The 2010 season was lauded as the Year of the Pitcher, as five pitchers threw no-hitters in the regular season — with Roy Halladay turning the trick again in the playoffs — while baseball saw its lowest average ERA (4.07) since 1992. There have been five no-hitters in 2012 as well, and the average ERA (4.01) is pretty darn close to what it was two years ago.
But the similarities don't end there. Not only have there been five regular-season no hitters in 2012, but two of them have been perfect games — again, the same as in 2010.
Umpiring decisions in no-hitters or near no-hitters have also been a common theme. In 2010, Armando Galaragga was robbed of a perfect game after Jim Joyce blew a call at first base on what would have been the game's final out. In 2012, several games were impacted by questionable calls, notably Philip Humber's perfect game on April 21, Johan Santana's no-hitter on June 1 and R.A. Dickey's one-hitter on June 8.
The MVP races may have changed a bit since 2010, but the favorites in each league — Josh Hamilton in the American League and Joey Votto in the National League — have a familiar feel to them. After all, they both won the award two years ago. With almost every team having played its 81st game, now is as good a time as any to take a look at the MVP race in a little more detail, as well as the candidates for baseball's other major awards.
AL: Josh Hamilton, Texas Rangers, CF
Hamilton leads the AL in slugging percentage (.636), on-base plus slugging (1.032) and RBIs (74), is second in home runs (26) and ranks in the top eight in batting average (.316) and on-base percentage (.386). No other player combines Hamilton's power and pure hitting ability, and though he plays in a hitter-friendly ballpark and bats in the middle of a loaded Rangers lineup, that doesn't change the fact that Hamilton has been the AL's best player through the first half of the season.
And then, of course, there were the events of May 7-13, one of the greatest hitting weeks the game has ever seen. During that seven-game stretch, Hamilton batted .467 with a 1.963 OPS to go with nine home runs and 18 RBIs, including an MLB record-tying four jacks against Baltimore on May 8.
Hamilton's closest competition — and it is close — is the Angels' Mike Trout. Still just 20 years old, Trout has been phenomenal in 2012, leading the league in hitting (.343) and steals (23) and ranking top-10 in slugging and OBP. He's also proven more than capable with the glove, making the defensive play of the year against the Orioles on June 27. The edge goes to Hamilton for now, since he's performed at a high level for longer — Trout didn't debut until April 28 — but this race certainly bears watching during the season's second half.
NL: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds, 1B
Votto lacks the power of Hamilton, but he makes up for it with incredible walk numbers, making him the majors' most difficult out (.469 OBP). He also leads the NL in slugging (.628), doubles (34) and walks (60) and has the Reds in the thick of the NL Central race after they posted a losing record last season. Votto's also a great defender — he won the Gold Glove at first base last season — and he's been on an absolute tear over the last month-plus, hitting .416 since May 25.
There are some other worthy candidates in the NL — Carlos Beltran and David Wright have both been huge parts of their teams' success, and defending MVP Ryan Braun leads the league in homers (23), ranks second in RBIs (59) and third in slugging (.597), but until Votto stops playing like he is right now, it's his award to lose.
Cy Young Award
AL: Chris Sale, Chicago White Sox, LHP
This might be the closest race in baseball. Unlike in 2011, when Justin Verlander was the runaway choice for this award, there are a number of deserving candidates this season. Right now, three guys stand above the rest — Sale, Verlander and the Angels' Jered Weaver.
Sale has been tremendous in his first season as a starter, boasting a 10-2 record and ranking second in the AL in ERA (2.19) and third in WHIP (0.95). His 98 strikeouts rank well ahead of Weaver's 68, but behind Verlander's league-leading 128. However, Verlander has made three more starts than Sale, and their strikeouts per nine innings totals are almost identical (8.68 for Verlander vs. 8.59 for Sale). Verlander has the stronger strikeout-to-walk ratio (4.27 to 3.92), but Sale has a stronger FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching), 2.58 to 2.94.
Then there's Weaver, who ranks behind the two flamethrowers in strikeout-related categories but leads the league in ERA (2.13) and WHIP (0.94). Victories don't mean a ton as far as starting pitchers are concerned, but for those interested, Weaver's record is 9-1, compared to 9-5 for Verlander. He's also got something that neither of the other candidates have — a no-hitter, thrown against the Twins on May 2.
Depending on what criteria you want to use, you could make a case for any of the three. Because of Sale's strength in all categories (instead of Verlander's relative strength in strikeouts and Weaver's relative strength in ERA/WHIP), the White Sox lefty gets the slight nod at this point.
