With the All-Star Break at hand, it marks the unofficial midpoint of the 2012 season for the Minnesota Twins. Coming off of one of the worst seasons in franchise history, it was hard to have optimism for the 2012 campaign. There were question marks surrounding players that missed large chunks of last season due to injury, the bullpen had some unproven arms, and the starting rotation needed to prove itself. All of these story lines have played out in different ways with some of them being much more positive than the others.
The Twins have played a little stronger in recent games to give a semblance of hope to fans across Twins Territory. The scary part might be the fact that by the All-Star Game last year the club had put together 41 wins and sat 6.5 games out of first place in the Central. While the team was still seven games under .500, there was a chance for a strong second half run. Entering the break this season, the Twins are further back in the division and more games under .500 than last year. Overall, it looks like a tough hole to dig out of in the second half.
At the beginning of the season, I predicted who I thought would win various awards for the 2012 version of the Twins. The All-Star Break allows for time to reflect back on the first half of the season and to see how close to being right (or being very wrong) that those predictions were.
Each of the awards below has been named after someone that optimizes that award for the Twins organization. There are some legends from the past and even one current MLB player but all have had a significant place in Twins lore.
Harmon Killebrew MVP: Josh Willingham, LF-DH
Preseason pick: Joe Mauer, C-1B-DH
To this part in the season, Willingham is batting .261/.376/.536 with 19 home runs and 60 RBI. His batting average is right around his career average but his OBP and SLG are both higher than his career marks. Joe Mauer is batting .326/.417/.452 with five home runs and 41 RBI. He sits in the top five for batting average in the entire American League and he has the highest OBP of any AL player. On FanGraphs and Baseball Reference, both players sit within .1 points of each other in WAR.
It seems like the races is almost a tie so there must be some other way to figure out who should come out on top. The tie-breaker for me was looking at Win Probability Added and Willingham is the clear leader on the team. His clutch hits and RBI have helped to turn losses into victories on a team that needed him to provide a little spark. The race was tight but Willingham is the team's MVP through the first half of the year.
Preseason pick: Francisco Liriano, LHP
It is starting to look more and more like Francisco Liriano could win this award by the end of the season. His starts in recent weeks have been very good and his is able to strike out more batters than Diamond. Liriano's terrible start was tough to overcome at this point in the season so his numbers still look high at the All-Star Break. He does lead the team in games started and innings pitched but his ERA and WHIP need some time to recover from the early part of the season.
With all of the trade rumors surrounding Liriano, it is hard to imagine him being with the club until the end of the season. That would seem to mean that this award is Diamond's to lose for the rest of the season. Diamond is the lone bright spot in a rotation full of holes and he looks like he might have to be the ace of the staff for the next handful of seasons.
Preseason pick: Brian Duensing, LHP
Glen Perkins burst onto the scene last season as one of the most valuable set-up men in the American League. His transition from starter to relief pitcher allowed him to add some velocity to his pitches and he looked like a brand new man. It has been more of the same for Perkins in 2012 and he has even been given the opportunity to close some games with Matt Capps on the DL. His ERA and WHIP are a little higher than one would like for an arm out of the 'pen but his strikeouts per nine innings has increase over last year.
Much like the race for team MVP, the competition for Relief Pitcher of the Year is a two-man race. Jared Burton has rediscovered himself as a 31-year old after two injury shortened seasons with the Reds. He has looked dominant at times with a WHIP under 1.000 and a 2.55 ERA for the year. His strikeout total will never match Perkins but Burton has been an unsung hero of the first half for the Twins.
Preseason pick: Chris Parmelee, 1B-RF-DH
The story line for each of these players has been a little frustrating to watch in 2012. Both players have found a lot of success at the Triple-A level but the results have been mixed with the big league squad. Parmelee has been sent back-and-forth to Rochester on multiple occasions and his last trip had to be tough for him. He sat on the bench for multiple weeks and he was given a handful of at-bats. Hendriks has really struggled at the big league level and it will be interesting to see if he gets another shot in the second half.
For the reasons mentioned in the Santana Pitcher of the Year category, Diamond is the clear-cut winner of this award. Brain Dozier has gotten plenty of playing time at shortstop but there are still multiple things that he needs to work on. Diamond, Dozier, Hendriks, and Parmelee are all in line to have a big impact on this team in the future so it will be interesting to see what they can do.
So who do you think should win each award? Leave a comment and start the discussion.