Justing Verlander... probably mid strikeout
We are just a few days away from the All-Star break for the 2011 MLB season.
We've already seen some spectacular performances in the first half from expected names and some newcomers alike.
Like last season, baseball has been largely dominated by incredible pitching performances. Pitchers are going deeper into games than they have in recent memory and leaving most hitters in the dust.
There have been a few exceptions however.
With that in mind, here are the best (and just for fun, the worst) in the AL and NL this season
Jose launches another bomb
Who thought that Jose Bautista could not only repeat his 2010, but actually be better? He's increased his average from the mid .200's to .330. while belting 29 homeruns, leading the AL. When Bautista is on, there may not be a hitter as dangerous in baseball.
Given that he headlines a lineup with little protection, his production is even more impressive. Boston's Adrian Gonzalez has certainly put up MVP-calibre numbers, but he's done it with all-stars at nearly every lineup spot. Bautista hasn't had that kind of support. If he continues on his torrid first-half pace, he deserves the AL MVP.
Matt Kemp has made a comeback from a disappointing 2010
As much as an argument could be made for Jose Reyes, Matt Kemp's first-half production is simply remarkable: he's belted 22 homeruns, stolen 26 bases, and hit .317. He plays for the lacklustre Dodgers, and combines with Andre Ethier for virtually the entire team's offense.
Kemp has begun to make up for a truly awful 2010. If he continues, he will be the NL MVP.
Verlander has been incredible this season
In a crop of spectacular AL starting pitchers this season, Justin Verlander has been a cut above: he consistently pitches into the 8th and 9th innings, and has thrown in excess of 100 pitches over his last 37 starts.
His numbers speak for themselves: he leads the AL in innings and strikeouts, while having one of the lowest ERAs. He already threw a no-hitter this season and flirted with another in his next start. And those weren't even his most dominating performances of the season. More recently, he's struck out as many as 14 in a game.
The Doc is still dominant
There are a number of legitimate candidates for NL Cy Young this year. If Tommy Hanson had pitched a few more innings, he would seem like a better choice this season (finally, Hanson is pitching up to his peripherals!). But Halladay has been the best pitcher in the first-half in the NL, and we've seen that he can sustain this level of performance through the rest of the season.
He currently leads the league in innings pitched, K/BB, and is one behind the lead in wins. Once again, the Doc has been impressive and will continue en-route to his third Cy Young.
Ichiro is getting old!
Ichiro has been as consistent a player over the past ten years as there has been in the game. But this year, the wheels have come off. Ichiro has been bad in the field and bad at the plate (negative WAR, UZR in the negatives too). Unless he turns things around, this spectacular decline might be the end.
Currently, Ichiro is batting .271, good for best on the Mariners anemic offense. For the Mariners to contend this season, they really need Ichiro to pull through. As good as their pitching staff has been (and it has been incredible), their offense has been bad, and Ichiro is the key to their offense.
Who would have thought that Aubrey Huff couldn't repeat his 2010 performance, after being mediocre for several years? After the Giants inked the first-baseman to a long-term deal, he proceeded to be below-average for the first-half of 2011.
Dead cats only bounce once.
This pitch was probably placed firmly over the Green Monster
How good do you have to be to get A.J. Burnett money? Apparently you can be the worst pitcher in the league. That's right, the only member of the Red Sox pitching staff to currently be healthy has been the worst pitcher in baseball this season. When you give a lot of innings to a pitcher with a 7+ ERA, you're in for trouble. Despite making 13 starts, Lackey has only pitched 72.1 innings.
This is why you don't give old pitchers big contracts.
Last season the Red Birds brought on Jake Westbrook to be a reliable No. 3 starter. He simply hasn't done that. Despite a groundball rate over 60 percent, Westbrook has been abysmal, with an ERA over 5.5. While there are parts of his profile that suggest he is simply getting unlucky, you're bound to be bad when you walk nearly as many as you strike out (4.79 to 3.69). Westbrook is currently a bad No. 5 starter.