Each team’s first-half MVP deserves some love as the top 10 gets a shakeup in Week 6 of the power rankings.
We’ve reached the approximate midway point of the 2020 season, which can only mean one thing: It’s time to hand out some hardware.
Not every team has hit the 30-game mark, but with just over four weeks remaining in the regular season and the trade deadline looming, now feels as good a time as any for a look back on the first-half standouts. In Week 6 of SI’s power rankings, we’re giving out Most Valuable Player awards to one player from each club who’s separated himself from his peers. Without further ado, the envelopes, please:
30. Pittsburgh Pirates (Last Week: 30)
Colin Moran, the nephew of longtime major leaguer B.J. Surhoff, has discovered a power stroke in his age-27 season to live up to his potential as the No. 6 overall pick in the 2013 draft. His six home runs and .259/.326/.531 slash line have given him a new lease on life, as he was likely going to be a non-tender candidate in the winter before his sudden ascension provided a bright spot in a Pirates lineup, which has featured discouraging regressions from almost every other hitter.
29. Boston Red Sox (Last Week: 28)
It’s been a trying year for the Red Sox, who rank last in the majors with a 6.05 team ERA. The offense hasn’t been strong either, but a bright spot has been a breakout year from first baseman Mitch Moreland. Though he’s played just 20 games, he leads the team in fWAR (1.1)—Fangraphs’ version of WAR—home runs (eight) and RBIs (21), while slashing .350/.458/.817.
28. Los Angeles Angels (Last Week: 26)
The Angels’ abysmal first half of the season cannot be chalked up to their big-ticket free-agent signing. After a slow start, Anthony Rendon has been as good as advertised. He ranks second among American League hitters in fWAR (1.7) and second in on-base percentage (.442), with more walks (20) than strikeouts (19).
27. Texas Rangers (Last Week: 23)
Rangers hitters have posted a collective -1.5 fWAR this season (that’s right, we’re in sub-zero territory here), so the illustrious first-half MVP award will come from the pitching side. Lance Lynn has been plenty deserving of the honor. He trails only Shane Bieber among qualified AL pitchers in innings pitched (45 1/3) and ERA (1.59), and has given up two runs or fewer in each of his first seven starts.
26. Kansas City Royals (Last Week: 24)
Whit Merrifield has picked up right where he left off after his All-Star campaign in 2019. He’s cut his strikeout rate down to 12.7%—eighth-lowest among qualified hitters across both leagues—and is tied for third in the AL with six stolen bases. Merrifield has made these strides at the plate while handling the shift to playing primarily in center field this season.
25. Seattle Mariners (Last Week: 29)
Four years after the Mariners chose him with the No. 11 pick in the draft, Kyle Lewis appears to have ascended to stardom. Lewis suffered a serious knee injury a month after the draft, though he eventually recovered and worked his way through Seattle’s system. After a strong 18-game debut in 2019, Lewis leads the AL in batting average (.360) and on-base percentage (.446), with seven homers and 25 runs scored.
24. Detroit Tigers (Last Week: 24)
Tigers starting pitchers rank last in the majors in ERA (7.22) and second-to-last in home runs allowed per nine innings (2.12), so it’s wild to think where the group would be without Spencer Turnbull. The 27-year-old has a 2.97 ERA and 3.42 FIP through six starts, and has yet to allow a homer in 130 batters faced.
23. Arizona Diamondbacks (Last Week: 18)
Zac Gallen’s breakout campaign has been the only thing that’s gone right with Arizona’s rotation, which has endured awful showings from Madison Bumgarner, Robbie Ray and Luke Weaver. The only other above-average starter, Merrill Kelly, was ruled out for the year this week with a blood clot condition. Even Gallen has been snakebitten in some manner, as he’s yet to earn a win in six starts despite logging a 2.25 ERA with 42 strikeouts in 36 innings.
22. Baltimore Orioles (Last Week: 21)
The upstart Orioles have tapered off a bit after their 11-7 start, but right fielder Anthony Santander isn’t to blame. The 25-year-old ranks second in the AL in RBIs (28) and third in isolated power (.352), and has 22 extra-base hits in 30 games.
