Surprise! Early 2011 MLB Surprises

Here we are… roughly, oh, a whopping six-percent into the new season and there are plenty of surprises to talk about. There are no Chris Sheltons, but there’s enough to get us somewhat red in the face. So, let’s get into eight or so of them.

Milton Bradley’s ear plugs at home games

Nothing Milton Bradley does anymore should surprise us, but it’s worth noting that he has been seen recently wearing ear plugs at Safeco Field, his home field, to drown out the noise. I’ve never seen this before, which is what really surprises me. Given all the brainless heckling and how insanely mental baseball is, I’m surprised we don’t see more players sporting ear plugs. I think there’s this misconception that, because they’re professional athletes, it rolls right off their back. Just ask cartoon Darryl Strawberry.

Manny Ramirez

Career .312/.411/.996 hitter Man-Ram proved to be a rich man’s Greg Vaughn on (really good) steroids for the Rays. After signing a one-year deal with the reeling Rays at the ripe age of 39, one of the best hitters I’ve ever seen started the year 1-for-17 and then abruptly announced his retirement after a positive PED test from Spring Training popped up. You know, it’s Manny being Manny!
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Texas Rangers

Everyone and George Bush knew the Rangers would be good again this season. But I don’t think anybody expected a 9-1 record out of the gate — it’s a franchise record, after all — or a Cliff Lee-less pitching staff rocking a 2.22 ERA and a 25 straight scoreless innings streak under their big Texas belt buckles. Following a short off-season and the team’s remarkable run last year, I think it would’ve been less surprising if Texas started 2011 a little hung over. That obviously hasn’t been the story.

Boston Red Sox

On the other hand, the team approximately 97-percent of pseudo-experts picked to win this year’s World Series has started 2-8, and they were 0-6 at one point after losing three straight to the Indians (who I’ll get to shortly). It’s early, man.  Well, you should know that no American League team has ever recovered from such a poor start to even make the playoffs, much less win a World Series.  The Red Sox have overcome much tougher odds in the past, but don’t let people tell you this isn’t a big deal.

Cleveland Indians/Kansas City Royals/Baltimore Orioles

The ol’ “if the season ended today,” adage would have these three teams in the playoffs in the AL. The Indians are the most surprising of the three, touting an eight-game winning streak after giving up 23 runs in the first two games of the season — they have two shutouts and haven’t given up more than four runs in a game since.

Consensus seems to think the Royals are contenders in 2013, but they don’t want to be on everyone else’s schedule. As for the Orioles, Buck Showalter is 40-26 since taking over as manager and has to be giving Orioles fans legitimate hope they’re not merely repeating a trend that has played out in six out of their last seven seasons.

Chris Narveson & Alexi Ogando

A couple of not-that-young pitchers are making noise for their respective teams, and a lot of that noise comes from their pitches popping the catcher’s mitt. Narveson, who started 28 games for the Brewers last year, wasn’t even a lock to make the Brewers’ rotation this season, but has thrown 13 scoreless innings with 14 strikeouts. Here’s a stat: 16-percent of the strikes he’s thrown (117 of 194 pitches) are swung on and missed. Jared Weaver, who leads the MLB in K’s right now, is under 10-percent and Clayton Kershaw, who is 2nd in K’s, is at just over 11-percent. Narveson is throwing unhittable stuff right now.

Ogando is less of a surprise because he was lights out as a reliever last year (1.30 ERA with 39 K’s in 40-plus innings), but he’s been even better as Texas’ No. 5 starter through two starts this season (13 scoreless innings and eight K’s, including outdueling Justin Verlander yesterday). There’s reason to believe hitters will figure out the two-pitch Ogando, but he’s a name along with Narveson nobody would’ve expected to see on a list of just two pitchers who have thrown over 10 innings and have an ERA of all zeros.

Chipper Jones’ strikeouts (or lack thereof)

Jones is a career .306/.405/.941 hitter, so it’s no surprise that, once the soon-to-be 39-year-old decided to come back for another season after last year’s season-ending knee injury, he would hit. What’s surprising, though, is through 37 at bats he has zero strikeouts. The next lowest strikeout total for hitters with at least 35 at bats is two by Placido Polanco, who happens to boast a career strikeout rate of 7.2-percent. Chipper has a career strikeout rate of 15.6-percent. He’s no Joe Sewell in that regard, but he only has 105 more games to break Sewell’s record of consecutive games without a strikeout.

Willie Bloomquist’s stolen bases

New Diamondback Willie Bloomquist is hitting an unsustainable .368/.400/.900, but I want to talk about his six stolen bases, which leads the MLB. Bloomquist’s biggest skill has always been his speed, but it’s never really translated to plus-steals numbers. In the early going, he’s attempting to steal 44-percent of the time he’s been on base and, if he keeps that up — while seeing over 400 plate appearances and maintaining his career OBP — he’ll have over twice as many steals as his career high (25 in 2009 when he attempted to steal only 22-percent of the time he got on base). 

Not-At-All-Honorable Mention

This is apparently what a John Steigerwald got out of the whole “two stupid, on-something Dodgers fans beat 42-year-old Giants fan into coma” story. I’m speechless.  

Leave any other early season surprises you want to talk about in the comments.