Surprisingly Good and Bad Performances from 2016

In baseball — much like in life — surprises can be really good or they can be really bad. A good surprise in baseball might be a player or team having an unpredicted breakout season, while a bad surprise may be defined as a team or player destined for great things having a below average year. The 2016 season has had plenty of both throughout the entire stretch.

With just over a week left until the last games of the season leading up to the playoffs, a lot has taken place that can be deemed as good surprises or bad surprises. Having said that, I wanted to take the time to go over six hitters, six pitchers and six teams who surprised the baseball world in good or bad ways, keeping in mind that it is by no means a record of all the players who fit each category, nor is it the very top options in some cases. It’s simply a broad overview meant to recap the season as a whole.

HITTERS

Surprisingly Good: Brian Dozier, Brad Miller and Adam Duvall

Over the past several seasons, Brian Dozier has been one of the best second basemen in all of baseball. However, this season, he has broken out as arguably the best second baseman in baseball. With a previous career high of 28 home runs coming last year, Dozier has been even better this season, having knocked 42 so far — the most in American League history for a second baseman. Despite the Twins having the worst record in baseball, Dozier has been a huge surprisingly bright spot in Minnesota.miller

On the same theme, Brad Miller has been the biggest standout on the Rays, with the exception of All-Star Evan Longoria. Hitting 30 homers to this point in the year, Miller has blasted more round-trippers this campaign than he had over the past three seasons (343 games) combined. For that reason, Miller has been a great surprise to Tampa Bay. Whether Miller will be this type of player moving forward or is simply having a career-year, there is little argument that he wasn’t expected to be this good when the season began.

The final player on my list is Adam Duvall. After winning a World Series ring with the Giants back in 2014, Duvall has spent the last two years in Cincinnati, where he has turned out to be an extremely productive player. After playing in just 27 games last season, in which Duvall managed to hit just 5 home runs, this season has seen Duvall breaking out to record 31 blasts. It surely was surprising to see Duvall break out in the way he did, but it certainly was of the good surprise variety for the Reds and their fans.

Surprisingly Bad: Mark Teixeira, Jason Heyward and Bryce Harper

Mark Teixeira announced earlier this season that 2016 would be his final year, but he’s not going out with a bang as many of baseball’s greats have before him. Unlike his fellow retiree David Ortiz, who has recorded one of the best years in baseball history for a player 40 or older, Teixeira hasn’t been able to hit even a mere .200 and has notched only 13 homers and 38 RBI’s in 2016. Following 2015, in which Tex managed 31 homers, his year has definitely been a bad surprise for the Yankees. Even so, he is still one of the best players in recent baseball history, having hit over 400 homers in his career.heyward

When the Cubs signed Jason Heyward to an eight-year, 184 million dollar contract leading up to this season, he was obviously expected to put up All-Star numbers for Chicago. However, he has somewhat surprisingly been pretty horrible, quite frankly. Only managing to record seven home runs and a .230 average, Heyward has yet to get things going, now nearly six months into the season. Given, Heyward can turn things around with the playoffs looming, but it would take a lot for that to happen where things stand now.

Bryce Harper’s 24 home runs and 82 home runs would be a great season for any number of players around Major League Baseball. But by Harper’s standards — set last season with his MVP-earning 42 homers — Harper is having a surprisingly bad year, seeing his batting average drop nearly an entire 100 points from a year ago. There have been rumors that Harper has been playing through an injury all season long, but that’s being denied by Harper. Whether or not it’s true, Harper — who was expected to be in the running for a second straight MVP — is still having a surprisingly down year by all accounts.

