The Five Most Surprising Players In Major League Baseball

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    As we’re entering the “dog days of summer,” it means that the 2022 MLB season is nearly at its midpoint. We’ve seen superstars like Shohei Ohtani, Mike Trout, Manny Machado, Aaron Judge, and Corbin Burnes continue to shine; but we’ve also seen surprising players play like stars. Here are my five most surprising players so far in 2022:

    * All stats used in this post are before games played on July 2

    1. Taylor Ward, Los Angeles Angels RF

    2022 stats: 55 GP, .305/.392/.537, 167 wRC+, -1 DRS, 2 OAA, 0.3 BsR, 2.5 fWAR

    ANAHEIM, CALIFORNIA – JUNE 27: Taylor Ward #3 of the Los Angeles Angels hits a two-run rbi double against the Chicago White Sox in the seventh inning at Angel Stadium of Anaheim on June 27, 2022 in Anaheim, California. (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)

    Taylor Ward was the Angels’ first round pick in 2015, but he hasn’t shown why he was a first round pick until this season. In his first 159 career games from 2018-2021, Ward was about replacement level as he hit .230/.305/.388 (90 wRC+) and had a 0.2 fWAR. One reason why Ward has enjoyed a breakout season in 2022 is that he vastly improved his plate discipline. From 2018-2021 to this season Ward’s K% has decreased from 28.3 to 23.7 and his BB% has increased from 8.1 to 12.5 – this has helped Ward increase his OBP from .305 to an amazing .392. In addition to improving his plate discipline, Ward has improved his power as he’s hit a career high 11 homers, has a .537 SLG, and .232 ISO. The main reason Ward’s power has improved is that he’s barreling more baseball, hitting fewer grounders, and hitting more fly balls. Ward has increased his barrel% to 14.2 in 2022 from 8.5 across 2018-2021 and he has decreased his GB/FB from 1.01 to 0.84. Here’s how Ward has stacked up against some of MLB’s best outfielders so far this season:

    Taylor Ward55.392.537167-120.32.5
    Julio Rodriguez78.355.471135252.02.6
    Brandon Nimmo69.359.425127-13-1.12.3
    George Springer69.342.495134-112.02.1

    2. Martin Perez, Texas Rangers LHP

    2022 stats: 93.1 IP, 2.22 ERA, 3.05 xERA, 2.59 FIP, 3.66 xFIP, 3.83 SIERA, 20.2 K%, 6.0 BB%, 2.6 fWAR

    KANSAS CITY, MO – JUNE 27: Martin Perez #54 of the Texas Rangers on the mound against the Kansas City Royals during the first inning at Kauffman Stadium on June 27, 2022 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Reed Hoffmann/Getty Images)

    Martin Perez is 31 years old and is pitching his 11th season in the Major Leagues, yet, he has posted his highest career fWAR in just 93.1 innings pitched. Part of the reason why Perez has been so successful this season compared to the rest of his career is that his strikeouts are up and his walks are down. From 2012-2021 Perez’s K% was 15.3 and his BB% was 8.3 and in 2022 his K% is 20.2 and his BB% is 6.0. Another reason why Perez has been so successful this season is that even when batters make contact, they’re not barreling him up as his 2.9 barrel% has ranked in the 95th percentile. The final reason Perez has been so successful this season is sheer luck. Despite his FB% increasing from his 2012-2021 clip, Perez’s HR/9 is down to 0.19 from 1.07 and his HR/FB is down to 2.4% from 12.7%. These numbers are extremely unsustainable and I expect Perez to regress more towards his peripherals, but that’s not to take away from how successful Perez has been so far this season. Here’s how Perez has stacked up against some of the other best starters in the American League so far this season:

    Martin Perez93.
    Shane Bieber91.
    Framber Valdez95.02.653.263.333.233.3620.88.61.9
    Tarik Skubal84.03.753.332.723.183.3226.16.22.4

    3. Tony Gonsolin, Los Angeles Dodgers RHP

    2022 stats: 81.2 IP, 1.54 ERA, 2.88 xERA, 3.31 FIP, 3.77 xFIP, 3.69 SIERA, 24.9 K%, 7.4 BB%, 1.7 fWAR

