Due to rampant rainouts and the vagaries of the schedule, teams have played an uneven number of games, but as of Wednesday night, 19 teams had played between 40 and 42 games. One-quarter of the season is now in the books. While there are no official awards for player or team of the quarter, there are several obvious possibilities that we will happily deputize ourselves to award.
Biggest Positive Surprise of the Quarter, Player
I hate to go all Brewers on you here, but Carlos Gomez and Jean Segura have to take the price. Gomez is such a good athlete that he made it to the majors at 21 and stayed up despite hitting just .243/.291/.357 in his first five seasons. Power arrived in 2011, his ISO (slugging percentage minus batting average) jumping from his career .102 to .177, then stepping up again to .202 last year. On-base percentage was still a problem, but when you play a rangy center field and run the bases at light speed, the overall package makes up for any one deficiency. This year, though, none of that applies -- Gomez is leading the National League in batting average and has already hit six home runs, leading to .365/.404/.620 rates.
Segura, a seemingly nondescript piece of the Zack Greinke trade, has come on like a late-‘90s Derek Jeter on vitamins (not steroids, because we all know that Jeter never does anything wrong), hitting .349/.392/.575 with seven home runs and leading the NL in stolen bases with 13 swipes in 15 tries. Segura was a .313 hitter in the minors, so his hitting for average isn't a complete surprise, but he homered once every 60 at-bats -- by that standard he should have about three home runs now.
Josh Donaldson of the A's doesn't come as a total surprise -- he hit .290/.356/.489 and played excellent defense after taking over third base from Brandon Inge last August, but at .316/.390/.520 he's showing that he gave an honest accounting of himself. Other possibilities: Vernon Wells of the Yankees, James Loney (a league-leading .379 average for the Rays).
Biggest Positive Surprise of the Quarter, Pitcher
No doubt some would take Matt Harvey or Clay Buchholz here, but Harvey has all the talent in the world and Buchholz has been pitching well since last May, albeit not this well. The same might apply to Seattle's Hisashi Iwakuma, who had a 2.65 ERA in 16 starts last year. He's definitely taken a step forward, cutting his walk rate by more than half, but his success still shouldn't come as a total surprise. The same can't be said of Travis Wood of the Cubs, who has a 2.03 ERA in eight starts -- his career mark entering the season was 4.22. He seemed like just another fifth starter on a second-division club, but he's had good luck on balls in play this year -- the .196 BABIP against him is the second-lowest on the circuit. He's wedged between Matt Harvey and fellow Cub Scott Feldman, another guy whose results come as something of a shock.
Let's throw an honorable mention Ervin Santana's way -- the Royals righty always seems to swing between good and evil versions of himself, like the Batman villain Two-Face. This year, the coin-flip came up good, and Santana has cut his walk rate to 1.1 per nine and his home run-rate roughly in half.
Biggest Disappointment of the Quarter, Player
There are many veteran possibilities here. Jeff Keppinger has been the worst player in baseball by at least one measure, but last season's .325 average was something of a fluke, and Keppinger's skill set is such that if he's not hitting .300 he's not helping you. Victor Martinez has been terrible, but the guy is 34 and missed a year, so what do you want? Adam Dunn has been a mess, at least until the last two games, but he was here in 2011 as well, so we can't exactly claim to be surprised. As such, I'm going to go with Atlanta's B.J. Upton (.145/.242/.244, not getting better) and Josh Hamilton (.214/.264/.358 and battling illness).
Biggest Disappointment of the Quarter, Pitcher
Giants starter Ryan Vogelsong's major-league comeback after five years away from the majors was a great story in 2011. It still is and always will be, but it might now be a case of, "We'll always have Paris": Vogelsong's eight starts have resulted in an 8.06 ERA and a league-worst 11 home runs. Here's hoping he has another rabbit under his cap.
Best Results, Offseason Acquisition
Shin-Soo Choo has quietly been an excellent player for years. He's outdone himself so far this year with the Reds, hitting .322/.465/.589 with nine home runs. His OBP leads the NL, and oddly enough Dusty Baker bats him leadoff. Call this a tie with Justin Upton, who leads the NL with 13 home runs. He's been pretty quiet in May, perhaps because teams are starting to pitch around him. Granted, that beats at him: Choo has been hit by a pitch a league-leading dozen times.
Photo credit: Andy Lyons
Worst Results, Offseason Acquisition
Let's call it Keppinger, hitting .185/.182/.207 with no walks through 137 plate appearances.
Living Up to the Hype
Not Living Up to the Hype
Real, Not Faking It
The Orioles seemed to be in line for some major regression after last season's surprise run, but so far they've defied the laws of entropy.
Faking It, Not Real
The Kansas City Royals have a +17 run differential. Given the third-worst aggregate infield production in the league, they might not be able to keep that up, especially if Lorenzo Cain regresses and their outfield production starts to drop off.
Can We Go On Like This?
KC's Jeff Francoeur, following up a .235/.287/.378 season with a .221/.258/.311 start, and Milwaukee's Rickie Weeks, hitting .187/.306/.299 after hitting .230/.328/.400 in 2012.
Photo credit: USA TODAY Sports
Good Player/Bad Team
Jose Altuve (.333/.371/.444).
Bad Player/Good Team
Free This Player!
Giancarlo Stanton, healthy or injured.
Padres outfielder Will Venable is an excellent defender who is hitting .250/.330/.450 due to unusually robust hitting at home. He's a career .270/.338/.444 hitter away from Petco, so this is what he's capable of doing in a fair park. His road stats are uncharacteristically flat, so if he can maintain his hot hand at home (perhaps the new dimensions have given him a boost) and get back to his normal production elsewhere, he's going to have a breakout year at 30.
Consistently Frustrating Batting Order
In the NL, Dusty Baker has batted Zack Cozart second in 28 of his 36 games despite his hitting .214/.242/.352 this year and .246/.288/.399 last year. In the AL, Terry Francona has kept Carlos Santana in the fifth or sixth spots (for eight and 20 games, respectively) despite his .430 OBP (following up on his very respectful .365 last season), while Jason Kipnis and Asdrubal Cabrera have been locked in the second and third slots.
Anyone Can Close
Well, Maybe Not Everyone
Carlos Marmol, Chicago Cubs.