The goofy and weird midseason awards 

The real awards race is inside

July 15th, 2021
Art by Tom Forget

There's going to be plenty of time to debate the actual awards at the end of the season. You know, things like MVP (Shohei Ohtani, right?), Cy Young (Ohtani again), and Relief Pitcher of the Year (I don't know how, but somehow I think Ohtani deserves this, too). But as baseball returns from the All-Star break with a loaded slate of games on Friday night, it's the perfect time to reflect on the first half and give away the goofiest, weirdest and outright least predictive awards we can muster.

You're welcome.

The Shohei Ohtani Award for Two-Way Player Enthusiasm

This entire season is dwarfed by Ohtani. It can't be helped; here's a guy doing things we've never seen before in the 100-plus years of history in this game. That means it's clearly time to give away an award in his honor. While we could pick the position player who has pitched most often -- that would be the Cubs' Eric Sogard, who has been called upon in relief five different times -- I'd rather we reward someone who showed off the necessary enthusiasm.

That would be none other than the Rays' whiteboard hitting instructor/ utfielder Brett Phillips.

Called on to pitch in relief during a blowout loss to the Blue Jays, Phillips was Bugs Bunny-level animated when he got to warm up in the bullpen. He then broke every rule in the book by facing the batter head-on throughout his windup, like the adult pitcher when you first advance past T-ball.

According to the stadium gun, he even was able to touch 94 with his fastball ... before tossing up a series of mid-40s eephus balls.

He finished his day after one inning with two earned runs, two hits, two walks and no strikeouts. But at least he had fun out there -- and isn't baseball supposed to be fun?

The quickest catcher: Christian Vázquez

Now, Vázquez isn't the fastest catcher -- that title would belong to Daulton Varsho, who runs a just-below elite 28.7 feet per second. Meanwhile, Vázquez is ranked 49th among big league catchers -- and 441st among all big leaguers -- at 25.2 ft/sec. And yet, who is atop the catchers' stolen base leaderboard? None other than Vázquez, who is 8-of-9 stealing bases this year -- setting a career high along the way.

To put that in perspective, that's three more than J.T. Realmuto, who has the second-most by a catcher and is tied with Francisco Lindor (154th fastest), Chris Taylor (53rd) and Nicky Lopez (108th) for steals this season.

Softest home run: Myles Straw -- 89.3 mph

It's no surprise that Straw is here. He's hit just three home runs in his big league career -- they're just not part of his game.

That includes this one, which left the bat at just 89.3 mph and traveled a mere 337 feet -- barely squeaking over the wall and inside the foul pole. This is less a home run and more, as Bob Ross would call it, a happy accident:

Hilariously, he may have been hit harder by his celebrating teammates in the dugout than he did the ball.

Just compare Straw's dinger to the hardest-hit long ball of the year: That belongs to Franchy Cordero, who smashed a 118.6 mph blast against Zack Wheeler of the Phillies. Because this is baseball and baseball follows no logic, Cordero is back in Triple-A trying to close the holes in his swing, while Straw is the starting center fielder for the leaders in the AL West.

The strongest man in the world: Giancarlo Stanton

As if the answer could be anyone else? While Cordero's 474-foot blast is the hardest-hit home run of 2021, it is once again Stanton who sits alone atop the exit velocity leaderboards thanks to this 120 mph laser beam. Most cars can't safely reach that speed. Heck, if an infielder tried to put his glove in front of it, he'd probably be left with a smoking crater in his mitt like he was in a cartoon.

Barring an upset in the second half, Stanton will have a clean sweep with the hardest-hit ball in every season since Statcast began measuring exit velocity in 2015.

The starter's starter: Pablo López

You'll be hard-pressed to find an odder series of starts than from the Marlins right-hander -- and his were separated by only nine days. On July 2, López took the hill to face the Braves. He threw one pitch, hit Ronald Acuña Jr., was ejected and, because Acuña came around to score, took the loss. According to Baseball-Reference, it's the only time in baseball history a starting pitcher threw precisely one pitch and took the loss.

Nine days later, and with one start in between, López faced Atlanta again and struck out the first nine batters -- setting a big league record along the way. Oddly enough, he pitched three more innings that day ... and struck out no one.

Best team celebration: Padres swag chain

This year has been a great one for team celebrations. The Phillies bust out giant hats when players hit home runs, leading to Brad Miller looking like Homer Simpson with a hidden camera after a recent three-homer game. Pablo Sandoval tosses on a panda head and hands out hugs in the Braves dugout, and the Red Sox throw players into a laundry cart and wheel them through the dugout. But no one tops the Padres' swag chain they wear after victories.

Made by Gabriel Jacobs, a jeweler friend of Manny Machado's, this spinning gem of silver and semi-precious stones clocks in at a solid 6 1/2 pounds -- enough to make wearing it around the neck more than a little uncomfortable. The Padres can pull off the piece -- a nod to the Miami Hurricanes' turnover chain -- thanks to a lineup featuring the cooler-than-cool Machado and Fernando Tatis Jr. There's not another team in the sport that could pull it off.

It's clearly caught on: When Pete Alonso won the Home Run Derby this week, he was given his own Derby-specific chain:

Best fictional team coach: Donnie Stevenson

The Mets may be second-to-last in runs this year, but don't blame the non-existent Donnie Stevenson. A (probable) creation by Alonso, the "hitting approach" coach was given credit for New York's top of the ninth victory against the Phillies on May 1. And while we don't want to give the fictional creation too much credit, the Mets were two games under .500 entering that game and now they lead the division with a 47-40 record. As Albert Camus wrote in "The Stranger," "Fiction is the lie through which we tell the truth." Presumably, he was speaking about Donnie Stevenson.

Since then, Stevenson has grown to mythic proportions. Alonso had to answer why Dave Jauss was throwing to him in the Derby instead of Stevenson, and the character has revealed himself to be an absolutely jacked, jorts-loving mustachioed figure. Maybe every team needs a fictional bench jockey. The second half is full of opportunities.