Almost three months into the season, more statistics are beginning to stabilize, and certain stars are emerging. It has become clear that some players, whose success was initially thought to be the byproduct of small sample trickery, are legitimately on their way to an All-Star caliber season. Some of these players are in the process of establishing new levels of performance. Some are merely reverting to a previously established high level of productivity that was thought to be long gone. Others are living up to their billings as prospects worth monitoring, perhaps reaching that destination sooner than was originally thought.
And in the cases of the players highlighted in this post, some are unexpectedly leading their teams in wOBA. Here are five players having fantastic seasons, but whose names are surprising to see atop their team wOBA leaderboard.
The Flyin’ Hawaiian had himself a series in Seattle this weekend. The Phillies centerfielder went 5-12, with a double, triple, two home runs, five runs batted in, and a walk. Though the Phillies lost two of three to the Mariners, Victorino continued to establish himself as a force in the lineup, jumping from a .350ish wOBA over the last four seasons to a mark exceeding .390. While the Phillies offense isn’t what it used to be, it is still rather surprising to see Victorino leading the team in wOBA with players like Ryan Howard and Chase Utley still in the lineup. Victorino could be one of the most underrated players in the sport.
In 824 career plate appearances, Joyce is now hitting .264/.352/.502, a line mostly fueled by his torrid start this season. At virtually the halfway point of the season he has a .388 wOBA, and the 26-year old has officially arrived. Now he isn’t a better player than Evan Longoria, and a betting man wouldn’t count on Joyce finishing the season atop the Rays wOBA chart, but he has certainly done his part to keep the team afloat in the AL East standings.
His walk rate has dropped significantly from a year ago, though his BABIP has risen thanks to the highest line drive rate of his career. Joyce hits the ball hard, and while he might not see his balls in play continue to fall with this high of a frequency, he has proven himself to be patient and should end up taking free passes a bit more often.
His resurgence has been an ongoing story all season, since the Cardinals look like a potential playoff powerhouse, and Albert Pujols is in the midst of his worst professional season. Holliday is technically the wOBA leader of the team but injuries have kept him from qualifying.
Berkman is hitting .308/.421/.601, good for a robust .427 wOBA, and nothing in his statistical line screams regression. His BABIP is right around .300, his balls in play profiled hasn’t shifted much, and while his flyballs are leaving the yard a quarter of the time, that rate isn’t abnormal relative to his 2005-08 mark.
Finally healthy again, Berkman is picking up right where he left off in his peak years, and should be in line for a lucrative deal as a 36-year old free agent next season.
The health and relative ineffectiveness of Hanley Ramirez has been a major story in Florida this season, along with the injury to Josh Johnson, and the surprise production and popularity of outfielder Logan Morrison. Lost in the shuffle is how stellar Sanchez has been. Though he isn’t much of a prospect anymore at 27 years old, Sanchez has come into his own this season, hitting .309/.387/.507 with a team-leading .387 wOBA.
Even more impressive is how he has improved at the plate. Sanchez is walking more, whiffing less, and hitting the ball harder than ever before. It comes as no surprise that his plate discipline metrics are all trending in the right direction: he has become more selective, swinging less often, while making more contact.
He hit 24 home runs in 136 games last season. In just about half of the playing time this season he is already at 21 dingers, and is on pace to match his 7.8 WAR in 2007. That season he become one of the few players in baseball history to record 20 or more doubles, triples, homers, and steals. He probably won’t repeat that feat this season, but his .408 wOBA leads the Bronx Bombers, and his .309 BABIP is actually below his career mark.
The wOBA leaders for the majority of teams aren’t surprising, with names like Adrian Gonzalez, Miguel Cabrera, Jose Bautista, and Joey Votto at the top of the charts. But some teams are lacking a clear-cut superstar of that mold, and others simply haven’t gotten consistent production from their should-be studs. The players above speak to the importance of building depth with a roster, as some of these perceived second-tier players are carrying the offenses of legitimate playoff contenders.
These hitters might not finish the season at the top of their club’s wOBA leaderboard, but their performances through the halfway point of the season seem to be much more than something associated with small sample sizes.
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