Surprise! The best (and worst) unexpected developments of 2010
Jose Bautista's sudden home-run power is the most pleasant surprise of 2010
Worst surprise? Chone Figgins' flop in Seattle after getting a $36 million deal
The Padres have been the best surprise as a team, the Angels the worst
In a year of individual and team surprises, no one has surprised more folks than Blue Jays outfielder Jose Bautista. In no time at all, he has turned into an offensive monster. His improvement is so stark that it has triggered a bit of unfounded Internet suggestion. All we know is that this guy has suddenly become one of baseball's biggest threats, leaving the anonymity behind. Here is my list of biggest positive surprises, followed by some that are not so positive.
1. Jose Bautista, Blue Jays OF. Thought to be nothing more than a useful utilityman, he had never before hit more than 16 home runs in a season. But he is this season's runaway homer leader with 46. That's seven more than anyone else (Albert Pujols has 39) and 10 more than any AL hitters (Paul Konerko has 36). A bit of it is connected to Toronto's Rogers Centre, where Bautista has hit 30 of his home runs. But he has gotten even better in the second half; after posting a very nice .903 OPS before the All-Star break, he has put up a 1.155 OPS since. He was on the block at the trade deadline, but no one wanted to pay the seemingly steep price, which was one or two talented young players (with the Yankees it would have been Brett Gardner and Joba Chamberlain). Turns out, he may have been worth it. In the post-steroid era, this is an incredible story.
2. Padres. Their playoff position looks a bit iffy today. But to even be in this position with expectations nearly as low as anyone in the majors is still downright amazing.
3. Andres Torres, Giants OF. Out of nowhere, he's turned from journeyman to extra-base machine. The 32-year-old has 64 extra-base hits this season after having just 31 in his previous eight. His absence (he just had an appendectomy) should hurt San Francisco in one of baseball's tightest races.
4. R.A. Dickey, Mets SP. The 35-year-old right-hander remade himself and found a home in the Mets rotation. He has a 2.91 ERA after posting ERAs of 5 or higher in six of seven previous seasons. Nobody on the Mets expected anything close to this when he was originally promoted out of desperation.
5. Reds. This young team has been about as consistent as anyone this year, posting a winning record in each of the first five months and confounding most experts.
6. Joaquin Benoit, Rays RP. He's having a huge year in Tampa's pen, with a 1.58 ERA, a 0.66 WHIP and 65 strikeouts.
7. Omar Infante, Braves IF. Both he and another unheralded Braves infielder, Martin Prado, made the All-Star team, surprising baseball aficionados. Infante's now hitting .341 so it's not like he's slowed down.
8. Trevor Cahill, A's SP. He's developing into one of the best pitchers pitching coach Curt Young, has quietly done a nice job.
9. Angel Pagan, Mets OF. The life-long extra has earned a spot as a starter with an excellent all-around game. He showed flashes in the second half last year but still began the season splitting time with Gary Matthews Jr. Pagan is doing it all now, including stealing bases (33). The Mets' most consistent offensive performer all year.
10. Clay Buchholz, Red Sox SP. He's put up a big year worthy of an ace with a 15-7 record and 2.53 ERA. Always had talent but he's exceeding the expectations of even his admirers. The Red Sox turned down several trade opportunities involving him last year and look smart for doing so.
11. Jaime Garcia, Cardinals SP. Garcia, who is 13-7 with a 2.69 ERA, could steal the Rookie of the Year from the more heralded Jason Heyward, Buster Posey and others.
12. Vladimir Guerrero, Rangers DH. He returned from a down year to more than justify a $5 million free-agent deal with the Rangers and already has 104 RBIs to go with his 26 homers and .304 batting average.
13. Aubrey Huff, Giants 1B. He signed for $3 million as a free agent after Adam La Roche turned down the Giants for more money, and he's put up fairly big numbers (24 HRs, 81 RBIs, .291 BA) after many had soured on him.
14. C.J. Wilson, Rangers SP. He's become an excellent starter (14-6, 3.25) after previously toiling as the team's closer.
15. Gaby Sanchez, Marlins 1B. His play has been on par with more heralded rookies, with 17 home runs, 76 RBIs and a .279 batting average. As Nyjer Morgan can testify, he's also proficient at the clothes-line tackle.
16. Jered Weaver, Angels SP. The surprise isn't that he's pitching well, it's that he's among the league leaders with 211 strikeouts despite a low-90s fastball. Also has a 1.09 WHIP and 3.06 ERA to go with his 11-11 record.
17. Mat Latos, Padres SP. His major league-record 15 consecutive starts allowing two runs or fewer was snapped Sunday. But he still leads the NL in several categories, including ERA (2.21) and WHIP (0.96).
18. Max Scherzer, Tigers SP. Demoted early in the season, he's returned to have an excellent year. Has almost one strikeout an inning (162 K's in 175 innings). The three-way trade with the Diamondbacks and Yankees that brought him to Detroit was panned by some, but the Tigers appear to have come out best, considering Austin Jackson has played a very good center field and hit well, too.
19. Matt Capps, Twins closer. After a brutal 2009 season in which he had a 5.80 ERA as Pittsburgh's closer, he's put up 38 saves with a 2.73 ERA for the Nats and Twins. Washington made the most of his signing by using him well in the first half, then sending him to Minnesota for catching prospect Wilson Ramos.
20. Marlon Byrd, Cubs OF. He sparkled in the All-Star Game and has played well all season long (.301) for the disappointing Cubbies.
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