One of the best things about baseball is that it is a game of numbers. Numbers can tell us a great deal; they quantify the history of the game, help us track our favorite players in-season, and even allow us to predict what is likely to happen next.
But in spite of the statistics, the patterns and trends, in spite of all the simple and complex analyses we conduct, the game still has an astounding capacity to surprise.
There are minor surprises, like watching the light-hitting Elvis Andrus blast his first home run of 2011 in only his tenth at bat.
There are major surprises, like watching the San Fransisco Giants march through the Braves, Phillies, and Rangers en route to an unlikely World Series win.
And of course, there are the types of surprises that take an entire season to unfold.
In 2010 the baseball-watching public was treated to a shocking display of power by Toronto's Jose Bautista. For most of his career, Bautista had been a utility man, bouncing among some the game's poorer franchises. He played third base, all three outfield positions, and some spot duty at first and second.
Even after leaving Pittsburgh for the Blue Jays, Bautista did little of note. Over 134 games in 2008 and 2009, he hit a disappointing .232 and managed only 16 home runs in nearly 400 at bats.
Then it all changed.
Bautista reportedly revamped his swing prior to the season. As a result he crushed 54 homers and compiled a .617 slugging percentage—that was nearly a 200-point increase from his previous best. He blasted nearly as many round-trippers in that one year as he had hit in the previous 6 (59).
The production was completely unexpected, to the point where many fans suspected drug use. But giving Bautista the benefit of the doubt, it is undeniable that his 2010 was one of the most surprising campaigns by any player in recent memory.
So what will we see in 2011? Another breakout of that magnitude? Perhaps not, but each club will surely have a performance that few fans had anticipated. Going through the leagues team by team, here are some predictions on which players might surprise this year. This mix of youth and experience comprises players to watch as the season unfolds.