MLB: Surprises of 2012
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Not all of us are fantasy geeks. Some of us spend more time on Saturdays at Home Depot than Frank the Tank, or we just live under rocks. Some people are still just rejoining the world of baseball after wasting time watching The Voice or Dancing with the Stars—we welcome you, and your man card is provisional again.
If you haven't been into baseball this year, there are some surprising names atop the leader boards. Bryan LaHair, the stopgap at first base for the Chicago Cubs while top prospect Anthony Rizzo gets more seasoning, may create a huge issue on the North Side if he keeps hitting .384/.476/.767, as he has to this point.
You'll find more surprising names as you read. You may wonder if these guys are having aberrations or are legitimate stars, but get to know them now.
Matt Joyce, Tampa Bay Rays
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Matt Joyce—yeah the guy who hit just .259/.341/.430 in the second half of 2011—has rebounded and is 13th in the Majors in OPS. Joyce is currently hitting .289/.378/.598 with three doubles, three triples, seven homers and 17 RBI.
He is still pretty miserable against left-handed pitchers (.657 OPS in 28 at bats), so his value can be limited in fantasy circles, but Joyce has at least established himself as a fantastic first-half player at this point. He could be well on his way to his long-awaited breakout.
Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers
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Who is in his last year of arbitration-eligibility, is finally hitting left-handed pitching and really, really likes hitting behind Matt Kemp? This guy. Andre Ethier has posted a .284/.354/.534 line, with nine doubles, six homers and 30 RBI. He is hitting an Ethier-robust .286/.352/.449 in 49 at-bats against left-handed pitching.
At the age of 30, the right fielder is playing for a big payday. If his knees hold up, he could thrive to make that happen behind Kemp in 2012.
Edwin Encarnacion, Toronto Blue Jays
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Edwin Encarnacion has out-powered his superstar teammate, Jose Bautista, but the quick start may be coming to a dramatic end. Encarnacion has hit just .103/.156/.310 in 29 at-bats in the month of May, but he still has an overall line of .269/.323/.588 with 10 home runs and 26 RBI.
Encarnacion seems like he has been around forever, as he started his career in 2005 in Cincinnati, but he will be 29 for the entire 2012 season. Bautista has struggled due to some incredibly bad luck to this point, so once things get going for "Joey Bats," Encarnacion could feast on more fastballs.
Mike Moustakas, Kansas City Royals
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After posting a .676 OPS in his rookie season with just five home runs in 338 at bats, Royals fans could have been very weary of what to expect from Mike Moustakas in 2012.
Was he another slow-developing talent like Alex Gordon? Was he going to explode in his second season like George Brett did in 1975, his second season? The odd thing about Moustakas and Brett: they posted identical .676 OPS in their rookie seasons.
Now, Moustakas is hitting like he did in the minors, posting a .311/.366/.534 line with 11 doubles, four home runs and 15 RBI. Moustakas has made just two errors in the field, as well, so he's well on his way to creating his own legend in Kansas City, as the Royals develop a roster dominated by Eric Hosmer and this young masher.
Ryan Dempster, Chicago Cubs
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How can you not have a single win in five starts and have a 1.02 ERA? Well, Ryan Dempster is getting just 2.04 runs of support per game, second lowest in the majors behind Ervin Santana of the Angels (1.76).
Don't blame the veteran, as Dempster has posted a 36:10 K:BB in 35.1 innings in 2012. Dempster just turned 35 on May 7, and he will be a free agent at the end of the season. If he is willing to take a discount, he may stick around in Chicago to anchor the rotation, as the club continues its 104 year-long rebuilding process. Dempster could net the Cubs a solid prospect at the trade deadline if he keeps this up, as well.
Lance Lynn, St. Louis Cardinals
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A 6-0 record, 1.40 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, 38.2 innings and 37:11 K:BB in six starts—needless to say, the Cardinals probably didn't think that Chris Carpenter would post numbers this good.
Lance Lynn was a solid prospect, a first-round pick out of Mississippi in 2008, but he didn't have a defined role until Carpenter's neck become a huge issue this spring. He doesn't look like he is ever going to be going back to the bullpen at this point, and most fantasy baseball fans who have him are doing pretty well.
Fernando Rodney, Tampa Bay Rays
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Do the Rays know how to find washed-up relievers and rejuvenate their careers or what!? After making Kyle Farnsworth look good last season, they've found another diamond in the rough.
Rodney signed a two-year, $11 million deal with the Angels in December of 2009 and saved just 17 games in 111 appearances, with a 4.32 ERA. This was after closing 37 games for Detroit in 2008. Now, Rodney has nine saves and a 0.57 ERA in 16 games. His career WHIP is 1.438, but he is currently at 0.766 with the Rays. Rodney has a $2.5 million option for 2013, which currently looks like a steal.
Jason Hammel, Baltimore Orioles
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You could make a case for the entire Orioles roster to be placed on this list, as they are currently 20-11, leading the AL East. Hammel has been a total surprise, posting a 4-1 record, 2.09 ERA, 0.98 WHIP, 38:11 K:BB in 38.2 innings and a .196 average allowed.
Hammel's 4.85 career ERA called and thinks that is crazy. He is currently nursing a sore right knee, so once he returns to the rotation (which should just be one missed start, since he didn't go on the DL), Hammel will look to continue his magical start.
Tim Lincecum, San Francisco Giants
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Not really on here for great reasons, Tim Lincecum's start to the 2012 season is still surprising. He is currently 2-3 with a 5.89 ERA, 1.582 WHIP and a 41:19 K:BB in 36.2 innings.
The issue with "The Freak" seems to be his fastball velocity. His fastball is currently averaging 90.0 mph, down from his career 92.7 mph average. While he is still fooling hitters (10.06 K:9), Lincecum is walking a career-high 4.66 per nine innings, and has been very unlucky with a .349 BABIP, up from a career BABIP of .295.
Having just signed a two-year, $40 million deal prior to the season, the Giants and Lincecum and his agent will want him to rebound if he is going to help the team and cash in on a long-term deal in the future.