You know who the stars on each team are. You can see it from their stats, from leaderboards, from the jerseys on everyone’s backs in the stands. But that can’t tell you everything. Some guys are more than just their surface stats.
So today we look at the players on each team who are having better seasons than their stat sheets might imply. The back of their baseball cards might not blow you away. But these guys have been vital contributors … and may be setting themselves up for something even bigger down the line.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays -- Cavan Biggio, 2B: The other kids of ‘90s stars have gotten all the attention in Toronto, and that .221 average isn’t pretty, but he’s got a terrific batting eye -- as evidenced by his 17 percent walk rate -- and has started to break out of a brutal slump of late. Over his last five games, he's 8-for-19 (.421) with a double, triple and two home runs. The results are coming.
Orioles -- Rio Ruiz, 3B: We are not going to try to talk you into Chris Davis making a comeback. But Ruiz has hit much better since being called back to the Majors on Aug. 9 (.828 OPS), and he’s still just 25 years old.
Rays -- Willy Adames, SS: The exciting young shortstop has taken a step back from what he did his rookie year (109 OPS+ last year, 93 this year), in large part because of an excessive strikeout rate, but there’s too much talent here for this to be his ceiling. He smashed his longest career home run (450 feet) against the Angels on Friday night, giving us a glimpse of that potential.
Red Sox -- Jackie Bradley Jr., CF: That awful start (.406 OPS in April) will make his final season numbers seems lousy, but he’s come around, hitting a respectable .241/.343/.473 since then. He’s likely to be a breakout candidate in 2020 … you know, just like he was in 2019.
Yankees -- Masahiro Tanaka, RHP: His ERA is almost a run higher than it was last year … but you still sense they’ll trust him in the playoffs, and be right to. His WHIP is 1.26, and the rate at which he's allowed home runs is exactly what it was last season -- 1.4 per nine innings -- despite the continuing increase in homers across baseball.
AMERICAN LEAGUE CENTRAL
Indians -- Jose Ramirez, 3B: The most obvious answer on this list. Ramirez's numbers wouldn’t have ended up looking that bad had his season not been cut short. And he had even gotten his numbers to a respectable point (102 OPS+) before he broke his hamate bone. Over his final 53 games, he hit .325/.370/.675 with 15 homers.
Look out in 2020.
Royals -- Brad Keller, RHP: He may be leading the Majors in losses (14), but he has been the Royals’ best, most reliable starter for two straight seasons now. He's thrown 165 1/3 innings over 28 starts so far this season.
Tigers -- Jeimer Candelario, 3B/1B: He was sucked into the Tigers' offensive vortex as much as anyone, but it’s still inconceivable that this guy would only hit seven home runs in a season.
Twins -- Byron Buxton, CF: As always with Buxton, it’s about health: Whenever he stays healthy for a whole season (and it has to happen, right?), he’s going to be all-world. In the first half of this season, he hit .253/.314/.502 with nine homers.
White Sox -- Dylan Cease, RHP: The White Sox believe Cease is a big part of their future plans, and a 6.18 ERA isn’t going to dissuade them of that. Look at Lucas Giolito, after all. In the midst of his struggles, Cease has struck out 24.2 percent of batters faced. And over his last two outings, he's given up two runs over 8 1/3 innings, though he walked eight.
AMERICAN LEAGUE WEST
Angels -- Andrelton Simmons, SS: The offensive numbers are way down from his peak, at .261/.304/.357. But all you need to do is see him in the infield to be able to tell how different the Angels are with him than without him. And a full season of health should do him well.
Astros -- Josh Reddick, RF: This has been the worst year of his career, but even in that, he has contributed to this fantastic team, most recently with a 5-for-5 game Sunday that included a homer and three RBIs. His power numbers are down significantly, but his batting average (.275) is up and he's striking out less (11.8 percent, down from 15.8 percent). The Astros will always find a use for him, and he will likely reward them for that.
Athletics -- Khris Davis, LF: He’s not going to put up that .247 average again this year, and the homers are way down (22 after leading baseball with 48 last season) … but he’s still only 31. The power will return.
Mariners -- Yusei Kikuchi, LHP: His first year in MLB hasn’t gone great (5.46 ERA in 30 starts) but he has too much of a track record of success not to recover at some point.
