Tony Paul’s MLB midseason award winners

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
Michael Fulmer, at 9-2 with a 2.11 ERA, is a strong candidate to win AL Rookie of the Year.

In a miserable first half of baseball for Tigers reliever Mark Lowe, there’s at least this positive nugget.

He’s not alone.

Lowe already has allowed 10 home runs in his 28.2 innings, but he’s far from the only pitcher who’s been tagged over and over again this season.

Home runs in Major League Baseball are up, and up a lot — the major theme to the first three months of the 2016 baseball season.

A whopping 23 of the 30 major-league teams are averaging more than a home run per game. That’s up from just 14 a year ago, and just four in 2014.

In fact, since the start of 2009, no more than half of the teams have averaged more than a home run per game for an entire season, until 2016 it seems.

There doesn’t seem to be any one pinpoint reason for the significant uptick. Players continue to be tested for performance-enhancing drugs with regularity, and the balls are the same.

It just seems to be one of those things. And it’s made for some exciting games — if not for some frustrated pitchers, too.

Let’s take a look back at the first half’s standout performances.

MVP

American League

Contenders: Jose Altuve, 2B, Astros; Robinson Cano, 2B, Mariners; Josh Donaldson, 3B, Blue Jays; Manny Machado, 3B, Orioles; Mike Trout, CF, Angels

Outlook: If we’re looking for the best story line, we’d throw in Boston’s David Ortiz, who is having one heck of a swan-song season, with an OPS over 1.100, tops in the game. But he’s a DH, and DHs just don’t win MVPs, even if pitchers occasionally do.

Pick: Donaldson (reigning MVP)

Josh Donaldson is tied for third in the American League with 23 home runs and ranks fourth with 63 RBIs.

National League

Contenders: Nolan Arenado, 3B, Rockies; Kris Bryant, 3B, Cubs; Brandon Crawford, SS, Giants; Jake Lamb, 3B, Diamondbacks; Anthony Rizzo, 1B, Cubs

Outlook: The NL is a tale of the haves and have-nots. Either you’re in the playoff race or you’re downright awful. The awfulness, of course, traditionally eliminates several from the MVP discussion. This one might come down to a battle of teammates.

Pick: Bryant

Cubs third baseman Kris Bryant leads the National League with 25 home runs and ranks third with 65 RBIs.

CY YOUNG

American League

Contenders: Michael Fulmer, SP, Tigers; Danny Salazar, SP, Indians; Chris Sale, SP, White Sox

Outlook: Fulmer might seem like a stretch to some, but he’s really not. His WAR of 3.4 is bested only by Salazar in the American League, making Fulmer a legit contender to be the first AL pitcher ever to win the Cy Young Award as a rookie.

Pick: Sale

National League

Contenders: Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers; Max Scherzer, SP, Nationals; Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals

Outlook: The starting pitching is much deeper in the NL. There are at least a half-dozen apologies owed to those who couldn’t even crack the three-man contenders cut, starting with Noah Syndergaard of the Mets and the Giants’ Madison Bumgarner and Johnny Cueto.

Pick: Kershaw

ROOKIE OF THE YEAR

American League

Contenders: Ryan Dull, RP, A’s; Michael Fulmer, SP, Tigers; Nomar Mazara, RF, Rangers

Outlook: Former Tigers manager Jim Leyland used to argue that everyday players should get extra consideration when it comes to rookie of the year, but some years, the pitching competition is that strong. Fulmer’s limited workload could be his biggest opposition.

Pick: Mazara

Rockies shortstop Trevor Story leads all National League rookies with 21 home runs and 57 RBIs.

National League

Contenders: Aledmys Diaz, SS, Cardinals; Corey Seager, SS, Dodgers; Trevor Story, SS, Rockies

Outlook: Over the course of the entire season, there should be some pitchers in the mix here, most likely Kenta Maeda of the Dodgers. But the hitters were the story of the half, especially, fittingly, Story, who had seven home runs in his first six major league games.

Pick: Story

MANAGER OF THE YEAR

American League

Contenders: Jeff Banister, Rangers; Terry Francona, Indians; Buck Showalter, Orioles

Outlook: You could make a strong case that all three front-runners in the AL are surprise teams, and the Rangers and Indians are threatening to run away with their divisions. The Rangers and Orioles are most impressive, winning despite significant pitching obstacles.

Pick: Banister

National League

Contenders: Dusty Baker, Nationals; Bruce Bochy, Giants; Joe Maddon, Cubs

Outlook: The surprises aren’t there in the NL. You could make the case that all three of these teams were expected to be where they are at the break. That should lead to special consideration for a guy like Marlins manager Don Mattingly but just not yet.

