The MLB All-Star Game is in the books. The American League will have home-field advantage in the World Series and the second half of the 2016 MLB season is about to start up.
But before we can get the second half underway, we have to look back at the first half. Who were MLB’s 10 best players in the first half of the season? Obviously, there’s quite a list to choose from, but we’re going to narrow it down.
We start with a couple of great MLB players on teams that are, well, less than great.
Mike Trout, outfielder, Los Angeles Angels
Not a lot has gone right for the Angels this year. Generally, teams with lowly-regarded farm systems are considered “win now” teams. At 37-52 and in last place in the American League West, Los Angeles is not winning now.
One thing that has gone right for the Halos is the play of Mike Trout, who continues to impact the game in every possible way.
— MLB (@MLB) July 7, 2016
With a .322/.425/.567 slash line and 18 home runs, Trout continues to be one of baseball’s best hitters. Combine that with 15 steals (against only one caught stealing) and continued Gold Glove caliber play in the outfield, and this makes Trout baseball’s best player.
This is truly a player to enjoy. Those of Trout’s ilk do not come around very often. The good news is that Trout will turn 25 in August, so we have a lot of time left to enjoy him. Maybe one day the Angels will figure out how to build a team around Trout and we’ll get to see him thrive on the game’s biggest stage.
Nolan Arenado, third baseman, Colorado Rockies
Much like Trout, Arenado is on a team going nowhere. Much like Trout, Arenado impacts the game in every way imaginable.
Arenado is stellar offensively. He’s slashing at .287/.359/.570. He has 23 home runs and 70 RBI, good enough for first and second in the league respectively.
Of course, Arenado’s hitting is only part of the game. The Rockies’ third baseman has won three Gold Gloves in his first three seasons. He’d better make room on his shelf for another in 2016.
"It's cool, I've got it." -Nolan, probably pic.twitter.com/uHTyU4zdLr
— Colorado Rockies (@Rockies) July 4, 2016
Actually, Arenado should be making room on his shelf for about a decade’s worth of Gold Gloves.
Arenado is young, so the Rockies have time to make him the franchise player and build a consistent contender. As fans, we have to hope that it happens one day. Arenado on the postseason stage would be a lot of fun.
Until then, we’ll just have to admire his wizardry during the regular season.
Josh Donaldson, third baseman, Toronto Blue Jays
Donaldson has been one of baseball’s best for the last four seasons. Thus far, the 2016 MLB season has been another stellar one for American League’s reigning MVP.
With 80 runs scored, Donaldson leads both leagues. His 23 home runs are tied for fourth in baseball while his 63 RBI are tied for seventh.
Donaldson is “only” hitting .304, but his .418 OBP is fourth in the league and his .598 slugging percentage is tied for third. Additionally, Donaldson has chipped in six stolen bases, just two shy of his career high.
The Blue Jays got off to something of a slow start, but have clawed their way back into a playoff spot. No matter what happens with the team, Donaldson should still get a number of MVP votes.
But if Toronto manages to make the playoffs — or even stay in contention — it will not be hard to imagine another MVP trophy headed his way.
Kris Bryant, third baseman, Chicago Cubs
In 2015, Bryant won the National League’s Rookie of the Year. In his debut season, Bryant belted 26 homers and slashed at .275/.369/.488. The only problem with splashing on to the scene that way is that an encore is difficult to produce.
Indeed, Bryant has not produced an encore in 2016. He’s been much better.
At .286/.384/.578, the Chicago third baseman has better slash stats across the board. In only 86 games, Bryant also has 25 home runs.
The 2015 season didn’t offer much to nitpick Bryant about, especially at the plate. One area that did need improvement was his 199 strikeouts. This year, he’s on pace for 160. That number is high, but not alarmingly so, especially for a guy on pace to hit 46 bombs.
Lastly, we can’t discount Bryant’s incredible versatility in the field. While primarily a third baseman, Bryant has played parts of 46 games in left field, 11 in right field and five at first base. He’s even added a game a piece at the premium positions of shortstop and center field.
Bryant is a leading candidate for the National League’s MVP award and has been an anchor one one of MLB’s best teams.
David Ortiz, designated hitter, Boston Red Sox
Of course, any talk of the 2016 MLB season has to include Ortiz. Big Papi is having a farewell season for the ages.
— Red Sox (@RedSox) July 10, 2016
With 22 home runs and 72 RBI, Ortiz is having one of the best power seasons of his illustrious career. No player has a higher OBP (.426). No player has a higher slugging percentage (.682). Naturally, no player has a higher OPS than Boston’s slugging DH. As if all of that wasn’t enough, Big Papi’s .332 batting average is second in the American League.
There’s something else. Most final seasons are spent with fans trying to get one last glimpse at a once great player. The hope is that maybe that player will turn back the clock for a moment, or maybe a game. This is what NBA fans got with Kobe Bryant last season. Ortiz is not that.
