Baseball will really mess with your mind, man.
Analyze it, scrutinize it, conceptualize and contextualize it all you want, but things (a whole bunch of things) are going to happen in a Major League season that nobody (and I do mean nobody) saw coming.
This is a list of seven such things from 2019.*
*If you actually did see any of these coming, you have my sincerest apology.**
**Unless, of course, you’re lying.***
***I kind of feel like you’re lying.
Note that all stats included in this piece were from the start of the weekend.
1. The Twins are the greatest slugging team of all time
All right, that’s a sentence meant to be taken more literally than figuratively, because … literally: The Twins have the highest team slugging percentage in history.
2019 Twins: .499
2003 Red Sox: .491
1927 Yankees: .489
We like to work in ’27 Yankees comparisons any chance we get.
Now, obviously, there are environmental factors in play here. But even if you figured the new-look Twins lineup, which ranked 18th in the Majors in slugging last season, would mash quite a bit more in 2019 after the additions of C.J. Cron, Jonathan Schoop and the ageless Nelson Cruz, this is certainly on the extreme side.
Oh, and Mitch Garver has the 12th-highest slugging percentage all time for a catcher with at least 250 plate appearances, which … what? C’mon.
2. The Yankees have a starters’ ERA near 5, their WAR leaders are DJ LeMahieu, Mike Tauchman and Gio Urshela … and they’re running away with the American League East, anyway
Or to put it another way: Entering the weekend, Pablo Sandoval had as many home runs (14) as Aaron Judge and Giancarlo Stanton combined. Pablo Sandoval! In 2019! (Alas, the Panda is having Tommy John surgery and will ultimately come up short here.)
A decent segment of the country might be tired of hearing about the Yankees’ triumph over injury adversity, and I might be tired of writing it. But this is what can happen when you don’t cut corners on scouting and development. You can withstand an awful lot. The Yankees sure have.
3. Cody Bellinger is a lefty killer
Whether he’s the best player in the National League is up for debate. (I’m sure Milwaukeeans have strong feelings about another guy). But Bellinger has to be the most improved player in all of the Majors.
Bellinger rode the bench in Games 1 and 2 of the World Series last year because manager Dave Roberts deemed him unplayable against top lefties. It was a defensible move, as Bellinger had a .681 OPS against left-handers -- the third-lowest of any player in the Majors with at least 200 plate appearances vs. lefties. But this year, his 1.054 OPS against lefties is the best of anybody with at least 150 plate appearances in that scenario. It’s easy to grow immune to this rise in profile, because Bellinger has been raking since Day 1 this season. But that’s crazy.
And let’s not forget to mention Will Smith’s out-of-nowhere emergence as one of the best rookies in baseball. And don’t even get us started on Hyun-Jin Ryu’s season.
(See why the Dodgers are so good?)
4. Lucas Giolito could be a Cy Young Award finalist
Last year, the White Sox right-hander had as many wins as the NL Cy Young Award winner, which, in another era, would have sounded pretty good. Except that NL Cy Young winner (Jacob deGrom) had an all-time low win total (10) for any starting pitcher who won the award, and Giolito had the highest ERA (6.13) of any qualified pitcher in baseball.
Former top prospects sometimes take longer than expected to pan out, particularly on the pitching side. So it’s not as if the 25-year-old Giolito’s emergence as a top arm in the AL comes totally out of nowhere. Still, to progress this much this fast -- from a 70 ERA+ in 2018 (or 30 percent below league average) to 144 this year (or 44 percent better than league average) -- is pretty remarkable, and a testament to Giolito’s maturity and willingness to reform his repertoire.
5. Ketel Marte is one of the best players in baseball
By FanGraphs’ WAR calculation, the D-backs’ middle-of-the-diamond maestro ranks fourth in all of baseball at 5.7 through 121 games. To put that in perspective, Marte’s career bWAR, entering 2018, was 4.7 in 402 career games.
The livelier ball has certainly contributed to Marte more than doubling his career home run total (27 this season vs. 22 in the four seasons prior), but this is a player who also made a successful shift from second base to center field while also raising his on-base percentage about 50 points.
6. The Indians have one of the best rotations in baseball … without Corey Kluber, Carlos Carrasco and Trevor Bauer
By ERA+, their starters (127) rank second only to those opener-employing Rays (128). By straight-up ERA (3.87), they rank fifth, behind only the Dodgers, Rays, Nationals and Astros. They are third in quality start percentage.
Point is, they’ve been good. Even though Kluber (broken right forearm and now left oblique strain) has made only seven starts (with a 5.80 ERA, no less), Carrasco has been out since early June because of leukemia treatment, and Bauer was traded on July 31 (in the midst of a season of steep regression from his 2018). The Tribe’s overall depth in this area, with Shane Bieber and Mike Clevinger stepping into ace-type roles and Zach Plesac and Aaron Civale among the best rookie starters in baseball, was underrated.
7. The Mets are genuine contenders
Forget Opening Day. This is a stunning surprise relative to, like, a month ago. At the conclusion of play on July 24, the Mets’ FanGraphs-calculated playoff chances were just 3.9 percent, yet they entered this weekend at 52.2 percent.
Was there any sober, objective analysis of the Mets’ Trade Deadline acquisition of Marcus Stroman (and subsequent retainment of Noah Syndergaard) that labeled it as anything other than a colossal misinterpretation of their October odds? Pass the crow.
Finally, just a note that if there are any major developments I haven’t listed here, it’s only because I, in my infinite wisdom, actually did see those coming.*
*OK, now I’m the one lying.
Anthony Castrovince has been a reporter for MLB.com since 2004. Read his columns and follow him on Twitter at @Castrovince.