Monday, July 9, 2012

Handing out Twins Mid-Season Awards

With the All-Star Break at hand, it marks the unofficial midpoint of the 2012 season for the Minnesota Twins. Coming off of one of the worst seasons in franchise history, it was hard to have optimism for the 2012 campaign. There were question marks surrounding players that missed large chunks of last season due to injury, the bullpen had some unproven arms, and the starting rotation needed to prove itself. All of these story lines have played out in different ways with some of them being much more positive than the others.

The Twins have played a little stronger in recent games to give a semblance of hope to fans across Twins Territory. The scary part might be the fact that by the All-Star Game last year the club had put together 41 wins and sat 6.5 games out of first place in the Central. While the team was still seven games under .500, there was a chance for a strong second half run. Entering the break this season, the Twins are further back in the division and more games under .500 than last year. Overall, it looks like a tough hole to dig out of in the second half.

At the beginning of the season, I predicted who I thought would win various awards for the 2012 version of the Twins. The All-Star Break allows for time to reflect back on the first half of the season and to see how close to being right (or being very wrong) that those predictions were.

Each of the awards below has been named after someone that optimizes that award for the Twins organization. There are some legends from the past and even one current MLB player but all have had a significant place in Twins lore.

Harmon Killebrew MVP: Josh Willingham, LF-DH
At this point in the season, it looks like a two man race for the top player on the Twins in 2012. Josh Willingham started off the season like an MVP and he carried the team through the early portion of their schedule. On the other hand, Joe Mauer has put together a very strong campaign after putting a dreadful 2011 season behind him. Either one of these players could be named MVP of the first half for the Twins so let's take a look at some of the numbers.

To this part in the season, Willingham is batting .261/.376/.536 with 19 home runs and 60 RBI. His batting average is right around his career average but his OBP and SLG are both higher than his career marks. Joe Mauer is batting .326/.417/.452 with five home runs and 41 RBI. He sits in the top five for batting average in the entire American League and he has the highest OBP of any AL player. On FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, both players sit within .1 points of each other in WAR.

It seems like the races is almost a tie so there must be some other way to figure out who should come out on top. The tie-breaker for me was looking at Win Probability Added and Willingham is the clear leader on the team. His clutch hits and RBI have helped to turn losses into victories on a team that needed him to provide a little spark. The race was tight but Willingham is the team's MVP through the first half of the year.

Johan Santana Pitcher of the Year: Scott Diamond, LHP
This might be the easiest category to select through the first portion of the Twins schedule. Scott Diamond has emerged as the best pitcher on the staff for the Twins and his transformation has been fun to see so far this year. Since he started the season at Triple-A, he has only been able to log 79.0 innings with the big league squad. His seven wins are three more than any other starter this season and his ERA of 2.62 is very low.

It is starting to look more and more like Francisco Liriano could win this award by the end of the season. His starts in recent weeks have been very good and his is able to strike out more batters than Diamond. Liriano's terrible start was tough to overcome at this point in the season so his numbers still look high at the All-Star Break. He does lead the team in games started and innings pitched but his ERA and WHIP need some time to recover from the early part of the season.

With all of the trade rumors surrounding Liriano, it is hard to imagine him being with the club until the end of the season. That would seem to mean that this award is Diamond's to lose for the rest of the season. Diamond is the lone bright spot in a rotation full of holes and he looks like he might have to be the ace of the staff for the next handful of seasons. 

Rick Aguilera Relief Pitcher of the Year: Jared Burton, RHP
When the season started, I picked Duensing for this award because he was shifting back to a successful role that he held with the club in the past. This was assuming that he would stay in the bullpen for the majority of the season but now he finds himself in the starting rotation. This leaves a couple of arms in the bullpen that have shown themselves to be very valuable in the first half of the year.

Glen Perkins burst onto the scene last season as one of the most valuable set-up men in the American League. His transition from starter to relief pitcher allowed him to add some velocity to his pitches and he looked like a brand new man. It has been more of the same for Perkins in 2012 and he has even been given the opportunity to close some games with Matt Capps on the DL. His ERA and WHIP are a little higher than one would like for an arm out of the 'pen but his strikeouts per nine innings has increase over last year.

Much like the race for team MVP, the competition for Relief Pitcher of the Year is a two-man race. Jared Burton has rediscovered himself as a 31-year old after two injury shortened seasons with the Reds. He has looked dominant at times with a WHIP under 1.000 and a 2.55 ERA for the year. His strikeout total will never match Perkins but Burton has been an unsung hero of the first half for the Twins.

Rod Carew Rookie of the Year: Scott Diamond, LHP
Coming out of spring training, it looked like there would be a couple of different rookies in line for the Carew ROY Award. Chris Parmelee had made the squad after a strong spring training and a very good month of September at the end of last season. The Twins were unsure of what to expect from Justin Morneau and it made sense to have another strong first baseman on the roster. Liam Hendriks was another rookie that made the squad when the team headed north for the start of the year. Some injuries to the starting staff allowed Hendriks the opportunity to start the year in the rotation.

The story line for each of these players has been a little frustrating to watch in 2012. Both players have found a lot of success at the Triple-A level but the results have been mixed with the big league squad. Parmelee has been sent back-and-forth to Rochester on multiple occasions and his last trip had to be tough for him. He sat on the bench for multiple weeks and he was given a handful of at-bats. Hendriks has really struggled at the big league level and it will be interesting to see if he gets another shot in the second half.

So who do you think should win each award? Leave a comment and start the discussion.

No comments: