The Hogg Run: Handing out Stingers mid-season awards
With two-thirds of the regular season and the All-Star Game firmly in the rearview mirror, it is time to hand out the Willmar Stingers' mid-season team awards.
At 25-23 overall and 7-5 in the second half, the Stingers have firmly planted themselves in the North Division playoff race. Willmar holds a half-game lead over Rochester for the second Wild Card spot and trails Mankato by two games for first place in the second half.
Many players have come and gone on short-term contracts, but the current squad will likely look very similar down the stretch run.
With 24 games to go, here are the Tribune's unofficial—but very, very important—mid-season Stingers awards.
Most Valuable Player: SS Josh Bissonette
Yes, the player that has contributed the most to the Stingers this season was not even named to the All-Star Team.
A later arrival to team, Bissonette made his debut on June 11 after a run through the NCAA Tournament with Baylor. Through 36 games and 161 plate appearances, Bissonette is batting .331 with a .417 on-base percentage and .441 slugging percentage.
Using weighted runs created-plus, which measures a player's overall offensive contribution on a park- and league-adjusted scale, Bissonette is 42 percent more valuable than league average at the plate with a 143 wRC+. His 24.6 runs created lead the team despite being fourth on the team in plate appearances.
All of this for Bissonette is while playing a premium defensive position for the Stingers.
Most Valuable Pitcher: RHP Polo Portela
As a whole, Willmar's pitching staff is among the best in the Northwoods League this season, with its 220 runs against ranking seventh.
From there, choosing between Portela and fellow right-hander Gus Varland is literally like splitting hairs. Varland's last start made him the league ERA leader (1.04), though he now does not have enough innings to qualify. His WHIP is better than Portela's by fractions and he has struck out a higher percentage of more batters while walking fewer.
Portela, however, has thrown more innings and has an ERA that sits at 1.24 despite a rough outing his last time on the mound. Portela opened the season with 33-1/3 consecutive innings without allowing an earned run. After joining the starting rotation on June 13 against Eau Claire, Portela threw 24-2/3 straight innings without allowing a single run while striking out 18 batters and allowing just 16 base runners.
Both Varland and Portela were All-Stars, and an argument can be made that they have been the two best pitchers in the North Division this year.
Best Game: July 12 vs. La Crosse
Danny Rodriguez hit a pair of home runs as the Stingers grabbed a 7-2 lead late in a game that was on its way to becoming a comfortable win.
Instead, it would require some more dramatics for Willmar to come away with the victory.
After the Stingers surrendered four runs in the eighth and the game-tying run in the ninth, Nolan Bumstead hit a walk-off single to score Luke Becker from third base.
Rodriguez was the star of the game, hitting a grand slam and a two-run homer, reaching base four times and driving in six runs on the night.
Tyler Oldenberg also carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning in an impressive start.
Unsung Hero: INF Luke Becker
Ever since joining the Stingers, all Becker has done is get on base. His .227 batting average doesn't stand out, but it's 2017 and you're going to have to look past that.
Becker has drawn a walk in 26.4 percent of his plate appearances, leading the team with 24 bases on balls in 91 trips. With only eight strikeouts, that is a 3:1 walk-to-strikeout ratio.
Becker owns a team-best .433 OBP and is above league-average at the plate with a 107 wRC+
Gold Glove: CF Marcus Still
If Still's league-leading 31 stolen bases don't indicate to you that he can fly, then just watching him roam center field will do the trick.
Still has displayed impressive range, good instincts and a quick first step in his time in the outfield, which there has been plenty of. Still has played 35 games, committing just one error in center field in that time.
Add in three outfield assists, and it has been quite the year for Still with the glove.