PITCHERS

Surprisingly Good: Kyle Hendricks, Tanner Roark and Steven Wright

Part of a rotation that includes the likes of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, Kyle Hendricks has surprisingly been the best pitcher of the Cubs’ entire rotation. Over the course of 28 games started for the Cubs, Hendricks has notched a mere 2.06 ERA — the best in all of baseball. By doing so, Hendricks has helped to lead the Cubs to the best record in baseball and what looks to have all the makings of a postseason run. Although it’s yet to be seen whether or not this is actually the year for the Cubs, it has certainly been the year for Kyle Hendricks.roark

Tanner Roark has been an average to above average pitcher for the Nationals over the past few years, but this season Roark has truly broken out. Holding a 2.70 ERA over 200.1 innings pitched, Roark has kept the Nats push towards October strong, despite the loss of Stephen Strasburg for a good chunk of the season, and inevitably the final several weeks. It very well may come down the Roark’s ability to keep his surprisingly good performance going in order to keep the Nationals going deep into the postseason.

I’ve been bringing up the name Steven Wright all season long, and for good reason. Despite being a knuckleballer, Wright has been one of the top surprises in terms of pitchers this season for the Red Sox. Although his historic start to the season has slowly dwindled away as the year progressed, Wright’s 3.30 ERA is still good enough to make this list. Although he is currently working to battle his way back from an injury, Wright has still recorded enough innings to prove himself to all of baseball that he is a true weapon moving forward.

Surprisingly Bad: Chris Archer, Shelby Miller and Zack Greinke

Chris Archer broke out in 2015 to be one of the best pitchers in all of baseball, and was set to be the Rays’ ace moving into this season. But after getting off to a poor start to begin the year, Archer hasn’t been able to get much of anything going with only one more start remaining. The strikeouts are still there, as he has produced over ten strikeouts per nine innings on the year; and with the Rays’ poor collective season, Archer’s 19 losses are somewhat deceiving. But his 4.02 ERA can’t be ignored, especially following his Cy Young eligible season last year.miller

Being traded to the Diamondback’s this past offseason in exchange for Dansby Swanson, who has gone from 2015 first overall draft pick to star in the big leagues, Shelby Miller has been one of the biggest surprises in all of baseball this year. Having never recorded a full-season ERA above 3.74 heading into this year, Miller has posted an ERA of 6.47 over 19 starts. Following Miller’s 3.02 ERA with the Braves last season, many expected Miller to help get the Diamondbacks back into the postseason, but he has been virtually no factor whatsoever.

Joining Shelby Miller as part of the D-back’s rotation, Zack Greinke was expected to help make their rotation one of the greatest in the majors. After all, with Greinke posting a historically-low 1.66 ERA with the Dodgers in 2015, he was all but guaranteed to be the number one starter for the D-backs. But this is baseball, where nothing is guaranteed and anything can happen from one year to the next. As such, Greinke has put up his worst ERA since back in 2005, notching a 4.37 ERA for his efforts in 2016.

TEAMS

Surprisingly Good: Marlins, Mariners and Indians

I didn’t know what to make of the Marlins heading into the 2016 season, but they truly surprised me in a big way. Dealing with the losses of star players such as Dee Gordon and Giancarlo Stanton at various points in the season, for drastically different reasons, many expected the Marlins to fade away early on. But they’ve hung in there all season long, sitting five games back of a wild card spot. Inevitably, there aren’t enough games remaining for the Marlins to wind up in the playoffs, but to still be in the discussion at this point in the year is remarkable.mariners

Things are coming down to the wire for the Mariners, and they may not have enough in them to make the postseason for the first time since 2001, but they had a year that shocked a lot of people. With Robinson Cano, Nelson Cruz and Kyle Seager all having great seasons at the right times, Seattle was able to beat a lot of teams around baseball that many felt would give them trouble. As such, they easily made my list. They may or may not make the postseason in 2016, but things are looking positive all of a sudden for them to finally get there in 2017.

Many people felt the Indians would be as good as they have been this year, but I wasn’t as convinced. I simply thought the World Series defending Royals and the always good Detroit Tigers would keep Cleveland from being relevant in the month of September. But to my surprise — as well as the surprise of some people who felt the same way I did — the Indians are sitting atop the American League Central. If they can keep things going into the playoffs, they may not be done surprising people as the postseason plays out.

