Baseball BeatSeptember 29, 2006
Biggest Surprises of 2006
By Rich Lederer

Every baseball season presents it surprises - both positive and negative. Teams and individual players. Booms and busts. It's the nature of the beast. And the reason why they play the games. If games were won or lost on paper, the Boston Red Sox would be preparing for the post-season rather than the winter meetings.

Which teams and players were this year's biggest surprises? This exercise is meant to be participatory. My job is to make suggestions. Yours is to provide the final word in the comments section below.

Here we go. . .


  • AL: Which team is the biggest surprise of the 2006 season? Detroit or Minnesota heading into the final weekend tied for first in the Central with 95-64 records? Or Cleveland (75-84, .472) finishing in fourth place in the AL Central, 20 games back of first?

  • NL: Which team is the biggest surprise bust of the 2006 season? The Chicago Cubs (65-94) or the Atlanta Braves (77-82)? Or are the Florida Marlins (77-82) an even bigger surprise - albeit to the upside than the Cubs or Braves?



  • AL: Joe Mauer (.350), Robinson Cano (.343), or Justin Morneau (.323)? Eric Chavez (.240), Jhonny Peralta (.250), or Mark Teixeira (.278)?

  • NL: Freddy Sanchez (.346), Garrett Atkins (.325), or Adrian Gonzalez (.301)? Or the Bee Gees (as in Brothers Giles) - Marcus (.266) or Brian (.267)?


  • AL: Jim Thome (.419) or Frank Thomas (.382)? Or Jason Michaels (.326)?

  • NL: Ryan Howard (.422) or Jamey Carroll (.376)? Clint Barmes (.266) or Craig Biggio (.302)?


  • AL: Jermaine Dye (.619), Justin Morneau (.566), or Robinson Cano (.530)? Jhonny Peralta (.380), Melvin Mora (.395), or Hank Blalock (.403)?

  • NL: Adam LaRoche (.567), Alfonso Soriano (.564), Bill Hall (.546), or Ray Durham (.539)? Felipe Lopez (.384), Randy Winn (.393), or Brian Giles (.397)?


  • AL: Jermaine Dye (43), Nick Swisher (34), or Juan Rivera (23)? Or how about Mike Napoli (15) in the 200-300 AB division?

  • NL: Ryan Howard (58), Alfonso Soriano (46), or Bill Hall (33)? Or David Ross (21) or Chris Duncan (21) in the 200-300 AB division?



  • AL: C.C. Sabathia (3.22) or Kenny Rogers (3.63)? Or in the "I was supposed to be the ace" division - Josh Beckett (5.01), Randy Johnson (5.00), Mark Buehrle (4.99), or Felix Hernandez (4.65)? And let's not forget the "Are they really paying me for this?" - Joel Pineiro (6.43) or Carlos Silva (6.07)?

  • NL: Bronson Arroyo (3.27) or Chris Young (3.46)? Or in the "I can't believe I'm a free agent this year" - Jason Marquis (6.02)?


  • AL: Chien-Ming Wang (19) or Randy Johnson (17 with a 5.00 ERA)?

  • NL: In the "Wow, I could lead the league in wins" division - Brad Penny (16) or Steve Trachsel (15)?


  • AL: Gil Meche (156) or J.J. Putz (99 in 76.1 IP)?

  • NL: Ian Snell (169) or Takashi Saito (103 in 76.1 IP)?


  • AL: Jonathan Papelbon (35) or Akinori Otsuka (32)?

  • NL: Joe Borowski (36) or Takashi Saito (22)?

    Who were your biggest surprises? Have at it.

  • Comments

    That Frank Thomas amassed his 2006 numbers is no surprise - it is that he stayed healthy enough to do so that was the shocker - and difference maker in the AL West.

    Jacque Jones has a higher OPS than Brian Giles, Austin Kearns, or Brad Wilkerson, three guys I thought they should've gotten instead.

    That is a shocker.

    A number of people exceeded my expectations (LaRoche in home runs, Freddie Sanchez in BA & doubles, et al) but I was not thinking much about them. The two players who confounded my pre-season picks were Soriano and Beckett. I do not think I was alone in expecting a significant decline in Soriano's numbers in Washington. And I thought Beckett would establish himself among the elite starters in the majors. He has had some glimmers this year, but was a major disappointment.

    Positive shockers- the Marlins (15-20 wins ahead of expected) and the Tigers (15 wins ahead of expected).

    Negative shocker- the Indians (albeit that it's half fluke).

    Soriano really surprised me. I would have thought the move to RFK would have really sapped his power; instead he hit 24 at RFK and 22 on the road and he didn't let his forced move to the outfield get to him.

    Peralta had a pretty dissapointing season along with the Indians as a team.

    And the fact that Kenny Rogers continued to have a sub 4.00 ERA is a bit baffling. That's something to take a closer look at in the off-season.

