Published on October 2nd, 2013 | by Nick Bragg0
The Biggest Surprises of the 2013 MLB Season
This season, like every other in recent memory, has had its fair share of surprises. Players have breakout performances and slumps all the time. And sometimes it’s those unexpected developments that push a team over the edge to make the playoffs, win the World Series, or entirely disappoint their fans.
Pittsburgh Pirates Make the Playoffs
The Pittsburgh Pirates finally broke their losing streak. This shouldn’t be surprising based on their current roster, but after 20 straight losing seasons, I honestly just expected the wheels to fall off at some point this year.
A lot went into the Pirate’s success this season, from the resurgence of A.J. Burnett, Francisco Liriano, and Russell Martin to the emergence of rising stars Gerrit Cole and Starling Marte. If you want to read more, check out this article I wrote a little earlier in the season, Breaking the Streak: A Glimpse into the Pirates’ Success.
The Emergence Josh Donaldson and Resurrection of Bartolo Colon
It’s no surprise that the Oakland A’s are playoff bound for the second straight year. What is a shock, however, is which players helped them win the AL West pennant this time around.
The 2012 playoff run was led by pitchers Jarrod Parker and Tommy Milone, alongside outfielders Josh Reddick and Yoenis Cespedes. Their combined WAR in 2012 according to Baseball-Reference was 14.5, which accounted for about 31 percent of the team’s total WAR.
None of those players had much impact on the field this season. The team leaders in 2013 were Bartolo Colon and A.J. Griffin on the mound, and Josh Donaldson and Coco Crisp at the plate and in the field. Their 2013 combined WAR sits at 19.6, accounting for a whopping 45 percent of the team’s total WAR.
The A’s have recently been known to be a team that performs better than the sum of its parts, but breakout star Josh Donaldson has shown that Oakland can have it’s superstars too.
Chris Davis Dominates
Chris Davis has shown the Rangers and the rest of the world that he is much more than a four-A slugger. Davis had always shown power, but had previously lacked the plate discipline needed to succeed at the big league level. Whatever changes he had made in his approach have not only made him a serviceable first baseman, but have transformed him into one of the league’s premier power hitters.
Davis ended the regular season with a .286/.370/.634 triple-slash line along with an MLB leading 53 homers, and 138 RBI’s. Is anyone else excited to see what this guy can do next year?
The Entire Detroit Tigers Rotation
Detroit’s pitching staff as a whole led MLB with 28.7 WAR according to Baseball-Reference. The next closest team was the White Sox with 22.8. We all knew Detroit would have had one of the best one-two punches in baseball with 2011 AL Cy Young winner Justin Verlander, and the strikeout artist known as Max Scherzer.
What we didn’t know was that their third pitcher Anibal Sanchez would lead the league in ERA, and four of the starters in their rotation (Verlander, Scherzer, Sanchez and Fister) would all finish in the top-12 among all AL pitchers in terms of WAR.
This team looks poised to take home the World Series title that they missed out on last year.
Paul Goldshmidt’s MVP-Caliber Season
Scouts and pundits expected big things from Arizona’s third year first baseman, but even the most diehard Diamondbacks fans didn’t expect Goldshmidt to have a season like this. He finished the year with 36 homeruns, 125 RBI’s, and a .952 OPS.
The D-Backs failed to make it to the post season, which technically doesn’t disqualify Goldschmidt from the NL MVP running, but will undoubtedly hurt his chances of winning. Only two NL MVP’s have been named from non-playoff teams in the last nine years. Although he’s deserving, I doubt he’ll get the honors this year.
The San Francisco Giants Rotation
The World Series Champs sure have taken a big step back this year, but this time it had nothing to do with their bats. What had been a strong point of their roster as recently as last season, has now become their biggest downfall. The Giants starting rotation has, in the simplest terms, crapped the bed.
Aside from Madison Bumgarner (who actually had a fantastic season, finishing with a 2.77 ERA and 199 strikeouts) not a single starting pitcher finished the year with an ERA under 4.00. In fact, Barry Zito and Ryan Vogelsong, who pitched a combined 237 of the Giant’s innings this year both maintained an ERA close to 6.00.
I don’t know what’s gotten into this club, but they need to fix their rotation issues quick, fast, and in a hurry if they intend on competing for the playoffs next season.
It’s no secret that Southside’s favorite stalwart Paul Konerko was on the decline. Some players end their careers at the top of their game, some play on while their skills gradually decline, some leave the game after suffering injuries, and then others, like Konerko, fall off a cliff with very little warning.
As you can see from the chart, Konerko has had his share of ups and downs, but his OPS had been on a decline for the last three years leading into this season. This may just be another slump, like every major leaguer faces at one time or another, but at the age of 37, I’m not sure it’s reasonable to expect a full rebound to his normal level of production.
The Mariners’ Defensive Woes
The Mariners have been one of the top defensive teams since 2009, with a combined 27.7 UZR last season (3rd in the AL). This year, the M’s posted a major league worst -73 team UZR. So, how has the team’s strength turned into its most glaring weakness in one season?
The Mariners had made a couple key moves the middle of last season and the beginning of this current season.
- They traded Ichiro to the Yankees, eliminating the need for difficult offseason contract discussions, but effectively giving away their top rated defensive player (15.2 UZR in 2012).
- They brought in a couple veteran DH-type players that were put in the field more than originally intended. Raul Ibanez played over 800 innings in left field, amassing a terrible -17.1 UZR, and Michael Morse racked up an incredibly bad -11.8 UZR in about 450 innings in right field.
- Finally, they brought in utility infielder Robert Andino and promoted AAA shortstop Brad Miller, effectively relegating 2012’s rightful Gold Glove shortstop Brendan Ryan to the bench, before he was traded to the Yankees.
Each of those moves by themselves would have set the defense back a step, but together, they did a number on Seattle’s defensive ranking. The good news is, these problems are easily correctable. While Ichiro and Brendan Ryan are likely gone for good, the M’s could bring in one or more of the very good defensive players that are expected to hit free agency this offseason.
Centerfielder Jacoby Ellsbury would be an excellent upgrade in centerfield and would be an offensive force. Shin-Soo Choo is an average centerfielder, but a great defensive right fielder, and has been incredibly consistent over his career both on offense and defense.
Combining a defensive upgrade in the outfield with dropping, or resigning Morse or Ibanez to a full-time DH role should be enough to put the Mariners back on track; at least defensively speaking.
Big Contract Bust
After three straight killer seasons where Josh Hamilton crushed a combined 100 home runs, 322 RBI’s, and slugged well over .500, he signed a monster five-year contract with the Angels. He then immediately followed the signing with an uncharacteristically awful 2013 season, owning a triple slash line of.250/.307/.432.
Hamilton’s first year production with the Angles already has fans and team management clamoring for a do-over. The money owed to apparent busts Hamiton and Albert Pujols totals in at $363 million dollars. Even with one of the highest payrolls in major league baseball, and the entirety of professional sports for that matter, the Angels will be hard pressed to produce a playoff-caliber team any time soon with the payroll limitations that they’ve self-imposed.
Photos by Keith Allison