Surprisingly Bad: Rays, Braves and Twins

A lot of people actually picked the Tampa Bay Rays to win the American League East division this season, with their rotation being the key to that happening. However, with Chris Archer having a rough year along with several untimely injuries, the Rays haven’t been able to come close to realizing their predicted potential. With only a week to go, the Rays are in sole possession of last place in the American League East. With the division strong once again, it remains to be seen if the Rays can turn things around in 2017 and beyond.braves

It took the Braves forever to win a single game this season, and once they finally recorded one in the win column, they still weren’t able to get much of anything going. Losing 91 games to this point in the year, the Braves are promising that 2017 will be the year things turn around, with them getting a shiny new ballpark across town. But if the Braves don’t turn things around next year in a big way from this season, their ballpark could easily turn out to be the bright spot in the entire season when all is said and done.

Much like the Braves, the Twins’ season was over before it even got started. When the final game has been recorded, the Twins will have more than likely lost 100+ games after finishing four game over .500 last year. Following that breakout performance for the Twins, many people felt that they would be able to keep it going into this year. But it wasn’t meant to be, as the Twins have been one of the worst teams in recent baseball history. Although they could easily turn things around in 2017, all hope is lost for this year.

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2016 Award Frontrunners at the All-Star Break

Sunday marked the last day of MLB games until Friday, and although the baseball world is currently focused on San Diego and the All-Star game that is set to take place tonight, I wanted to quickly focus my attention on the players who have posted amazing performances throughout the first half of the season.

For this post, I’m covering the players who I feel stand the best chance right now (given, it’s still early) of winning the three major awards of Most Valuable Player, Rookie of the Year and Cy Young. All three awards have multiple players who can be argued as being deserving, but I have my own opinion as to who deserves each award the most at this point in the season.

Most Valuable Player Award

American League: Mark Trumbo

Sitting as the league leader in home runs at the All-Star break, there is no true competition for Mark Trumbo when it Mark Trumbocomes to American League MVP. Trumbo has been absolutely tremendous for the Orioles all season long, batting .288 while driving in 68 runs with 28 homers, and is a huge part in them sitting in first place. Unless things fall apart for Trumbo, he should easily walk away with the award at season’s end.

National League: Kris Bryant

There are far more options to choose from when picking for the National League MVP award, but I’m going with Kris Bryant at the moment. Like the Orioles, the Cubs are in first place large in part due to Bryant’s stellar numbers for yet another season. With 25 home runs, including a three-homer performance earlier in the year, Bryant is truly showing how much of an impact he is in the National League.

Rookie of the Year Award

American League: Nomar Mazara

All season long, Nomar Mazara has wowed fans with his immense power displays that he has been able to put on withMazara each of his eleven home runs. He may not have overwhelming stats, but Mazara has done enough to earn him the American League Rookie of the Year award, in my mind. But even so, there’s a young Tigers’ rookie pitcher by the name of Michael Fulmer who is pressing to overtake Mazara. If Mazara doesn’t keep things going, he may lose out in the end.

National League: Corey Seager

This was one of the most difficult awards to decide upon. From Trevor Story to Kenta Maeda, there are several great options to choose from. But I wound up going with Corey Seager, who was the favorite to win the award even before the season began. With so many top notch NL rookies, this award could truly come down to the wire, but with Seager having blasted 17 homers with 42 RBI’s, all while hitting .297, I’ll go with him for now.

Cy Young Award

American League: Steven Wright

The most recent knuckleball pitcher to win the Cy Young award came back in 2012 when R.A. Dickey took home theKershaw honor. However, it appears that things may play out that way again this year. Steven Wright has been extremely consistent throughout this season with the Red Sox, breaking out as their true ace of the staff, despite David Price being on the team. Although his strikeout totals aren’t that high, Wright’s AL-best 2.68 ERA really stands out.