Rangers -- Rougned Odor, 2B: It can seem like we play this game with Odor every year, but he’s only 25 and there’s just too much talent here for this to be the permanent state. In an otherwise forgettable season, his barrel rate jumped from 7.1 percent last year to 13.4 percent this season, according to Statcast. That explains his 27 homers after he hit 18 last year.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves -- Dansby Swanson, SS: His numbers have taken a dip in the second half, and he may never be the superstar we all once dreamed he might be, but the Braves are one of the best teams in baseball, and they are always, always better when Swanson is in the lineup. And lest we forget, he did hit .270/.330/.493 with 17 home runs before the All-Star break. He’s still got plenty of upside in that bat.
Marlins -- Starlin Castro, 2B: He still never walks, but he’s out there every game, like clockwork. He's also hit 19 homers this season, the second-highest season total of his career (21 in 2016). Do you realize he’s going to reach 2,000 hits in a couple of years?
Mets -- Brandon Nimmo, OF: Obviously it’s never good to be bouncing around the Mendoza Line, but his season was sabotaged by a back injury. Bottom line: Nimmo’s ability to get on base -- his OBP of .374 is 13 points higher than Pete Alonso's! -- will allow that bat to recover.
Nationals -- Victor Robles, CF: He didn’t set the league on fire his rookie season like Juan Soto did, but there is serious post-hype breakout value here in 2020. And he's shown just how good of a defensive player he is in center field, leading MLB in Outs Above Average (18).
Phillies -- Maikel Franco, 3B: He did not build off his 2018 season, currently slashing .236/.300/.414 with 16 homers, and it’s possible the Phillies look elsewhere at third base, but the talent is still there, and he only turned 27 last month.
NATIONAL LEAGUE CENTRAL
Brewers -- Lorenzo Cain, CF: Injury concerns led to a terrible start, but he’s been coming around lately … and without Christian Yelich now, Milwaukee desperately needs him to be his 2018 self. The good news is that if luck has anything to do with it, things should get better: according to Statcast, entering play Sunday, Cain's expected batting average (.287) was significantly higher than his actual batting average (.252), and the same went for his slugging percentage -- the xSLG was .400, whereas his actual SLG is .349.
Cardinals -- Matt Carpenter, INF: It has been a year-long slump for Carpenter, but he’s always been a streaky hitter … he’s just as likely to repeat his 2018 season -- in which he had a 143 OPS+ with 36 homers -- in 2020 as his 2019 campaign, in which he has slumped to an OPS+ of 87, with 12 homers in 117 games.
Cubs -- Craig Kimbrel, RHP: This has been an injury-plagued, frustrating first season for Kimbrel in Chicago. He's only appeared in 21 games and he has a 5.28 ERA. But he’ll have a full Spring Training next year.
Pirates -- Chris Archer, RHP: His season has been cut short by injury, and he posted a 5.19 ERA over 23 starts, the highest single-season ERA of his career. But he has to come around eventually … right?
Reds -- Joey Votto, 1B: His numbers are obviously way down this year, as he's hit just .268/.359/.423 with 15 home runs. But take a step back, and you see how he’s still a steadying force on a young team that will be fascinating to watch next year. And even though the OBP is way down, he’s still hitting more homers than he did last year (12). Expect a big bounce-back next year. He’s Joey Votto, after all.
NATIONAL LEAGUE WEST
D-backs – Robbie Ray, LHP: He didn’t build on 2018, a season in which he posted a 3.93 ERA and 32 percent strikeout rate. But he’s still a young pitcher with a lightning arm, and all told, if this (104 ERA+) is the worst he is, watch out when he’s at his best again.
Dodgers -- Joe Kelly, RHP: All told, this year could end up looking like last year: Struggles during the regular season, but him putting it all together in the playoffs. During the regular season in 2018, he posted a 4.39 ERA over 73 appearances, but went on to help the Red Sox win the World Series with a 0.79 ERA in the postseason. This year, his ERA is 4.65 in 53 outings as the Dodgers look to reach the World Series for a third straight year, and finally win it this time.
Giants -- Buster Posey, C: The offensive dropoff has been dramatic: his .681 OPS this season is 60 points below his previous career low, which he set last year. But he’s still Buster Posey: He has overcome worse.
Padres -- Manuel Margot, CF: He survived the crowded outfield situation and may blossom in 2020 as the rest of his young team matures along with him. He just didn't do it this year, putting up offensive numbers on par with what they've been so far in his young career, including a .721 OPS with 12 homers.
Rockies -- Wade Davis, RHP: It has been a nightmare season for Davis, to say the least. But he has rebounded from nightmare seasons before. A point in his favor is that his road ERA this year is 3.50 in 20 appearances. It's just that at Coors Field, his ERA is 11.10.