NL: R.A. Dickey, New York Mets, RHP
The 37-year-old knuckleballer is more than just a feel-good story — he's been the best pitcher in the National League this season. Dickey leads the NL in WHIP (0.93), strikeouts (123) and wins (12), and his 2.40 ERA ranks fifth.
Perhaps his most impressive feat, though, has been his ability to do this while controlling a seemingly uncontrollable pitch. Dickey has walked just 26 batters in 120 innings and has allowed only nine home runs, incredible feats, considering the unpredictable nature of the knuckleball. What makes Dickey so unhittable is that he throws the pitch at a speed of around 80 miles per hour — the speed of a typical changeup. There's not much a hitter can do when a ball with wicked late movement comes in that fast.
Dickey is far from a lock to hold on to the award, though. Matt Cain has also been brilliant this season, and the advanced stats suggest that Zack Greinke and Stephen Strasburg have pitched even better than their stellar numbers indicate.
Rookie of the Year
AL: Mike Trout, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, LF
We've already covered Trout — check out the AL MVP section above — but here are a few numbers to show just how dominant he has been compared to his fellow rookies. Trout is hitting 45 points higher than the next highest rookie and has almost twice as many steals as the second-ranked player. He also ranks first in walks, doubles, triples, home runs, OBP, slugging and OPS. Really, no one else is even close.
The race for second place includes the Twins' Scott Diamond (7-3, 2.62 ERA), the Red Sox' Will Middlebrooks (.298, 10 HR, 37 RBI) and the Tigers' Quintin Berry (.295, .392 OBP, 12 steals). Foreign imports Yu Darvish of the Rangers (10-5, 3.59 ERA, 117 strikeouts) and Wei-Yin Chen of the Orioles (7-4, 3.64 ERA) have also been impressive
NL: Wade Miley, Arizona Diamondbacks, LHP
Miley's 9-4 record and 2.87 ERA make him the clear choice in the NL so far. The 25-year-old lefty has also posted a 1.06 WHIP and is holding opposing hitters to just a .226 batting average.
The Brewers' Norichika Aoki is building a case for recognition, hitting .300 with a .363 OBP and 13 doubles, as is the Rockies' Jordan Pacheco, who leads all NL rookies with a .301 average. It's hard to give the award to anyone other than Miley at this point, though.
Manager of the Year
AL: Buck Showalter, Baltimore Orioles
What Showalter has done with the Orioles this season is nothing short of amazing. One of the game's most underrated managers, Showalter has taken a team that finished 69-93 in his first full season last year and made them into playoff contenders in baseball's most competitive division. Baltimore's record stood at 44-37 entering play on Thursday, with the Orioles sitting 1.5 games ahead of the Indians for the AL's second wild card spot. The Orioles' young stars, such as Adam Jones and Matt Wieters, are finally breaking out, and Showalter has received strong efforts on the mound from Chen and Jason Hammel.
In his first stop as a major league manager, Showalter turned around a faltering Yankees squad, but was fired in 1995, a year before they won the World Series. He did the same thing in his second go-round, in Arizona, leading the Diamondbacks to a 100-win season in just their second year of existence. But he was fired in 2000 — and again, his former team would go on to win the World Series the following year. Showalter is hoping that this time, he'll be able to stick around long enough to finish the job.
A few other candidates are worthy of mention, particularly the Indians' Manny Acta and White Sox rookie manager Robin Ventura, both of whom have their teams contending in the AL Central.
NL: Don Mattingly, Los Angeles Dodgers
The Dodgers seemed doomed for failure as 2012 began, with a messy ownership situation casting a shadow over the team. But in late March, an ownership group headed by Mark Walter that included Magic Johnson agreed to buy the team from Frank McCourt for a record $2.15 billion, ensuring a bright future for the team. No one expected the success to come this soon, however, and Mattingly deserves much of the credit for that.
L.A. entered Thursday's play at an NL West-leading 46-37, thanks to the success of the team's pitching and a lineup consisting mostly of castoffs. A.J. Ellis, Chris Capuano and 38-year-old Bobby Abreu are all among the players who have defied the odds to find success for the Dodgers in 2012. But Mattingly's most impressive feat has been keeping the Dodgers in first place without his best player, Matt Kemp, the MVP runner-up a year ago who has been limited to just 36 games.
Several other managers have found unlikely success this season, notably Davey Johnson with the Nationals, Terry Collins with the Mets and Clint Hurdle with the Pirates. But none have done as much with as little as Mattingly.
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