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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.