Votto to overcome the ‘Dark Knight' narrative perpetuated by the New York media and embraced around the nation. When high profile pitchers return from Tommy John it is akin to a phoenix rising out of its own ashes to dominate once again. Good luck Joey, but this is Harvey's award to lose.