Surprise, Surprise, Surprise

Monday, May 30 2005 @ 02:55 PM EDT

Contributed by: Pepper Moffatt

What I want
I want now
and it's a whole lot more
than 'anyhow'

Standings as of May 16th, 2005

1. Baltimore    30-19 .612         (6-6 2WK)
2. Boston       27-22 .551  3.0 GB (5-7 2WK)
3. Toronto      27-23 .540  3.5 GB (7-5 2WK)
3. New York     27-23 .500  3.5 GB (8-4 2WK)
5. Tampa Bay    19-32 .373 12.0 GB (5-7 2WK)
Each team in the division played around .500 ball for the last two weeks, except the Yankees who were 8-4, but looked horrible during one of those losses.

Ten Pleasant Surprises

1. Brian Roberts - 2B, BAL

This one is rather obvious. After the first two months of last year, Roberts had the following line:

193 AB 33 R 1 HR 14 RBI 18 SB .270/.337/.364

Those are not bad numbers for a second baseman, but they're nowhere near the numbers he has this year:

195 AB 38 R 11 HR 33 RBI 13 SB .374/.458/.656

By pretty much every advanced metric out there Roberts has been the most valuable position player in the American league this season. While it's doubtful he'll continue to hit .374, he'll still end the season with terrific stats even if he hits at his 2004 level for the rest of the year. If the Orioles started the season with a replacement-level second sacker, they'd probably be in fourth right now. That's how valuable Roberts has been.

2. Bruce Chen - SP, BAL

You could make decent arguments for B.J. Ryan or Canada's Erik Bedard, but Bruce Chen has impressed me the most this season. After playing for everyone from the Montreal Expos to the Weldon Fightin' Whippets in the last few years, Chen has found success in Baltimore. His 5-2 record is not undeserved when you consider his 46/18 strikeout/walk ratio or his 3.46 ERA. Sure his 8 homeruns is Wasdinesque, but hey, it's Bruce Chen we're talking about here!

3. Pete Walker - RP, TOR

Last year Walker played for Yokohama of the Japanese Central League, which is about AAA quality. To put it mildly, Walker got his head kicked in by a steel-toe boot (I mean performance wise, not literally). He comes back to Toronto this season with an outside chance of making it on the big league roster out of Spring Training. Instead of spending the year in AAA, he's pitched in 25 1/3 innings over 10 games and put up a 1.42 ERA. There's no way that's going to last, so let's enjoy the moment.

4. Tino Martinez - 1B, NYY

Here are Tino's slugging percentages by year since 1999:

Slugging %
1999: .458 2000: .422 2001: .501 2002: .438 2003: .429 2004: .461 2005: .561
Honestly, I can't explain it, other than sample size. This isn't a batting average related fluke either, as Tino's .258 average this season is lower than it has been in any of the seasons on this list (except for 2000, when he also hit .258). The increased slugging is coming solely from homeruns, as Tino has all of 4 doubles and no triples this season. After hitting 21, 15, and 23 homeruns in the last three seasons respectively, Tino already has 12 in 2005. I'd be enjoying his season more if he weren't a Yankee, but hey, at least they're not in first.

5. Scott Kazmir - SP, TAM

Sure he's a hot-shot prospect, and sure he has only a 2-4 record. But other than giving up a few too many walks (30), he's pitched pretty well. Plus he's only 21 and he has to play for Tampa. It kind of reminds me of when Mats Sundin was a rookie for the 1990-91 Quebec Nordiques. Hey, maybe Tampa will trade him to Toronto for the Jays version of Wendel Clark. Who do the Jays have that you could compare to Wendel? I'm drawing a blank here.

6. Josh Phelps - DH, TAM

I'm cheating here a bit, since there are a few other Devil Rays like Toby Hall, Alex Sanchez, and Damon Hollins who are arguably more deserving. But Phelps has been decent this season, hitting .279 with 5 homeruns in 140AB. Oddly enough he's been much better against righties than lefties this season, with an OPS of 855 vs. right and 631 vs. left. Repeat after me: Sample size, sample size, sample size.

7. Eric Hinske - 1B, TOR

To see how much better Hinske has played since his move over to 1B, all you need to do is examine the change in his rate stats:

Batting Average: Up 40 points
On-Base Percentage: Up 44 points
Slugging: Up 97 points

Like everyone else on this list, only time will tell if these changes are permanent or temporary. The fact that most of this improvement can be attributed to the rise in batting average does not leave me overly optimistic.

8. Trot Nixon - RF, BOS

Last year Trot Nixon only played 48 games, though he performed well in those games, hitting .315 with 6 homeruns. His stats this year are about the same, as he's hitting .316 with 7 homeruns in 42 games. The only major difference is the number of walks he's collected, 24, which is 9 more than last year. If Nixon can stay healthy for the whole season, he'll have a good chance of winning the Comeback Player of the Year award.

9. Mike Timlin - RP, BOS

Again, a bit of a stretch; it's not as if Timlin had been bad for the last few years. But a 1.52 ERA with 12 holds in 2 months is impressive for anyone, let alone a 39-year old. Yes, 39. I can sense everyone feeling old from here.

10. Chien Ming Wang - SP, NYA

Finding a Yankee pitcher who has overachieved, is, well, a bit difficult. Ming has been steady for the Yankees, though, with a 3-1 record and a 4.06 ERA. His 14/8 K/BB ratio does not portend well for future success, but on the bright side he hasn't allowed a homerun in the 37 2/3rds innings he's pitched. He's like the Anti-Bush. I mean, David, not some U.S. politician guy.

Questions of the Day

1. Who isn't on this list who should be?

2. Who is on this list who shouldn't be?