2015 MLB first-half all-surprise team

Yankees slugger Mark Teixeira is among the major leaguers who have surprised this season.
Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

By Joe Lucia

The first half is officially in the books for most teams in the league, as all but four teams across the league have played 81 games. Since we’ve reached this threshold, we thought it would be interesting to take a look at the biggest (positive) surprises of the first half and create a team based on those surprises. We didn’t expect much from these guys this year … but they’re delivering.

C: Stephen Vogt. Vogt started his career by going 0/25 with the Rays in 2012. He split 2013 between AAA and the majors with the A’s, and was an adequate bench player. Last season with Oakland, he was a decent part-time player, hitting .279/.321/.431 in 84 games. This year? Well, he’s been something else entirely. Over 80 games, Vogt has hit 13 homers, matching the total of his entire career until this point. He’s also walked at a double digit clip and has smashed the ball to a .290/.380/.502 line while taking over from Derek Norris as Oakland’s everyday backstop. Hey, not bad for a 30-year old that wasn’t ever supposed to be much of anything to begin with.

1B: Mark Teixeira. Mark Teixeira’s Yankee tenure looked like it would end with a whimper. He played in just 15 games in 2013 because of a wrist injury that eventually required surgery. He returned for the 2014 season, and despite hitting 22 homers, Teixeira struggled overall to a .216/.313/.398 line. In 2015, something clicked with Teixeira. Through 76 games, he’s hit .243/.356/.532 with 20 homers, nearly matching his total from last season already. Barring another injury, Teixeira will likely hit 30 homers for the first time since 2011. And in case you’re willing to chalk this up to a hot start, yes, Texeira hit nine homers in April. But his OPS didn’t drop below .872 in May or June, and is also above that mark during a small sample in July so far. He’s been good all season.

2B: Logan Forsythe. Here’s a list of Logan Forsythe’s wRC+ in the majors since 2011: 60, 110, 74, 80, 130. The 28-year old sure has broken out this season with the Rays, finally getting regular playing time at the age of 28. Through 82 games, he’s hitting .281/.365/.425  with a career-high eight homers and seven steals, just one off of his career-high of eight. Tampa Bay knew what they were getting with Forsythe when they acquired him from San Diego prior to the 2014 season, but I don’t think they would have expected him to replace Ben Zobrist so well  at second base.

SS: Adeiny Hechavarria. Hechavarria has had the rep of an all-glove, no bat guy, despite advanced defensive metrics not really backing the strong claims on his defense. This season, they do – Hechavarria is a +6 according to DRS and a 7.8 according to UZR. That helps his overall value, but what’s arguably helping more is his bat becoming a bit less impotent. In 80 games, Hechavarria is hitting .288/.325/.390 with four homers. A year ago, he hit .276/.308/.356 with one homer. The performance is finally matching the hype with Hechavarria, and I’m actually a bit shocked he’s turned it around like this.

3B: Nolan Arenado. Arenado started his career in 2013 as a weird player – plus defense at third, but a below average bat (despite playing at Coors Field). Last year, the defense remained strong and the offense jumped up a tick. This year, Arenado’s power numbers have gone through the roof, and he’s jumped into the conversation for “best third baseman in baseball” at the age of 24. In 79 games this year, Arenado is hitting .283/.314/.599 with 24 homers, already six more than he did in 2014. And in case you just want to pin this on Coors Field, 15 of those 24 homers have come outside of Denver.

OF: Cameron Maybin. Maybin was a throw-in as part of the Craig Kimbrel trade, a way for the Padres to clear another roster spot and dump a little extra salary (while bringing on Melvin Upton Jr’s contract). The Braves didn’t even think of Maybin as their starter in center field after acquiring him, instead bowing to veteran Eric Young Jr. But Maybin quickly took hold of the job at Turner Field, and hasn’t shown any signs of letting go. After playing just 109 games combined over the last two seasons, Maybin has already logged 73 this season, hitting .294/.363/.416 with seven homers and 15 steals. As a comparison, he homered just twice and stole only eight bases over the last two years combined. Atlanta thought they would be getting a guy who could be a useful bench piece (if that), but instead have a quality starting center fielder – and one that could be trade bait over the next month.

OF: Joc Pederson. When the Dodgers handed the rookie Pederson their starting center field job this spring, I think we all expected him to be in the think of the NL Rookie of the Year race. But the NL MVP race? Maybe not. Sure enough, Pederson has been one of the best outfielders in all of baseball this season, launching 20 homers to go along with an Adam Dunn-esque .234/.372/.504 line. He’s walking, hitting for power, playing plus defense in center, and his performance hasn’t really dropped off as the season has gone along? Oh yeah, this is exciting.

OF: Andre Ethier. The Dodgers couldn’t give Ethier away this season. He was a sunk cost, owed an absurd $54.5 million through 2017 (including a buyout on a 2018 club option). But after the year he’s had, the Dodgers have to be thrilled they didn’t get rid of him. Ethier has been a savior with both Carl Crawford and Yasiel Puig missing significant time, hitting .270/.353/.473 with ten homers in 76 games this year. Meanwhile, Matt Kemp has a .641 OPS for the Padres and has been a sub-replacement level player. I think they made the right decision.

SP: Ubaldo Jimenez. Saying that Ubaldo Jimenez was “useless” last season may be an understatement. In 22 starts and three relief appearances for the Orioles, he threw just 125 1/3 innings, pitching to a 4.81 ERA, striking out 116, and walking an unsightly 77 hitters. It was the first year of a four-year, $50 million contract, and Baltimore wasn’t thrilled. But something happened this offseason, and Jimenez has been an absolute savior for the Orioles. He’s thrown 94 1/3 innings over 16 starts, has punched out 93, and has allowed just 29 free passes. His 7.4% walk rate is a career low, and his 23.6% strikeout rate is the third-highest mark of his career, just a hair behind his 2010 mark with the Rockies. Jimenez is also getting ground balls at a 46.4% clip, his highest total since 2011, the season that saw him get dealt by the Rockies to the Indians. So, maybe those final two years on his contract won’t be such a drain on the Orioles after all…

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