    My negative surprises are Peralta and Teixeira. It's one thing to drop off due to injuries, but it's another thing entirely to just drop off in production despite a ton of ABs.

    My positive surprises also involves the Rangers, as in who's idea was it to trade Adrian Gonzalez and Chris Young for Adam Eaton and Freddy Guzman? I didn't understand them trading Young then and it looks even worse now as Gonzalez has become a solid Major League first baseman.

    Of course the Tigers since we at least had heard of the Marlins prospects from being in the Bos and NY systems. Now did anyone expect another 1.000+ OPS from Bonds, who may lead the NL in walks for the 11th time in 14 years? Look out Babe, he's caught up to you again.

    I think the biggest surprises for me were the two second basemen having MVP-style seasons: Durham and Cano. I thought Durham had reached a point in his career where he wasn't going to be able to really start anymore, let alone slug over .500, and I just never thought Cano was particularly good. Shows what I know.

    The Marlins have to be the big surprise for me, followed by LaRoche and his home runs, which offset the - to me - predictible Francouer decline. Also, the total collapse of the Cubs was a bit surprising, but understandable considering who's in charge in the dugout.

    Also - all those rookie pitchers with excellent seasons! Who could possibly have predicted such a banner crop of young arms having moster years?

    As far as Kenny Rogers goes, I'll believe he's for real if he doesn't do his usual playoff fold-a-roo ...

    ...and speaking of disappointments...Liriano not being able to finish a "once in a lifetime" brilliant season really took me down.

    My suprises:
    Smaller strike zone, pitchers squeezed all season.
    White Sox not in the post-season.
    Tiger dominance.
    Rookie pitchers dominating across the board.
    The Reds terrible trade of Kearns and Lopez.
    The Yankees getting Abreu for nothing in return.
    Texas' Teixiera sucking all year.
    Jim Thome dominant at times this year.
    Two teams from NL west in the playoffs.
    Tigers getting what should have been #1 pick at #6.

    Not suprises:
    Cubs really stink.
    Wrigley still packed.
    Mets on top of the NL.
    Braves not in the post-season.
    Twins in the postseason.
    Frank Thomas has another good year.
    Two teams from AL central in playoffs.

    Clint Barmes's performance was not surprising to me...This is not a major league player and with TT in the mix, Barmes will be in indy ball w/in, about, 3 years...

    This is a question, not a disagreement. Hasn't Teixeira played rather well since August or so? I see he now has 32 home runs, 44 doubles and 88 walks, the latter 2 career highs. While his batting average is lower than usual at .278 and his slugging % is down from the last 2 years at .508, his OBP is about his average at .369. I have not really followed him closely this year, but those numbers do not seem to "suck" even if they are somewhat below expectations.
    Is part of the criticism of Teixeira that his early season struggles helped put Texas in a hole they could not get out of-or that had he been at his norm, they might have been in contention in August instead of out of it when he finally picked it up?

    maybe 'sucked' was a bit much. Now that I look at his career numbers he really isnt off the pace that much, but his start this year was brutal.

     Year  	HR 	RBI 	BB 	K	AVG 	OBP 	SLG 	OPS  	 
     2003 	26 	84 	44 	120 	.259 	.331 	.480 	.811  
     2004 	38 	112 	68 	117 	.281 	.370 	.560 	.929  
     2005 	43 	144 	72 	124	.301 	.379 	.575 	.954  
     2006 	32 	109 	88 	128 	.278 	.368 	.507 	.875 

    Thanks. I just was curious about the phrase "all year". I thought perhaps you were considering something other than simply his total numbers. But he certainly was awful for a good portion of it.

    I think most of us expected Teixeira to maintain or even take it up another level vs. 2005. On that basis, his 2006 was disappointing. By almost any other measure, Teixeira's year was just fine - and his second half was better than any other full season to date.

         AVG  OBP  SLG  OPS 
    1H  .275 .353 .445 .798 
    2H  .281 .386 .589 .975

    The difference between Teixeira's first and second half is best illustrated by his home run totals. Mark slugged 9 HR in 353 AB in the 1H and 23 HR in 270 AB in the 2H.

    Teams: I don't think anyone saw Detroit or Florida being as good as they were this season.

    Batting Average: Ditto for Robinson Cano & Freddy Sanchez.

    OBP: What about Reed Johnson's impressive .390? Yeah, he's a platoon guy - but that's still awesome! In the NL, I was surprised Garrett Atkins had such a big season.

    SLG: The AL slugging that surprised me the most was Grady Sizemore. I knew he was a great hitter, but I didn't think he had 50+ doubles and nearly 30 HRs in him! In the NL, the big shocker was certainly Bill Hall.

    HR: They didn't come close to leading the league or anything, but the two biggest HR surprises for me in the AL were Raul Ibanez and Marcus Thames. In the NL, obviously Ryan Howard was a shocker...

