Dodgers Roundtable: First Half Team MVP, Cy Young And Most Improved Player Awards
Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The first half of the 2018 Major League Baseball season has come and gone, and it certainly was an up-and-down one for the Los Angeles Dodgers.

April and May were miserable for the Dodgers, with key players like Justin Turner, Corey Seager and Clayton Kershaw, plus many more, going down to injury, resulting in the team being 10 games below .500 in the middle of May.

Beginning with a road win against the Miami Marlins and then a sweep of the Washington Nationals in D.C., the Dodgers turned things around and have since been among the best teams in baseball.

They headed into the All-Star break with a 53-43 record, holding a half-game lead over the Arizona Diamondbacks for first place in the National League West. They will look to add onto that lead in the second half, and it certainly helps that a trade was completed for All-Star shortstop Manny Machado.

Before the second half starts, the staff gave out some first-half awards – Team MVP, Cy Young and Most Improved Player.

Matt Borelli (@mcborelli):

MVP: Matt Kemp

Kemp defied all odds during the first half of the season, not only earning a spot on the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster but also turning back the clock and producing big numbers in the middle of the lineup.

Behind an impressive .310/.352/.522 slash line with 33 extra-base hits in 324 trips to the plate, Kemp earned his first All-Star selection in six years and has shown no signs of slowing down heading into the second half.

Cy Young: Ross Stripling

With an abundance of injuries to the Dodgers starting rotation early on, Stripling stepped up with his unexpected opportunity and emerged as a legitimate top-of-the-rotation option going forward.

He went 8-2 during the first half with a 2.08 ERA, 2.71 FIP and 1.08 WHIP in 95.1 innings, accumulating 108 strikeouts against only 14 walks. That showing prompted Stripling his first career All-Star appearance, as he now looks to replicate that success in the stretch run.

Most Improved Player: Joc Pederson

I opted for Pederson over Max Muncy, solely because the latter wasn’t initially expected to factor prominently in the Dodgers’ plans this season.

After posting a below league average 95 OPS+ last season, Pederson rebounded to the tune of a .247/.333/.515 slash line during the first half with more home runs (13) than he hit in all of 2017 (11).

Moreover, Pederson has significantly cut back on strikeouts this season; He has punched out only 40 times in 265 plate appearances thus far, compared to 68 in 323 plate appearances last year.

Jeff Spiegel (@JeffSpiegel):

MVP: Max Muncy

As much as I’d love the feel-good selection of Kemp here, Muncy has simply been better than everyone else on the Dodgers this season.

He posted a WAR of 3.5 — which is almost double anyone on the Dodgers aside from Cody Bellinger and Yasmani Grandal, he leads the team in home runs (22), on-base percentage (.409) and slugging percentage (.604). To put it simply, the Dodgers are nowhere near first place without him.

Cy Young: Kenta Maeda

I’ll spread the love around here and give this one to Maeda — who has quietly been one of the better pitchers in all of baseball this season.

While Stripling’s breakout and Kershaw’s injuries have stolen the headlines, it’s Maeda who has the highest WAR among pitchers (2.2), the second-lowest FIP (2.79) and he’s tied with Stripling for the most strikeouts (108). Interestingly enough, as Daniel Brim pointed out on Twitter, Maeda has two pitches — his slider and his changeup — that both rank in the top four when it comes to whiff rate.

Most Improved Player: Ross Stripling

I could have easily given Stripling the Cy Young, but this felt more appropriate for the pitching equivalent of Muncy. With all the talk of the Dodgers needing pitching help, I honestly don’t see it — unless you think Stripling is a total fluke.

Regardless, what Stripling has done so far must be appreciated: he has a 2.08 ERA in 25 games (14 starts), is striking out more than 10 batters per nine innings, while posting the lowest walk rate of his career. There has been plenty written about Stripling’s emergence and where the key lies, but regardless of what has changed — it’s working.

Austin Green (@AustinGreen44):

MVP: Max Muncy

If you went back to February and told me he would be typing that, I would have laughed in your face. Yes, Kemp deserves plenty of praise for reinventing himself back in Dodger Blue, but even he has started to struggle lately.

Muncy not only leads the team in home runs, he has established himself as the Dodgers’ best, most consistent hitter until the Manny Machado trade became official. Since June 19, Muncy has hit for a .284 batting average and 1.016 on-base plus slugging percentage.

He’s more than a home-run-or-bust slugger too. While his nine homers certainly didn’t hurt, Muncy had more hits (25) and walks (25) than strikeouts (23) in that span.

Cy Young: Ross Stripling

While literally every other MLB-caliber starting pitcher in the Dodgers organization has been hurt or ineffective at some point, Stripling gets the reward simply because he stayed healthy and produced.

Don’t get me wrong — he was very good. If you follow the Dodgers, you’ve probably heard some version of this statistic before, but it’s worth repeating: since Stripling became a full-time starter on May 6, he’s posted a 2.01 ERA and limited opponents to a .237 batting average against him.

Not bad for a guy who was a good-but-not-great reliever and barely serviceable starter in his first two big league seasons.

Most Improved Player: Max Muncy

This could honestly go to any of Kemp, Muncy or Stripling, and I was tempted to give it to Kemp out of fairness. But I have to choose Muncy, just because literally nobody could have predicted what he has done this year.

Kemp’s resurgence was surprising, but fans knew what a healthy, fully engaged Kemp was capable of. Even Stripling showed flashes over the past couple of seasons.

Muncy, on the other hand, hit just 12 home runs all of last year in Triple-A. He’s joined the Justin Turner and Chris Taylor where-on-earth-did-this-guy-come-from club, but Muncy’s breakout might be the most shocking of all three.

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