Who the heck does Eric Sogard think he is, anyway? Here I am, whiling away my winter months piecing together win forecasts for the 2017 season, updating depth charts with each hot stove maneuver, doling out anticipated portions of playing time for everyone who figures to see action in the coming season. And, no, Sogard did not figure into my prognostication of the Milwaukee Brewers.
So imagine my surprise when I’m at Miller Park a few weeks back, watching Sogard hit a home run in his first big league game since 2015. And he’s hardly slowed down since, putting up a .350/.458/.530 batting line over 32 games. Sure, you wouldn’t bet your house on Sogard continuing at that clip, but what’s done is done. Those numbers are in the books, and the Brewers are in first place.
Out-of-nowhere performances like that of Sogard are one of the joys of baseball. The annals are littered with the feats of the unknown, players who sparkled for a while and oftentimes faded back into the obscurity from whence they came. If you could predict these things, it wouldn’t be half as fun.
In that spirit, let’s celebrate some of the unsung heroes of the first three months of this season by looking at the surprise and impossible-to-predict contributions for each prime contender in the big leagues.
Warren was the uncelebrated part of New York’s return from the Cubs in last July’s Aroldis Chapman trade. Warren has emerged as a glue guy on the Yankees staff, capable of putting up zeroes in multi-inning relief appearances and ranking sixth on the staff with 0.8 WAR, per fangraphs.com. Warren’s .188 BABIP hardly seems sustainable but, again, what’s done is done.
It’s Jose Altuve, George Springer, Carlos Correa and … Marwin? Yep, Gonzalez ranks fourth among Houston’s star-studded group of position players in WAR. And his defensive versatility has made him a solution for whatever non-pitching problems arise for manager A.J. Hinch. At 28, Gonzalez has raked to the tune of a .988 OPS. Last season, that figure was .694. He’s added 107 points in on-base percentage alone.
No one expected the breadth of Cody Bellinger‘s rookie season, but we’re trying to stay away from breakout prospects under this theme. And you know what? Taylor has the same WAR as Bellinger (2.8), putting him on pace to rank among the top 50 or so players in baseball. Entering this season, the failed former Mariners prospect had a .598 OPS over 120 games.
The thin Diamondbacks seemed to be in trouble when Shelby Miller, having a nice bounce-back season, went down for the campaign. In stepped Godley, a 27-year-old righty who had a 6.19 ERA at the big league level last season. All Godley has done since is put up a 2.34 ERA over eight starts with a 3.17 FIP that suggests, yes, he’s pitched that well. Godley has been a vital cog in what has been baseball’s best rotation so far.
Reynolds was the Rockies’ first sacker last year and might seem too accomplished for this list. But let’s not forget that he wasn’t even supposed to be in Colorado’s plans after the Rockies inked Ian Desmond to a big contract over the winter. Reynolds didn’t even re-sign until Feb. 1, and when he did, it was to a minor league deal. When Desmond injured a hand during spring training, Reynolds found himself back in an everyday role and has put up an All-Star-caliber season, with a career-best .934 OPS in his age-33 campaign.
Taylor was thrust into action when Adam Eaton was lost for the season with a knee injury and has filled in nicely. Taylor has a .467 slugging percentage with league-average defensive metrics in center. Washington probably still needs to upgrade — Taylor has a sky-high K rate and an unsustainable .355 BABIP — but he’s proved to be a valuable stopgap.
Gomes was a Silver Slugger winner just three years ago, but after he hit .167 last season, there was no guarantee that he’d remain a starter for an Indians club pointed at a World Series return. He’s not back to award-winning production, but with a .714 OPS, Gomes has done well enough to climb back over replacement level and keep his job.
OK, no one on the Cubs truly fits the bill, so Butler is kind of a default choice. Butler entered the season with a career 6.50 ERA thanks to his time with Colorado, so the fact that he’s been able to make seven above-replacement starts for the defending champs is actually a pretty big deal.
It’s strange to include a sub-.200 hitter, but Gallo actually leads all Texas hitters on WAR, emerging as a Hit Tracker darling because of his prodigious blasts. Gallo didn’t even have a place to play entering the season but has helped keep the Rangers afloat in the absence of Adrian Beltre.
Never drafted, Scott has worked his way up the ranks and emerged as a key lefty killer in the Red Sox bullpen. Scott has pitched to a 1.56 ERA while holding lefty hitters to a minuscule .324 OPS.
Milwaukee Brewers: Eric Sogard
Sogard’s career OPS entering this season was .609 over 1,331 plate appearances. You gotta love baseball.
Dickerson is having an epic career season. After hitting .245/.293/.469 for the Rays a season ago, this year he’s at .325/.362/.579. He’s on pace to put up 6.1 WAR, which would make him one of the top 25 producers in the major leagues. This is exactly the kind of thing we’re talking about.