    ERA: At the beginning of the season, I would have said Beckett would have a 3.63 ERA and Rogers would have the 5.01 - not the other way around! So, that's surprising - as is what Chris Young did in the NL.

    Wins: Wang & Trachsel

    Strikeouts: AL = Erik Bedard was pretty impressive. In the NL, Aaron Harang was impressive. I expected him to be good, but I didn't know he would be *that* good. Snell and Saito surprised me as well.

    Saves: J.J. Putz was a VERY pleasant surprise for the Mariners. Although, on the other end of things - Jenks and Todd Jones both got a lot (41 & 37) saves with ERAs at 4.00 or above....In the NL, I'll have to go with Saito. He didn't even make the team out of Spring Training and he's been absolutely lights out. Gagne who? Haha...


    AL: Tigers. Twins both a surprise.
    NL: Marlins. and Cubs

    Justin Morneau , biggest surprise. always thought he was more of a low BA high SLG kind of guy.

    OBP: umm, how about the whole Yankee team. insane.

    SLG & HR: no question that Soriano is by far the biggest surprise here.

    AL: RJ, despite being 43, he's RANDY JOHNSON.
    NL: Arroyo, definately.

    Win: Trachsel even more so than Wang.

    AL: how about Wang, didn't think he would K this few... and still do very well!!

    NL: Saito, definately. a savior out of nowhere.

    Saves: Papalbon and Borowski, purely in terms of numbers.

    You guys mentioned a lot of great stuff. Here's what I have to add to the discussion:

    AL Standings:
    Tigers- I had Bonderman pegged as the most likely breakout candidate and he wasn't really that impressive. Verlander's durability was more surprising than his effectiveness, but everyone else on the staff wildly outperformed my expectations.
    Indians- No bullpen and no defense = no matter what your DH and CF do, no chance.
    NL Standings:
    Marlins- The only rookie that was a big disappointment was the guy everyone thought was the surest thing, Jeremy Hermida. Luckily for Florida, just about everyone else but Petit was outstanding.

    Batting Average/OBP:
    Reed Johnson's offense period
    I think it would have been surprising if Thome and Thomas had stayed healthy but put up poor numbers.
    Mark Teahen
    Esteban? German of KC in a limited role. Is he as bad as his errors suggest?
    Mark DeRosa had a .900+ OPS at various points of the season. The Rangers still should have played Kinsler.
    Joey Gathright should be able to hit .250 bunting every at-bat.
    I am not a Royals fan.
    Jeff Francoeur- the HR's and RBI's might be enough to keep him and others from recognizing the problem. That would be a disaster. You have to hit for a lot more power than that to justify making so many outs.
    This was supposed to be Jeremy Hermida's strength.
    Luke Scott
    Brian McCann
    Freddy Sanchez
    Yadier Molina must be really good at calling a game and blocking pitches in the dirt.
    I'm not sure if Rickie Weeks was hurt for a while before they shut him down but I wasn't very impressed.
    Brian Giles used to be really good.

    Cano- frighteningly low for the first month or so and ridiculously high for the last two months.
    Mark Teahen was a monster after coming back from the minors.
    Marcus Thames has good career HR/AB numbers but he can't get a regular role.
    Jhonny Peralta- what happened?
    Mike Napoli- wasn't Jeff Mathis supposed to be playing this role?
    Raul Ibanez
    Jose Reyes
    Luke Scott
    Jose Valentin
    David Ross must be really bad at calling a game and blocking pitches in the dirt.
    Carlos Quentin is a candidate to hit 30 home runs next season.
    Rich Aurillia was much better than I would have predicted.
    Chad Tracy hit like a middle infielder.
    Helton and Atkins- the humidor can't explain them both.

    Wang seems to be the exception to the K/9 rule. His sinker must be one of the best ever. I know it's one of the fastest.
    Erik Bedard and especially Aaron Harang are much better than I thought.
    If everyone was so surprised by how well the White Sox pitched last year, why are we supposed to be surprised by how poorly the same guys plus Javier Vazquez pitched this year? Buehrle's the only major surprise here.
    Rookies Liriano and Hamels were probably the two best strikeout pitchers among starters. That's not really supposed to happen, right?
    Rich Harden gets hurt a lot.
    Derrick Turnbow- I know relievers are unpredictable but I think his numbers were really good last season.
    Letting Pedro go looks like one of the few moves that has worked out well for the Red Sox since '04.
    Francisco Cordero- Is there a good study out there about pitchers switching leagues? The anecdotal evidence is staggering.
    I thought the Pirates starting rotation would do better.
    I also thought Jose Valverde was ready to dominate.
    Cla Meredith and Josh Bard for Doug Mirabelli? Mark Loretta for Mirabelli? I think old pals Epstein and Towers are just doing each other favors and messing with reputed jerk Mirabelli in the process.