When I decided to write this article, I tried to find a unique way to highlight those who turned in the best performances for the Phillies this year, without simply giving Ryan Howard the title of Phillies best Hitter, Lidge their best Pitcher, and J.A. Happ their best Rookie. So, upon further review, I thought it would be interesting to split the season right down the middle, evaluating the first half separately from the second.
I think anyone who has followed the Phillies throughout their season realizes that the team has undergone some major changes. I mean come on, if I told you in June that come September Jayson Werth would be hitting third in the lineup and Pat Burrell would be hitting .245, you would have laughed in my face.
This goes to show that it is quite necessary to break this season up into its separate halves and look at who had the best (and the worst) Phillies performances in 2008. So, without further ado, we'll start chronologically with the First Half Awards
First-Half Comeback/Breakout Player of the Year: Pat Burrell.
I gave Pat strong consideration for First half MVP, but since he started the year scorching - posting a .271/19/48 to go with a surprising 63 walks and a .410 OBP through the end of June - I gave him this title instead. Burrell seemed uncharacteristically calm in big at-bats, and as a result, drove in a ton of runs early on for the Phils. Add that to his previously terrible reputation, and we can ignore the fact that this performance was actually more of a continuation of a stellar 2007 second half.
First-Half Rookie of the Year: J.A. Happ.
I almost gave this one to T.J. Bohn, until I remembered that Happ's first stint was in the beginning of July when Eaton really started to go south, and that Bohn actually played for the Seattle Mariners in 2006 for a while (18 games to be exact) so his status as a rookie was questionable in my mind. (By the way, if someone wants to leave the ruling on that as a comment I'd appreciate it).
Also, in Happ's two starts for the Phils in early July, the youngster really held his own against two tough teams in the Mets and Cardinals (who at the time were still good), giving up just 4 earned runs over 11 innings of work in the two games.
First-Half Cy Young: Brad Lidge.
It would have been pretty easy to give this to Lidge for the second half of the season instead of the first, but with the resurgence of Brett Myers in the second half, it would be difficult not to give him the award for that part of the year. Also, Brad Lidge's first half was a magnificent three months of baseball, with the closer notching a prefect 19 of 19 save opportunities, carrying a ridiculous 0.84 ERA through the end of June and using a nasty slider to achieve a sparkling ratio of 42 strikeouts to just 15 walks.
First-Half MVP: Chase Utley.
This guy right here might have been the single most feared hitter in all of baseball in the first half of this season. Through the first three months of the season Utley posted a .297/23/65 line that included another 23 doubles to match his home run total as well as a two-week hitting slump at the end of June. Utley spent most of the first half in control of the league lead in homers and some significant time leading it in RBI. No wonder people were throwing around Rogers Hornsby comparisons early on in the year.
First-Half Biggest Disappointment: Adam Eaton.
Quite a few to choose from here with players like Brett Myers, Geoff Jenkins, So Taguchi, and Pedro Feliz performing so far below expectations. But no one lost games for the Phillies quite as consistently as Eaton. With a 2-6 record and an ERA just below 5, it is no wonder the Phils went with Happ for a period of time and eventually traded for Joe Blanton just to get this bum out of the rotation.
Now that we've recapped the ups and downs of the team we watched in the first half of the year, lets take a look at who stepped it up and who packed it in for the second half of 2008.
Second-Half Comeback/Breakout Player of the Year: Jayson Werth.
With his 12 HRs and 25 RBIs (and counting) in the second half, Werth has been a reliable bat wherever he has been put in the lineup. He still has some issues with striking out but posted an impressive .433 OBP in the month of August and is a serious defensive and base-running upgrade from Geoff Jenkins. Werth has used the second half of this season to prove many people wrong who didn't believe he was an everyday Major League outfielder by setting career highs in runs, hits, home runs, RBIs, total bases, and stolen bases.
Second-Half Rookie of the Year: J.A. Happ.
See above. Add to that two (and counting) impressive outings against the Braves in late September and you've got yourself a unanimous choice for Phillies Rookie of the Year.
Second-Half Cy Young: Brett Myers.
He almost got Comeback player of the second half in my mind, but he really has been so good that I felt I had to elevate him to this award. Since coming back from a painful and well-documented demotion to the minor leagues, Brett has been extremely impressive, with 11 of his 12 starts since being of the Quality-Start variety and with two of them being complete-game shutouts.
Compiling a 7-3 record over those 12 starts, Brett has shown a new confidence and swagger reminiscent of when he was the closer last year and had a serious attitude about him, while also regaining control of his breaking and off-speed pitches through renewed confidence in his fastball.
Second-Half MVP: Ryan Howard.
Ryan Howard stunk in the first half of this year. There are no two ways about it. With his average dipping as low as .163 at one point and reaching 100 strikeouts on June 17th, the 2006 NL MVP and freshly-paid 10-million-dollar man was really struggling at the plate in addition to his usual struggles with fielding and base-running agility.
Then, July came and Howard hit .311 in July to raise his average to .239. His average dipped as low as .227 in late August and has hvered between there and its recent high-water mark of .249, but the run production has been ridiculous. Since the beginning of July, Howard has hit 26 HRs while driving in 73 runs (27 of which came in September alone).
After a historically bad first half of the season, and a still- embarrassing batting average, Howard has found a way to squeeze himself into NL MVP talks for another year and it has taken quite a second half to do so.
Second-Half Biggest Disappointment: Geoff Jenkins.
Luckily the Phillies were somehow able to scrape up Matt Stairs to replace Jenkins as the aging, slightly overweight, power-hitting right fielder without much power. No, actually the Phils have gotten pretty lucky with the way Werth has stepped in after Jenkins went down with injury.
Without the pleasant surprise of Werth playing so well, Jenkins would have left this team high and dry with no right fielder to speak of and maybe even (gasp) So Taguchi getting meaningful at-bats for the Phils. In a related note, Adam Eaton still sucks.
There you have it, the Phillies awards for the first half and the second half of the season. Maybe tomorrow I'll post who I think deserves these recognitions for the entirety of the year. Maybe not. I guess you'll just have to click over to find out...