21. Milwaukee Brewers (Last Week: 17)
Brandon Woodruff has been solid but unspectacular (3.19 ERA) as the best starter on an offensive-starved team averaging fewer than four runs per game. Josh Hader and his 9.1 hitless innings may be the correct answer here, which is indicative of Milwaukee’s sluggish first half. The Brewers have lost four of their six games to the league-worst Pirates after being swept in Pittsburgh last weekend.
20. San Francisco Giants (Last Week: 25)
Outfielder Mike Yastrzemski, who turned 30 on Sunday, has been an inspiration to all the late bloomers out there. After spending nearly seven years in the minors and acquitting himself well during his 2019 debut, Yaz now leads all of baseball in fWAR (2.0) and runs scored (29).
19. New York Mets (Last Week: 20)
Jacob deGrom has been his normal superhuman self (1.80 ERA, 0.83 WHIP, .175 batting average against, 49 strikeouts in 35 innings), but has just two wins to show for it as the Mets have duly adhered to tradition by blowing leads after deGrom exited in three of his six starts. Strangely, five of his outings have come against Miami and Atlanta.
18. Washington Nationals (Last Week: 14)
Juan Soto has played in just 20 of 28 games for Washington after missing the start of the season due to a positive coronavirus test, but he’s been an absolute beast since returning. His 1.279 OPS entering Thursday would lead MLB by nearly 200 points if he had enough at-bats to qualify. Trea Turner, who has a 1.160 OPS in his last 15 games, also merits mention.
17. Cincinnati Reds (Last Week: 13)
Trevor Bauer and Sonny Gray have been co-MVPs atop Cincinnati’s rotation thus far, combining to strike out 104 hitters in 74 1/3 innings with just 15 earned runs. The three-year, $30.5 million extension Gray signed as part of his trade from the Yankees two winters ago to keep him with the Reds through 2024 looks like an absolute bargain. Perhaps Bauer’s idea to sign contracts from year to year isn’t such a bad idea.
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16. Miami Marlins (Last Week: 22)
Pablo López may average just over 5 1/3 innings per start for Miami, but he’s provided a stable force atop the rotation that’s been sorely needed as the Marlins are still recovering from their COVID-19 outbreak. He’s one of just eight qualified pitchers with an ERA under 2.00.
15. Philadelphia Phillies (Last Week: 16)
Bryce Harper’s slash line is nearly identical to the one he carried during his 2015 MVP season. Entering Thursday, his 1.091 OPS led the National League, and he’s also on pace to record more walks than strikeouts for the first time in his career. Perhaps the one-time phenom has yet another level to unlock on offense.
14. Toronto Blue Jays (Last Week: 19)
Can we cut this award in half? Both Cavan Biggio and Teoscar Hernández have been outstanding for a Blue Jays offense that’s been among the league’s best of late. Biggio has built upon his impressive rookie season and leads the team in bWAR (Baseball-Reference’s version of WAR) at 1.3. Hernández has consistently mashed all season, ranking fifth among qualified hitters in average exit velocity (94.6 mph) and third in hard-hit rate (59.2%).
14. St. Louis Cardinals (Last Week: 15)
Paul Goldschmidt has quieted talks of an early decline by serving as St. Louis’ offensive linchpin in the 3-hole and posting an absurd .478 on-base percentage—a tick better than Barry Bonds during his 15 seasons in San Francisco. Goldy’s OPS (.985) is the second-best mark of his career, behind only his 2015 campaign that earned him his second runner-up finish in the MVP race.
13. Colorado Rockies (Last Week: 12)
Charlie Blackmon stole a lot of the early headlines with his chase for .400, but Trevor Story has been just as productive on offense while playing far superior defense at the sport’s signature position.
11. Houston Astros (Last Week: 7)
With plenty of Houston’s usual stalwarts slumping or injured, Zack Greinke’s consistent dominance has taken on even greater importance in 2020. Despite a diminishing fastball that averages a mere 87.9 mph, Greinke has been an impossible riddle for hitters to solve. He’s yet to allow a home run in 136 batters faced, and opposing batters are hitting a measly .091 against his sinker with no extra-base hits and a 46.6% whiff rate.
10. Chicago Cubs (Last Week: 6)
After spending the first few months of 2019 at Triple-A, Ian Happ finished the regular season by earning NL Player of the Week honors. He’s picked up where he left off, earning the starting center field job and ranking in the top 10 league-wide in fWAR (1.5). The secret? Improved plate discipline. Entering Thursday, Happ’s slugging percentage was identical to his 2019 output, but his on-base percentage was 89 points higher. Cy Young candidate Yu Darvish’s bounce-back campaign has been a delight to witness, too.
9. Chicago White Sox (Last Week: 11)
We’ll go with José Abreu for this award, but really the entire White Sox offense deserves praise. Chicago leads the majors in combined fWAR (7.8) and wRC+ (123), slugging a ridiculous .490 as a team. Abreu has helmed the lineup’s recent surge, as he leads the AL in home runs (12), RBIs (30) and ranks third in slugging percentage (.672). He also ranks ninth among qualified hitters with an average exit velocity of 93.6 mph.
8. Cleveland Indians (Last Week: 8)
Cleveland is locked in a three-way battle for the AL Central despite an offense that’s hit .217 as a team. The team’s savior has been its pitching staff, which has had plenty of contributors but is led by Shane Bieber. Bieber leads the majors in fWAR (2.1), ERA (1.35), innings pitched (46 2/3) and strikeouts (75). He hasn’t allowed a run in four of his seven starts, with double-digit strikeouts in five of his outings. Cleveland has not lost a game Bieber has started all season.
7. Atlanta Braves (Last Week: 7)
Until Atlanta’s top prospect Ian Anderson no-hit the Yankees through 5 1/3 innings in his impressive debut Wednesday, no Braves starter other than Max Fried had notched a win. The Senior Circuit’s ERA leader (1.35) hasn’t given up a home run in 40 innings this year, making him the only NL player with at least 15 innings who can say that.
6. San Diego Padres (Last Week: 9)
Fernando Tatís Jr. is not only the MVP of the Padres; he’s the favorite to take home the National League award as the league leader in home runs (13), runs scored (31), RBIs (30) and unwritten rules broken. Tatís’ brilliance may be contributing to Dinelson Lamet, whose .147 opposing batting average ranks only behind Trevor Bauer among qualified NL pitchers, flying under the radar as perhaps the most underrated pitcher in the sport.
5. Minnesota Twins (Last Week: 5)
We should take a moment to appreciate the enduring brilliance of Nelson Cruz. At 40 years young, Cruz is as productive as he’s ever been, leading the team in homers (11), runs (23), RBIs (27) and fWAR (1.5). That Minnesota’s team wRC+ (99) ranks in the bottom half of the league is a bit of a surprise considering the firepower throughout the lineup, but Cruz has more than held up his end of the deal.
4. New York Yankees (Last Week: 3)
The battered and bruised Yankees have lost five straight and haven’t won a game since Aug. 17, though that’s a bit misleading since there have been several postponements in the intervening days. As other everyday regulars drop like flies around him, Luke Voit continues to hit the ball extremely hard. He leads the majors in isolated power (.425) and ranks eighth in barrel rate, which measures the frequency of batted balls with an expected batting average of at least .500 and expected slugging percentage of 1.500 or greater.
3. Oakland Athletics (Last Week: 4)
The A’s have perhaps the deepest roster in the league, so singling out a most valuable player is a tall task. We’ll give Mark Canha the nod, as the 31-year-old has continued to rake after breaking out in 2019. Canha is tied for the team lead in fWAR (1.2) with Robbie Grossman, who’s been just as good as Canha in fewer plate appearances. Third baseman Matt Chapman deserves recognition here as well.
2. Tampa Bay Rays (Last Week: 2)
In a season that was always destined to be strange, who could have predicted your midway point’s AL leader in WAR would be Brandon Lowe (1.9)? Not Mike Trout, not Aaron Judge, not Alex Bregman, but Lowe, who finished third in last year’s Rookie of the Year voting after a strong (yet not other-worldly) 82 games. Lowe’s hit .296/.397/.676 so far in 2020, cutting his strikeout rate to 23.0% from a gaudy 34.6% in 2019. The Rays have put their uneven 6-8 start firmly in the rearview mirror, winning 15 of 18 games since, and Lowe has been the driving force.
1. Los Angeles Dodgers (Last Week: 1)
The Dodgers would still be pretty darn good without Mookie Betts. But the 2018 AL Most Valuable Player has been Los Angeles’ most valuable hitter and defender during the first half, according to Fangraphs. He’s building a compelling argument to follow in Frank Robinson’s footsteps and become only the second player in MLB history to win MVP awards in both leagues.
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