Ranking MLB's 10 Most Surprising Players of the 2013 Season so Far
Every Major League Baseball season is full of surprises, and 2013 is no different. For players like Domonic Brown, this has been the year of exceeded expectations. For Matt Kemp and others, it has been a year to forget.
Using Baseball-Reference.com, I looked at some of the best and worst players in Major League Baseball to see whose statistics have fluctuated the most—positively or negatively—in 2013. I judged former award winners more closely than others in the following list of this season's 10 most surprising players in the majors.
A first-round draft pick of the St. Louis Cardinals in 2009, Shelby Miller has always had high expectations placed upon him. He was always good—recording a 3.73 ERA, 1.277 WHIP and a 3.4-1 ratio of strikeouts to walks in the minor leagues—but he has been nothing short of phenomenal with the Cardinals this year.
In 13 starts, Miller is 7-4 with a 2.21 ERA and 0.971 WHIP. His strikeout numbers are even more impressive, as he's averaging more than 10 per nine innings and 5.35 for every walk surrendered.
Miller will probably level out somewhere around a 3.00 ERA, but he has solidified his place in the Cardinals rotation.
Everth Cabrera has spent parts of five seasons in the major leagues with the San Diego Padres, but if you have never heard him before, you are not alone.
Cabrera entered the season as a career .240 hitter with above-average speed. Through 66 games this year, he sports a .295 average and leads the league in stolen bases with 30. The Padres have locked him in atop their batting order, and he leads the league in plate appearances.
Cabrera's current numbers are more in line with his minor league career, and he should remain a bright spot for the otherwise middling Padres all season.
Another minor leaguer who has had a big impact since getting regular playing time in the majors this season is Jose Iglesias, whom the Boston Red Sox signed as an amateur free agent in 2009.
In parts of four minor league seasons, Iglesias hit just .257. Before getting the call to Boston this year, he was batting .202 at Triple-A Pawtucket and looked like a short-term replacement on the Boston bench. But he has made the most of his opportunity with a .449 average, .494 on-base percentage and .577 slugging percentage in 24 games for the Sox.
Obviously, Iglesias is not the next Ted Williams, and it's only a matter of time before a prolonged slump brings his numbers back to earth.
Another Rex Sox player who has played above expectations is John Lackey. After two dismal seasons in Boston—and one lost season due to Tommy John surgery—Lackey is finally pitching up to his contract this year.
In 10 starts this season, he's only 3-5, but he has lowered his ERA to 3.14, which is more in line with his career numbers before 2009. Lackey is also striking out 8.2 hitters per nine innings, his best ratio since 2005.
This is the pitcher Red Sox Nation was hoping for when former GM Theo Epstein signed him four years ago, and this is the pitcher they can expect the rest of this season.
10. Andre Ethier, Los Angeles Dodgers
As one-third of a disappointing Los Angeles Dodgers outfield, Andre Ethier has seen his average drop from .284 last year to .235 in 2013. Even more alarming for Dodger fans is Ethier's lack of run production. In 62 games, he only has 17 RBI and has crossed home plate just 16 times.
In his seven previous seasons, Ethier had been one of the most consistent players on the Dodgers and in all of Major League Baseball. He never strays far from his career batting average of .287 or his career on-base percentage of .360.
At age 31, Ethier is in the prime of his career, and he could be just one hot streak away from bringing his numbers back where they should be.
9. B.J. Upton, Atlanta Braves
The Atlanta Braves decided to sign two Upton brothers in the offseason, and while younger brother Justin has been productive (15 HR, 44 R, 31 RBI), B.J. has struggled mightily (6 HR, 14 R, 12 RBI).
Through 57 games, B.J.—a career .250 hitter—is batting just .161. Because pitchers have kept him off the bases, Upton has not been able to use his speed, as evidenced by him stealing just three bases so far.
There was nothing to suggest this kind of performance was coming. Last year, Upton had the best power numbers of his career, smacking 28 home runs and tallying 79 runs and 78 RBI for the Tampa Bay Rays.
The good news for the Braves is that they haven't needed him to perform, as they still hold a 5.5-game lead atop the NL East at 39-27. Still, fans should be concerned because Upton has shown few signs of breaking out of his slump anytime soon.
8. Roy Halladay, Philadelphia Phillies
In 2010, the Phillies traded for Roy Halladay to be the ace of the team's pitching staff. For his first two seasons, he was everything the fans could've hoped for, posting ERAs of 2.44 and 2.35 and earning the 2010 NL Cy Young Award.
Last year, he showed he was only human, going 11-8 with a 4.49 ERA.
This year, Halladay has been a nightmare. In seven starts, Halladay is 2-4 with an astoundingly high 8.65 ERA. His walk rate has ballooned from 1.1 per nine innings in 2010 to 4.5 this year, and worst of all, the former ace went on the disabled list on May 8 and may miss the rest of this season.
Phillies fans had an idea this was coming during spring training, but the team hoped Halladay would turn it around once the regular season began. Instead, he is having his worst season since 2000, when he recorded an ERA over 10.00 and the Toronto Blue Jays sent him back to Triple-A.
At 36 years old, Halladay's time at the top of the rotation—and possibly his career—appears to be over.
