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Wednesday, July 14, 2010
Next-Level Awards: Part 1

By Doug Kern, ESPN Stats & Info

With the 2010 season at the halfway point (and with apologies to the purists who say the halfway point was actually at the end of June), we present a handful of Next-Level Awards to a few players who have excelled (or "de-celled"?) in our favorite categories so far this season.


Since all teams have played between 86 and 90 games at this point, we're using 275 plate appearances as our minimum for all hitting awards.

The "Friendly Confines" award

Although Target Field has confounded some power hitters, Twins CF Denard Span seems to enjoy the place. He has the biggest difference between his home and road batting average this season. In Minneapolis, he's hitting .357; elsewhere, it's .198. Ironically, all three of his home runs have been in road games; however, he does have more total extra-base hits (8 doubles, 5 triples) in the Twins' new home.

The average "home" advantage in the majors, by the way, is .016.

Runners-up: Vernon Wells (.322 in Toronto, .199 on the road); Martin Prado (.389/.273); Travis Hafner (.303/.189).

Honorable mention: Jason Giambi has taken a liking to Denver. He's batting .380 at Coors Field and only .173 away from it, although his 132 PA are not enough to qualify for our award.


The "Summer Breeze" award

No surprise here. Mark Reynolds, who shattered the single-season record for strikeouts in '09 after setting it in '08, is whiffing on 40.9% of his swings this season and again leading the majors in K's. That's 8% higher than anybody else who qualifies for the award.

Far-runners-up: Mike Napoli (32.9%), Adam Dunn (32.3%), Ryan Howard (30.8).


The "Gettin' Low" award

Pitchers are always trying to keep the ball down. It takes a special hitter to go down there and get it with any degree of success. In a very tight three-way race, the Tigers' Miguel Cabrera ekes out the best average in the majors on low pitches (down in the zone or below it).

Cabrera, at .3618, just beats out Justin Morneau and the Orioles' Nick Markakis, who both have identical low-ball averages at .3613. To his credit, Miggy also has seven homers on low balls, and more extra-base hits than the other two contestants. Markakis is the most patient of the three, chasing only 16% of balls below the zone.

Which brings us to....

The "Reach For The Stars" award

Vladimir Guerrero left Los Angeles (home of the stars), but he's still chasing them in Texas. Vlad has gone reaching for 38.4% of bad balls (out of the strike zone) this season, giving him a clear lead in that category.

Runners-up: Adam Jones (36.0%), Pablo Sandoval (32.2%), Jose Guillen (32.2%).

Fifth place belongs to Ichiro Suzuki, who has set all kinds of base-hit records so far in his career. You wouldn't think of him as someone who would swing at a lot of bad balls. In Ichiro's case, though, he succeeds in making contact and finding holes.

That begets...

The "Trashman" award

Cleaning up bad balls is messy work. Not a lot of hitters do it well. Ichiro does. In fact, he's got a 52-point lead when it comes to batting average on balls out of the strike zone. And he hits almost as well (.319) on balls outside the zone as he does on balls that are in it (.329).

Runners-up: The aforementioned Guerrero, despite swinging a lot, also makes pretty good contact on bad balls. He's hitting .267, followed by Markakis (.264) and Boston's Marco Scutaro (.244).

More awards, including a few for the guys who THROW the ball, will be posted tomorrow.