MLB: Top 2011 Overachievers by Position
Some believe it is better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. I say, it's better to have played like an All-Star for a short period and come back down to earth than to have been Yuniesky Betancourt.
Here is a list by position of the top over-performers through one-third of the 2011 season. Some of these are good players who have simply exceeded their own abilities, while others are mediocre players who have far-exceeded their abilities. I'll let you figure out who's who. Call the lesser group the "All-Smoke and Mirrors Team."
Catcher: Russell Martin, New York Yankees
No one catcher has really played too far over his head this season, so this was a tough call. Ultimately I went with "Russell the muscle" because, well, since when did we ever call him "muscle?"
Martin's comeback has been a nice story in New York, but signs of the dreaded Cinderella carriage/pumpkin effect are already showing. Yes, his .242 BA is largely a product of bad luck (.243 BABIP), but the insane power surge is unsustainable.
Martin has already hit 9 home runs (more than he hit in either of the last two seasons), a slugging percentage of .458 (58 points higher than his career slugging percentage), and an ISO score of .216 (nearly 100 points higher than his career score, EEEP!)
Even if we assume that an injury had sapped his power last year, his current numbers still only jive with one other season he's had, and it was his best by a long shot. Is it conceivable Martin maintains this? Possibly, but I wouldn't bet on it.
Honorable Mention: Chris Iannetta, Miguel Montero
First Base: Gaby Sanchez, Florida Marlins
Look, don't get me wrong on Gaby; I am loving me some Gaby right now on my fantasy team. But statistically he ranks behind only Joey Votto at first base in WAR, and there are men named Albert and Adrian who say that won't continue.
Sanchez's home run and RBI totals are among the top 10 among first basemen, his OBP ranks third, and his slugging percentage ranks sixth. Put it together with his batting average and you have a .316/.394/.510, which of course looks sterling.
The problem here is that there isn't a whole lot of historical evidence to suggest Sanchez will maintain both the high OBP and SLG. Couple that with a .337 BABIP, which has been most advantageous for the BA, and you get a player who's primed to regress some.
Honorable Mention: Mark Trumbo
Second Base: Howie Kendrick, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim
Really, there are no good honorable mentions here. I threw Espinosa and Walker in in case you happen to be someone still hung up on RBI, in which case yeah sure, they won't end up being "big run producers" (and let the record show that Espinosa has actually been incredibly unlucky with a .228 BABIP, but I digress).
For everyone else, the choice is clear; it's Kendrick. You can't fool me Howie; just give it up. This .520 slugging percentage you're sporting, almost 100 points over your career high? Am I really supposed to believe you found a power stroke, finally? And this inflated OBP, brought about by a walk rate that miraculously doubled over your career average? Howie, you like to swing more than a sexless middle-aged couple; how can I possibly believe you'll maintain an 8 percent walk rate?
And finally Howie, we arrive at the smoking gun. The average major leaguer hits .300 on balls they put in play; your BABIP currently stands at .388. That's going down, chief, and the rest of the ship is too.
Honorable Mention: Danny Espinosa, Neil Walker
Shortstop: Jhonny Peralta, Detroit Tigers
The NL Central really had a strangle-hold on this one, but alas, only one can lay claim to the title, "World's Greatest Illusionist!" Peralta's 2011 line so far is .314/.373/.535. Let's break this down then, shall we?
The last time Peralta hit over .300 was...never. The closest he came to either it or this year's BA was 2005, when we hit .292. The last time Peralta's OBP met or exceeded .370 was...nope, didn't happen either. Closest he came to that was a .366 OBP, also in 2005. And finally, as you can probably already guess, Jhonny has never ever slugged as high as .535 in a season, through he came close once (.520 SLG). And because you're all smart people I'm sure you can guess when that happened.
Since 2005, Peralta had been terrible, with the occasional spout of "serviceability." It's also worth mentioning that before signing with Detroit, Peralta had been moved off shortstop due to defense that could only be described as porous. Inexplicably, the Tigers moved him back to shortstop and he's been almost slightly average there. Am I really supposed to believe any of this will continue?
Honorable Mention: Asdrubal Cabrera, Alexei Ramirez
Third Base: Ryan Roberts, Arizona Diamondbacks
It's easy to root for guys like Roberts. He's 30, finally playing everyday in the majors and making the most of his opportunity with a .272/.380/.477 line. His 8 stolen bases show-case one of his real strengths—base running—which, combined with adequate fielding, have made Roberts worth almost 2 extra wins for the D'backs.