7. Matt Kemp, Los Angeles Dodgers
In 2011, Matt Kemp was an MVP candidate for the Los Angeles Dodgers, hitting 39 home runs with 115 runs, 126 RBI and a .324 average. Last season, injuries limited him to 106 games, but he still hit .303 with 23 home runs.
In 51 games this year, he has just two home runs and his average has dropped to .251. To make matters worse, the normally durable Kemp, who only missed 11 games between 2008 and 2011, is on the disabled list for the third time in two seasons.
Kemp is only 28 years old, but his injuries are becoming nagging and worrisome. The Dodgers have him locked up until 2020 at about $20 million per season, so he will be given every opportunity to succeed. However, we've seen players break down at an early age before, so that has to be a concern in the back of every fan's mind.
6. Francisco Liriano, Pittsburgh Pirates
It has been seven years since Francisco Liriano burst onto the scene with the Minnesota Twins, posting a 12-3 record and 2.16 ERA.
He finished third in the AL Rookie of the Year voting in 2006, behind Justin Verlander and Jonathan Papelbon. Liriano missed all of 2007 because of Tommy John surgery and was not the same pitcher when he returned, posting an ERA over 5.00 in three of his next five seasons.
But he has been rejuvenated this year with the Pittsburgh Pirates, sporting a 2.36 ERA and going 5-2 in his first seven starts. He's still walking too many batters (3.6 per nine innings), but his strikeouts are back up at 10.5 per nine innings.
His walk rate is worrisome and indicates that Liriano will be unable to keep up this pace the rest of the season. That said, he is still pitching better than he has in seven years, and he should continue to be a solid mid-rotation starter for a very good Pittsburgh team.
5. R.A. Dickey, Toronto Blue Jays
Last year's NL Cy Young Award winner has struggled mightily with the Toronto Blue Jays this year.
Dickey has seen his ERA rise to 5.11 and his WHIP to 1.36 after last season's 2.73 and 1.05, respectively. His strikeouts are down from 8.9 to 6.5 per nine innings, and his walks are up from 2.1 to 3.6 per nine innings, meaning Dickey has either lost control of his knuckleball or hitters are being more patient with him.
Dickey really came out of nowhere for the New York Mets in 2010, but he maintained a 2.95 ERA for three seasons and was one of the best pitchers in the majors during that time.
Knuckleballers generally have a longer career than most pitchers (see Tim Wakefield), but at 38 years old, it is hard to envision Dickey suddenly finding his best stuff again. He is probably a little better than his statistics from this year indicate, but he is not the same pitcher he was in New York.
4. David Price, Tampa Bay Rays
Last year's AL Cy Young Award winner is suffering through the worst season of his career.
Before the Tampa Bay Rays placed David Price on the disabled list on May 16, he was just 1-4 with a 5.24 ERA. This comes just one year after winning 20 games with a 2.56 ERA.
The surprising part is that Price's walk rate is slightly down, which means opponents have figured out how to hit him. According to Fangraphs, opponents are hitting .293 against him in 2013, compared to .230 over his major league career.
It is likely that the triceps strain that put Price on the disabled list is the reason for his surprisingly poor start. This DL stint is the first in Price's career, and his body is young enough that he should recover fully, returning to form in the second half to help the Rays make a push for one of the AL Wild Card spots.
3. Patrick Corbin, Arizona Diamondbacks
Last year, Patrick Corbin went 6-8 with a 4.54 ERA in his first full season with the Arizona Diamondbacks. This year, he has been spectacular.
After 13 starts in 2013, Corbin is still undefeated at 9-0 with an ERA of just 2.28, ranking eighth in the majors.
Corbin was always seen as a top prospect, but he is pitching like a Cy Young Award candidate so far this year. No one can expect him to go the entire season at his current pace, but Diamondbacks fans should enjoy it while it lasts.
His ERA will likely climb over 3.00, but Corbin has proven he has major league stuff and has earned a place in the D-Backs rotation for years to come.
2. Josh Hamilton, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Los Angeles is apparently Superman's Kryptonite.
In his first season with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Josh Hamilton is batting just .217 with nine home runs in 65 games. In five years with the Texas Rangers, Hamilton was one of the best hitters in baseball, carrying a .305 average and a .549 slugging percentage.
This year, he's slugging just .390 and has driven in only 21 runs.
Hamilton isn't the only player on the Angels struggling this season. Albert Pujols is hitting just .249, and pitcher Joe Blanton has gone 1-10 with a 5.87 ERA. Hamilton, however, is the most troubling flameout because he was signed to be the team's superstar, but so far, he has not come close to earning his $17 million salary.
1. Domonic Brown, Philadelphia Phillies
Going into 2013, Dominic Brown was the perennial prospect.
Phillies fans have been waiting for him to crack the starting lineup since he made his major league debut in 2010. Expectations were high, but no one expected Brown to be leading the National League in home runs in mid-June with 19.
Brown is sporting a .282/.576/.900 stat line through 66 games. He has not only solidified his spot on a major league roster, but he has become the Phillies' best offensive player, accounting for 35 percent of the team's runs so far.
No one expects Brown to keep up this pace for the rest of the season, but for more than two months, he has been one of the best power hitters in baseball. There can be no bigger surprise than that.