If your favorite team is nursing a one-run lead in the ninth inning with a man on base, Ortiz is the absolute last player in baseball that you want to see stalking his way to the plate. This is still baseball’s most-feared hitter. The numbers certainly back that idea up, but this goes beyond just raw stats.
Clayton Kershaw, starting pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers
With three Cy Young Awards and a league MVP, Kershaw is already on a Hall of Fame track. Still, 2016 has been his best season.
Picking one stat that defines Kershaw’s greatness is really a fool’s effort. His absolutely obscene strikeout-to-walk ratio (145 to 9!) comes close. Some of the finest MLB gamers would do well to replicate those numbers, even if you gave them a superstar custom pitcher.
What really defines Kershaw is that his 1.79 and 0.73 WHIP are not hard to believe.
If anything, it’s hard to believe that the numbers are that high. How does anyone get on base or score a run against this guy?
Every time Kershaw pitches, something historical might happen. He might threaten to pitch a perfect game. He might push the single-game strikeout record (21). Heck, he could have a start where he does more than just knock down those doors.
Let’s hope he recovers from injury soon. This guy’s talent is just special.
Jose Altuve, second baseman, Houston Astros
Ever since he came into the league, Altuve has been a good player. He’s always been a great singles hitter with tremendous speed, capable of inflicting further damage on the base paths.
But Altuve has also consistently improved as a player. Thus far, 2016 has been his best season.
The Astros’ second baseman has 14 home runs at the break. The next one he hits will match his career high, set in 2015. But while Altuve’s power has increased, it hasn’t come at the expense of the rest of his game.
The Houston keystone is hitting .341. That would match his career high. He also sports a .431 OBP, which is on pace to obliterate his career best of .377 in 2014.
The steals have not gone away either. Altuve has already swiped 23 bags, putting him on a pace to nab better than 40 by season’s end. With a good power surge in the second half, he can have a 30-30 season.
Madison Bumgarner, starting pitcher, San Francisco Giants
While Kershaw’s season is deservedly getting a lot of attention, Bumgarner is having a monster year for San Francisco.
Bumgarner’s 1.94 ERA is MLB’s second best, trailing only Kershaw. His 0.96 WHIP is tied with Max Scherzer for the second best in the league. Again, that trails only Kershaw. With 146 strikeouts, the Giants’ lefty is behind only Scherzer and Jose Fernandez.
Only teammate Johnny Cueto has more complete games than the three Bumgarner has tossed. No pitcher has more quality starts than Bumgarner’s 16.
When MadBum takes the hill, there’s essentially no doubt that he’s going to eat up a lot of innings while keeping the runs to a minimum.
As if all of that wasn’t enough, his bat is a genuine weapon. Bumgarner has two homers this year (one against Kershaw) and teams sometimes pitch around him with men on base to get to a position player.
When Bumgarner started a game in Oakland, the Giants passed on using the designated hitter, opting to let their pitcher bat for himself. It worked.
The first half Cy Young goes to Kershaw. But Bumgarner’s overall season has been brilliant.
Manny Machado, third baseman, Baltimore Orioles
Machado has always had a stellar glove. In 2015, he finally stayed healthy and slashed at .286/.359/.502, adding 35 home runs.
He’s following up that monster season nicely in 2016.
— Baltimore Orioles 😷 (@Orioles) July 6, 2016
Machado entered the break with 19 home runs, slashing at .318/.375/.569. He’s been the best overall player on a first-place team that’s hitting home runs at a near historic pace.
What’s scary for the rest of baseball is that Machado is only 24. The best may be yet to come. Power tends to be at its best in the mid-late 20’s.
Whether that happens, it would not take long to count the players having seasons on par with the one that Machado is currently enjoying.
Daniel Murphy, second baseman, Washington Nationals
While Neil Walker is having a nice season, the New York Mets might be regretting letting Daniel Murphy go last offseason.
Ruth 1st 12 G vs BOS, 1920:
.293/.420/.732, 5 HR, 12 RBI
Murph 1st 12 G vs NYM, 2016:
.438/.462/.875, 6 HR, 19 RBI pic.twitter.com/dHXesWCjdz
— Washington Nationals (@Nationals) July 10, 2016
To be fair to the Mets, Murphy is beating just about everyone he faces this year.
For much of the first half of the season, Murphy was threatening a .400 average. He had to “settle” for a league-leading .348 mark at the break. Murphy has backed that average up with a .387 OBP and .598 slugging percentage.
Additionally, if he doesn’t hit another home run this season, Murphy will still set his career high by three.
With 70 walks, Bryce Harper hasn’t been allowed to dominate the game the way he did in 2015. Still, the Nationals are one of baseball’s best teams. As a leading MVP candidate, Murphy deserves a lot of credit for that.