Unfortunately, his impressive slugging percentage stands as a career outlier. He's never slugged higher than .460 in any season, which occurred in 2008 in triple-A. Roberts is about a .413 career slugger, so expect significant regression in that area shortly.
Honorable Mention: Wilson Betemit
Right Field: Matt Joyce, Tampa Bay Rays
I think I'm officially a believer in Jose Bautista, which makes Joyce the obvious pick here.
Let's get the BABIP out of the way, right off the bat (terrible pun)! Joyce is batting .409 when he puts the ball in play, which is impossible to sustain. When that comes back to Earth, so will the BA (currently .361, lifetime .273) and the OBP (.421, lifetime .363).
Joyce's 2011 slugging percentage of .621 is also fixing for steep drop, at least closer to career norms, and let's not forget that Matt hasn't played a full season of ball at any level since '09 (and he's never played a full season in the majors).
Even so, his 9 home runs this year are 1 short of his 2010 performance, and he's already exceeded last year's RBI total, and so the Rays are already playing with house money in those respects. Tampa fans should enjoy this while it lasts, because Matt Joyce will not be competing for a batting title come September.
Honorable Mention: Lance Berkman, Jeff Francoeur
Center Field: Curtis Granderson, New York Yankees
The entire argument against Granderson comes down to one simple idea: either you believe he's finally figured out how to hit lefties, or he's been lucky. I'm actually starting to think he's really figured it out, but the sample size just isn't there yet to make a definitive statement.
In 66 at-bats against lefties in 2011, Granderson has hit .303, whereas his lifetime mark against southpaws is .222. Also, it isn't just that he's hitting lefties this year; he's killing them, with a .773 slugging percentage against.
I expect some regression here, even if it isn't drastic. Granderson probably won't finish the year slugging a combined .612 from both sides of the plate—that's a little over 120 points higher than his career average—but the improvement against lefties has been impressive.
Honorable Mention: Matt Kemp, Michael Bourn, Melky Cabrera
Left Field: Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals
I'll believe Gordon is for real when I see him do it for an entire season. According to WAR, he's been the third most valuable left fielder in baseball behind Ryan Braun and Matt Holliday, sporting a .285/.351/.489 line.
He's managed to trade in some plate discipline (a 4 percent drop in walks) for a whole lot of points on his batting average by becoming more aggressive, which has led to an increase in OBP despite what conventional wisdom tells us about walking.
Gordon's BABIP is a little higher than the league average, but isn't outlandishly high. There are really no statistical smoking guns suggesting Gordon can't keep it up; I'm just a bit gun-shy considering his history.
The honorable mentions make the list based on their home run and RBI totals, but neither are having good seasons otherwise.
Honorable Mention: Alfonso Soriano, Josh Willingham
Pitcher: Kevin Correia, Pittsburgh Pirates
If wins and ERA are your thing, Correia is your guy. He leads the league with 8 wins and sports a nifty 3.40 ERA, despite striking out almost nobody. His success hinges on getting enough ground balls hit to the right people, which is why his FIP (fielding independent pitching) is 3.90, half of a run higher than his ERA.
Here's the thing: in 2010, with an almost identical ground ball rate and a much better strikeout rate, Correia posted a 4.71 FIP (5.40 ERA) pitching for the Padres in Petco Park. If baseball stadiums were superhero homes, Petco Park would be the Fortress of Solitude for pitchers, and Correia still sucked.
This one won't end pretty.
Honorable Mention: Josh Tomlin
Relief Pitcher: Neftali Feliz, Texas Rangers
Yeah, he's got some saves (proof that the save is antiquated) and his ERA is damn pretty (1.37). But Feliz's FIP is actually 5.48, and his strikeout-to-walk ratio has been terrible.
In fact, I'm not even sure Feliz belongs here because I doubt anyone is Texas would say he has over performed. But this is a nice chance to make an example of Feliz as a cautionary tale about the dangers of saves and ERA. Kids, you may think it's cool to like this stuff, but it'll leave you hollow and empty on the inside. Don't throw your entire baseball fandom away.
Honorable Mention: Kevin Gregg