National League: Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw is currently on the disabled list, but as long as it doesn’t impact the rest of the season, Kershaw looks to be in line for yet another Cy Young award. His closest competition at the moment, Madison Bumgarner, has been just as good as Kershaw, having notched three more starts than Kershaw and holding a 1.94 ERA to Kershaw’s 1.79. When it comes down to it, though, I still see Kershaw pulling out the award win.

Whether or not you agree or disagree with my picks for who deserves each award at this point in the season, one thing is for sure: there is still a lot of season left where any player can have anything happen. With 19 of the 30 teams at .500 or better, in terms of wins-losses go, regardless of the award races, the games following the mid-summer classic are sure to make for an exciting second half.

Numerous Players Exceeding Expectations in 2016

There are certain players around Major League Baseball who you assume are going to have amazing seasons each and every year. Clayton Kershaw is perhaps the best example of that, as he holds the league lead in strikeouts yet again and possesses a mere 1.74 ERA through seven starts in 2016. But that’s nothing new. As stated, it happens every year. However, there are several players around baseball who are posting numbers that no one expected from them.

One of those is Nick Castellanos, who has been on a tear to begin the season. Through his first 34 games, Castellanos is hitting .348, with 8 home runs and 30 RBI’s. Those are the type of numbers you would look to find from Miguel Cabrera at this point of year, but not Castellanos. Although Castellanos is a former first-round draft pick, no one expected him to get off to such an amazing start. Last season, Castellanos hit just .255 with 15 homers and 73 runs Murphbatted in. If he can continue the pace he’s on, Castellanos is set to blow those numbers to pieces when all is said and done in 2016.

Another player who is putting up career numbers to this point is Daniel Murphy. In the playoffs last season with the Mets, Murphy showed signs of greatness, hitting a home run in six straight games, but when the Nationals picked him up this offseason I’m sure they didn’t foresee the type of production he’s giving them. Despite batting below .300 each of the past four years, Murphy is currently batting .400 on the season and has collected 5 home runs and 23 RBI’s to boot. Whether or not he can keep that up is yet to be seen, but it’s certainly been fun to watch to this point.

Likewise, a pair of rookies in the National League have been posting some over the top numbers in their 2016 campaigns to this point. Trevor Story and Aledmys Diaz are both off to hot starts for their respective teams this season, with each far exceeding what was likely expected of them in 2016.

Story would likely still be in Triple-A if Jose Reyes had begun the season with the Rockies. Instead, he got off to a historic start, and has collected 11 homers and 28 RBI’s all while hitting .280. Diaz, however, is performing even better than Story. A career .276 hitter in the minors, Diaz is currently holding a .376 average on the season, with 6 blasts and 20 RBI’s for the Cardinals. Both Diaz and Story should be in the Rookie of the Year running for the National League if they can keep performing as the season goes on.

On the pitching side of things, there are far more players who are having amazing starts to their 2016 season. For that reason, I had to narrow down the list. Since I discussed four hitters, I decided to cut the long list of pitchers down to just four as well — a difficult task to do. For that reason, keep in mind that I left off some of the pitchers who I could’ve included. So if you don’t see a player you feel should be here, that’s probably why.

With all of that said, the number one pitcher who is most exceeding expectations in my mind is Jose Quintana. Although Quintana has been a standout pitcher for the White Sox over the past few seasons, he’s always been the number two behind the Ace Chris Sale. In the minds of many, Sale is still the leader of that staff, but Quintana is actually leading Sale in ERA, with a mere 1.54 compared to Sale’s 1.67. In the end, however, while Sale is still the White HammelSox’s go-to, Quintana is quickly becoming a household name around baseball.

On a Chicago Cubs’ staff that includes the likes of Jake Arrieta and Jon Lester, it would be expected that a guy such as Jason Hammel wouldn’t receive the same type of attention as his fellow starters. However, he is far exceeding what was expected out of him in 2016. So far, Hammel has a 1.77 ERA over the course of seven games started for the Cubs, who are off to an amazing start as a team. Never having posted a season ERA below 3.43 in any of his previous ten seasons, Hammel is off to a great start to his campaign. It will be interesting to see if he can keep it up as the season rolls on.

