Major League Baseball's regular season is nearly 70 percent of the way finished. Every team has completed at least 110 of their scheduled contests as of Tuesday night, providing us with a good outline of what their years will look like, even if there are finer details left to fill in. It's that time of the year, then, when we feel more comfortable writing about broader concepts.
That analytical freedom includes, as you might've picked up on from the headline, highlighting 10 players who are having surprisingly good seasons. These exercises are always more art than science, but we crafted this list using some basic ground rules. Number one, a player had to have at least 45 innings or 200 plate appearances to be considered; number two, the player had to have exceeded expectations and/or their past performances in a big way.
To use an example, Pittsburgh Pirates outfielder Bryan Reynoldsentered Wednesday hitting .305/.388/.526 (146 OPS+). He's having a phenomenal season, no doubt about it; he's not on here, though, because just two seasons ago he hit .314/.377/.503 (129 OPS+). Reynolds is having a better season now than he did then, but we don't think his success counts as a "surprise."
With that out of the way, let's get to it. (Do note the players are presented alphabetically.)
When the Tigers selected Akil Baddoo No. 3 in last winter's Rule 5 Draft, we praised his power-speed combination and warned that he might be overexposed against big-league pitching this season thanks to reps lost to injuries and the pandemic. He's made those concerns look foolish by hitting .267/.333/.467 with 10 home runs, 24 troubles (that's triples plus doubles), and 14 stolen bases (on 18 tries) in his first 333 plate appearances. It would be easy to scoff at Baddoo's success because of his unimpressive 85.3 mph average exit velocity (it ranks in the 2nd percentile), but part of his game's charm is his ability to reach on choppers, rollers, cue balls, and other mishits. Sure enough, his .308 average on batted balls with an exit velocity no greater than 70 mph is the 11th highest in the majors. Given the circumstances, he would be a clear win for Al Avila and the Tigers even if his production was significantly worse.
The Athletics acquired left-hander Cole Irvin in January for cash considerations when the Philadelphia Phillies needed to create a roster spot for Matt Moore. Not only has Irvin outpitched Moore since, he's become an important part of the A's rotation by posting a 3.45 ERA (119 ERA+) and a 3.92 strikeout-to-walk ratio over 130 frames. He doesn't throw hard or miss bats, and he doesn't stand out in any of the other trendy ways (spin rate, extension), but he pounds the zone and he locates well and sometimes that's still enough to get the job done.
Cedric Mullins was on the trade market this spring, as the Orioleswere unsure if he'd crack their Opening Day roster. He did, and now the Orioles have to be glad they couldn't find a suitor. Mullins has hit .320/.385/.551 (155 OPS+) with 20 home runs and 21 steals (on 28 tries) in his first 109 games. He's striking out less often and walking more often, of course, but the most interesting part of his season pertains to his launch angle. Mullins' 15.1 degrees mark is almost identical to the 15.6 he posted last season, yet a closer look reveals that he's sent fewer batted balls into the extremes, either by popping it up or hitting it into the ground. As a result, a higher share of his batted balls have the potential to do damage — and do damage they have. It's fair to write that if Mullins is traded at some point this upcoming winter, it'll be for much more than he would've fetched in spring.
Tyler O'Neill entered the spring with a career slash line of .229/.291/.422 in 450 plate appearances. The Cardinalsnevertheless still seemed to believe in his ability to become something greater, and he's rewarded their patience to date. O'Neill has hit .280/.346/.518 (138 OPS+) with 18 home runs in his first 89 games this season. His 93.3 mph average exit velocity is the ninth highest in the majors, and he's hit the ball within the 10-to-30 degrees sweet spot the third most among batters with at least 300 plate appearances. That's a heck of a combination, and it explains why O'Neill has been St. Louis' best hitter this season.