Playing with swing in his step

The psychoanalyst Helene Deutsch once said "the ultimate goal of all research is not objectivity, but truth." It's in that spirit that we conclude Curtis Granderson should be the American League's first-half Most Valuable Player.

A crowd of players deserves consideration. The Blue Jays' Jose Bautista is once again putting up the biggest numbers with a majors-leading 29 home runs (all numbers are entering the weekend), and Adrian Gonzalez has carried the Red Sox with league-leading totals in average (.351) and RBIs (76). Paul Konerko (.316-22-64) has been a beacon of light for the White Sox, and Miguel Cabrera has been as good as usual for the Tigers.


But at the moment, this is Granderson's world, and we're all just passing through.

Long a solid center fielder and one of baseball's best baserunners, Granderson has turned into a beast at the plate since working with Yankees hitting coach Kevin Long to retool his swing.


While helping the Tigers to the 2006 World Series, he started his swing with his bat parallel to the ground. As time went on, opponents realized he didn't have enough bat speed from that position to get to inside pitches. They exploited the weakness to the point where the Tigers were willing to trade him.

Long made minor changes in the spring of 2010, but by midseason Granderson was ready for a major adjustment. He adopted a more conventional stance with the bat pointing toward the sky, and he has gotten better over the last year.

In his last 160 games, Granderson, 30, has hit .265 with 42 home runs. He has scored 121 runs while driving in 106. And he has done it while based in the crucible of baseball, Yankee Stadium.

Granderson entered the last weekend before the All-Star break batting .271-25-62 with a .944 OPS and 77 runs scored, eight more than any other player. He's just as bright and forward-looking as he was in 2009, when I only half-jokingly suggested he should be baseball's next commissioner.

Here are my other first-half awards:

•NL MVP: Prince Fielder, Brewers

The stakes are piled as high as they could be for a walk-year franchise icon who has done just about everything except help his team win a playoff series. Fielder has responded, hitting .302 with 22 homers and leading the league with 71 RBIs. He's in a great place to hit — after Ryan Braun at Miller Park — and he's also playing first base well and being a pro about his impending free agency. There's nothing not to like.

Runners-up: Matt Kemp, Dodgers; Jose Reyes, Mets; Lance Berkman, Cardinals; Braun.


•AL Cy Young: Jered Weaver, Angels

Credit Dan Haren with an assist. Almost nothing separates the Tigers' Justin Verlander and Weaver, but Haren's 1-0 victory Tuesday dropped Verlander to 11-4, matching Weaver's record. Weaver gets the call because of his better ERA (1.86 to 2.26), but you wouldn't go wrong with either one.

Runners-up: Verlander; CC Sabathia, Yankees; Gio Gonzalez, A's.

•NL Cy Young: Jair Jurrjens, Braves

As with Verlander in the AL, you wouldn't go wrong giving the nod to the Phillies' Roy Halladay. He's pitching almost exactly as well as he did a year ago, when he won his second Cy Young Award. But Jurrjens leads the NL in wins (12) and ERA (1.87), and that's a hard combination to win an argument against. Jurrjens acknowledges "everybody knows what happened to Ubaldo (Jimenez) last year," suggesting he won't be able to maintain his first-half performance. But he's the real thing.

Runners-up: Halladay; Cole Hamels, Phillies; Tommy Hanson, Braves; Joel Hanrahan, Pirates.


•AL Rookie: Michael Pineda, Mariners

The powerful right-hander is matching Felix Hernandez start for start at Safeco Field, the AL's best pitcher's park.

Runners-up: Eric Hosmer, Royals; Jeremy Hellickson, Rays; Mark Trumbo, Angels; Jordan Walden, Angels.

•NL Rookie: Danny Espinosa, Nationals

Part of the Long Beach State legacy built by Troy Tulowitzki and Evan Longoria, the Nationals sparkplug is tied with Rickie Weeks for the homer lead among second basemen (16, one more than Robinson Cano) and is third in RBIs (52). Those numbers have him running away from everyone except Braves closer Craig Kimbrel, who leads the majors with 27 saves. He's a good choice, but the tie goes to the everyday player.

Runners-up: Kimbrel; Freddie Freeman, Braves; Dillon Gee, Mets; Darwin Barney, Cubs.


•AL Manager: Manny Acta, Indians.

Their ace (Fausto Carmona) has been a bust. Their cornerstone veterans (Grady Sizemore and Travis Hafner) have been on the disabled list. Yet the Indians remain one of baseball's best surprises.

Runners-up: Joe Maddon, Rays; Eric Wedge, Mariners.

•NL Manager: Ron Roenicke, Brewers

There are at least six reasonable choices for this award, but as a rookie manager, Roenicke has kept himself on even footing with Tony La Russa's Cardinals while not getting what he expected from Zack Greinke and with Fielder's future a daily subject of discussion. He survived a 13-19 start.

Runners-up: Clint Hurdle, Pirates; Kirk Gibson, Diamondbacks; Terry Collins, Mets; Bruce Bochy, Giants; Charlie Manuel, Phillies.


The last word: "I can't wait for him to get it done. Has anyone in this era represented our game better than him? He's one of the few legends still playing. If Major League Baseball ever opens a school to teach young players how to act on and off the field, he should be teaching the class. He's great for the game." — Acta on Derek Jeter's pursuit of 3,000 hits.

Twitter @ChiTribRogers