Steven Wright is another pitcher who I feel is exceeding expectations in 2016. I discussed his unbelievable start to the season a few weeks ago, but despite falling off his torrid pace just a bit since that point in time, Wright is still having an unexpected year. With the pickup of David Price this offseason, he was expected to set the pace for the Red Sox’s rotations, but instead it’s Wright’s 2.36 ERA (following a 4.09 ERA last season) that is the best among their starters. As a knuckleball pitcher, you have no guarantee that he can keep up the start to the year, but so far so good for Wright.

The final player on my list of those who are having the most unexpectedly good seasons is Drew Pomeranz. Despite being the number five overall draft pick in 2010, Pomeranz has never truly been the type of pitcher he was originally envisioned to be. This season, however, he is finally showing signs of that type of pitcher. Pomeranz holds a 1.80 ERA through this point in the year, and has posted an 11.48 strikeout-per-nine rate, which is actually third best in all of baseball. With Pomeranz having career numbers, he simply had to make the list of players exceeding expectations in 2016.

So while there are still over 100 games still to be played before the full 2016 season stats are officially locked into the record books, Nick Castellanos, Daniel Murphy, Trevor Story and Aledmys Diaz on the hitting side, as well as Jose Quintana, Steven Wright, Jason Hammel and Drew Pomeranz for the pitchers, are all having seasons that no one could have predicted before things got underway on April 3rd. Although anything can happen in the many games to come, those are the players who I feel deserve the closest attention from now until the final regular season game on October 2nd.

Steven Wright: The “New” R. A. Dickey

In the history of Major League Baseball, there have been very few pitchers who have actually succeeded in mastering the knuckleball to the point where they were able to absolutely dominate opposing batters on a consistent basis. For the most part, pitchers who throw the knuckleball are ineffective, and have up-and-down, short-lived careers.

MLB: Boston Red Sox at Seattle MarinersHowever, as with anything, there are always a few exceptions — Phil Niekro, Tim Wakefield, etc. — with the latest example of that being Steven Wright of the Boston Red Sox. Through four games started this season, Steven Wright has a 1.37 ERA, with a tick under one strikeout per inning pitched. Following an ERA of 4.09 in 2015, Wright appears to have figured things out.

On Wednesday night alone, Wright went seven strong innings against the Braves (given, Atlanta isn’t exactly a powerhouse team this season), striking out eight and giving up just two runs (only one earned run) in Boston’s 9-4 win. 

Due to his great performance to this point in the season, Wright has subsequently taken over the leading role of most dominant MLB knuckleballer, recently held by R.A. Dickey (the only other active knuckleball thrower).

With Toronto this season, Dickey has recorded a subpar 6.75 ERA, and hasn’t been all that terribly great since he took home the Cy Young award in 2012 with the Mets. That season — the only extremely fantastic season of his career — Dickey posted a 2.73 ERA over 33 starts, while striking out 230 batters, but he’s gone 40-40 with a 4.06 ERA since then.

Steven Wright didn’t actually appear in the big leagues until the season after Dickey had his breakout year, but it appears that Wright is on the verge of having a special season as a knuckleball pitcher much like the one of Dickey in 2012.

Boston could certainly continue to use successful outings from him, as their other starters hold ERA’s above 3.51, with David Price possessing a 5.76 and Joe Kelly unbelievably having a 9.35 ERA over three starts. For that reason, Steven Wright is currently being looked at as the surprising Ace of the staff, and has been a welcome surprise for the Red Sox so far this year.

While I’m not necessarily saying that Steven Wright’s 2016 season will end up being as successful as R.A. Dickey’s 2012 campaign, with him winning the Cy Young, it is definitely a positive sign for Wright of great things to come. I imagine not even Wright himself would have envisioned this good of a start to the season when things began back on April 4th, but every given baseball season is much like the knuckleball pitch itself: You never know where it’s going to wind up.