Pick: Maddon

BIGGEST BARGAIN

American League

Contenders: Rajai Davis, OF, Indians (one year, $5.25M); Rich Hill, SP, A’s (one year, $6M); Mike Napoli, 1B, Indians (one year, $7M)

Outlook: If you’re looking for a major reason why the Indians are where they are, it’s not just because of their young stud pitching. It’s that they shopped wisely, too — a far cry from the winter they gave Michael Bourn and Nick Swisher a combined $104 million.

Pick: Napoli

National League

Contenders: Bartolo Colon, SP, Mets (one year, $7.25M); Matt Joyce, OF, Pirates (one year, $1M); Fernando Rodney, RP, Padres/Marlins (one year, $2M)

Outlook: If you go by the assumption that each win is worth roughly $5 million, as many baseball number crunchers do, then these guys really have been a steal, including a couple former Tigers. Colon and Rodney even both made the NL All-Star team.

Pick: Rodney

Relief pitcher Fernando Rodney has a 1.04 ERA and 17 saves this season between the Padres and Marlins.

BIGGEST BUST

American League

Contenders: David Price, SP, Red Sox (seven years, $217M); Joakim Soria, RP, Royals (three years, $25M); Justin Upton, LF, Tigers (six years, $132.75M)

Outlook: This category has Tigers written all over it. One was signed by former Tigers GM Dave Dombrowski, another by current Tigers GM Al Avila, and the other (Soria) pitched for the Tigers and was in discussions with them on a contract this winter, too.

Pick: Upton

National League

Contenders: Wei-Yin Chen, SP, Marlins (five years, $80M); Jason Heyward, RF, Cubs (eight years, $184M); Mike Leake, SP, Cardinals (five years, $80M)

Outlook: It’s no surprise, certainly, to see the bumbling Marlins front office represented in this category, but the Cubs and Cardinals? Yeah, that’s a bit surprising. The Heyward signing always was a risky one, as he was overpaid for his defensive metrics.

Pick: Heyward

Tigers designated hitter Victor Martinez is having a bounce-back year with a .305 average, 17 home runs and 52 RBIs in 86 games.

COMEBACK PLAYER

American League

Contenders: Ian Desmond, CF, Rangers; Victor Martinez, DH, Tigers; Mark Trumbo, RF, Orioles

Outlook: This could be a very intriguing case. The competition, at least, is pretty steep, and it doesn’t even include A’s left-hander Rich Hill. Desmond settled for a one-year contract and switched positions, but Martinez and Trumbo might’ve taken the biggest leaps.

Pick: Martinez

National League

Contenders: Jose Fernandez, SP, Marlins; Dexter Fowler, CF, Cubs; Wil Myers, 1B, Padres

Outlook: Myers and Fowler aren’t the traditional candidates for this award because they’ve never been superstars before — though Myers was a rookie of the year and Fowler settled for a one-year deal this winter. Fernandez, back from Tommy John surgery, is the favorite.

Pick: Fernandez

LEAST VALUABLE

American League

Contenders: Alcides Escobar, SS, Royals; Prince Fielder, 1B, Rangers; Alex Rodriguez, DH, Yankees

Outlook: Tigers fans might be wondering where Justin Upton is on this list. But stunningly, while his WAR is negative, it’s still better than the three candidates listed here. By the way, the difference in WAR between Fielder and Ian Kinsler is a whopping 4.4.

Pick: Escobar

National League

Contenders: Ryan Howard, 1B, Phillies; Yasmany Tomas, LF, Diamondbacks; Ryan Zimmerman, 3B, Nationals

Outlook: The three men here are in contracts that will have paid them, combined, $328.5 million by the time they’ve run their course. That’s eclipsed by their AL counterparts, but it’s still a stunning figure. Howard, easily, takes the cake here.

Pick: Howard

EXECUTIVE OF THE YEAR

American League

Outlook: They didn’t have splashy offseasons like the Tigers or White Sox, but a series of shrewd moves (Mike Napoli, Rajai Davis, Dan Otero, Tommy Hunter) have paid off big. With less than half the Tigers’ payroll, their lead is swelling.

Pick: Mike Chernoff, Indians.

National League

Outlook: This isn’t a perfect team and it’d be a bit surprising to see the Giants continue their even-year World Series run (2010, 2012, 2014), but fans must cringe to think where they’d be without the signings of Johnny Cueto and Jeff Samardzija.

Pick: Brian Sabean, Giants.

tpaul@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @tonypaul1984