    ATLANTA, GA – JUNE 26: Tony Gonsolin #26 of the Los Angeles Dodgers pitches during the first inning against the Atlanta Braves at Truist Park on June 26, 2022 in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Todd Kirkland/Getty Images)

    Ever since Tony Gonsolin debuted in the Major Leagues, he’s been a very solid pitcher. However, if you asked me before the season to guess which starting pitcher would have the lowest ERA at the beginning of July and you gave me 30 chances, Tony Gonsolin’s name would not have been on the list. But here we are and Gonsolin’s 1.54 ERA is the best among qualified starting pitchers. Gonsolin’s success has mainly come from initiating weak contact. Gonsolin’s 6.3 barrel% (68th percentile) and 30.1 hard hit% (93rd percentile) have really limited what hitters have been able to do at the plate which is why opponents only have a .186 BABIP against him – the lowest among all qualified starters in the Majors. Additionally, Gonsolin does a decent job missing bats striking out 24.9% of batters and generating a 29.6 CSW%. Gonsolin’s biggest improvement this season has been limiting the free passes – his 7.4 BB% this season is down 2.3% from 2018-2021. Gonsolin has always seemed to outperform his peripherals, so his performance isn’t abnormal, but I don’t think he’ll be able to sustain his incredible 1.54 ERA going forward. Here’s how Gonsolin has stacked up against some of the other best starters in the National League so far this season:

    Tony Gonsolin81.21.542.883.313.773.6924.97.41.7
    Joe Musgrove92.02.252.863.123.083.2425.65.32.3
    Logan Webb91.23.043.403.033.213.4221.95.92.0
    Merrill Kelly91.03.463.653.414.054.2919.68.21.7

    4. Kyle Wright, Atlanta Braves RHP

    2022 stats: 92.0 IP, 3.03 ERA, 3.47 xERA, 3.06 FIP, 3.34 xFIP, 3.46 SIERA, 25.7 K%, 8.0 BB%, 2.1 fWAR

    PHILADELPHIA, PA – JUNE 29: Kyle Wright #30 of the Atlanta Braves throws a pitch against the Philadelphia Phillies at Citizens Bank Park on June 29, 2022 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Mitchell Leff/Getty Images)

    The Braves selected Kyle Wright with the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft, but they’re just starting to receive dividends on their investment this season. When Wright did receive opportunities from 2018-2021, he was very disappointing. Wright had a 6.56 ERA in 70.0 innings (14 starts and 7 relief appearances) with peripherals that didn’t look much better and a -0.8 fWAR. Despite his rough showing, Wright made the Braves’ World Series roster and tossed 5.2 innings of scoreless baseball striking out six Astros. Even after his World Series performance, Wright did not make Atlanta’s Opening Day roster to start the 2022 season. However, once Wright did get his chance, he took the opportunity and has run with it. One of the main reasons why Wright is having much more success this year compared to the years prior is his improved command. Wright walked 14.8% of the batters he faced from 2018-2021 but has only walked 8.0% of the batters he’s faced this year. Another reason why Wright is having success this year is that he’s keeping the ball on the ground. Opposing hitters had an 11.1 launch angle against Wright from 2018-2021 has decreased to 5.9° this season, their GB% has increased from 43.3% to 52.9%, and their FB% has decreased from 34.6% to 29.4%. A final reason why Wright has improved so much this season is that he was finally given a proper chance. Talent + opportunity usually equals success, and it has in Wright’s case. Here’s how Gonsolin has stacked up against some of the other best starters in the National League so far this season:

    Kyle Wright92.03.033.473.063.343.4625.78.02.1
    Zack Wheeler81.02.892.902.532.943.0128.55.82.6
    Yu Darvish88.13.263.673.194.043.8621.35.12.0
    Miles Mikolas100.02.613.233.503.863.9619.85.31.8

    5. Andres Gimenez, Cleveland Guardians 2B

    2022 stats: 64 GP, .308/.355/.502, 145 wRC+, 10 DRS, 4 OAA, 0.3 BsR, 2.5 fWAR

    CLEVELAND, OHIO – JUNE 11: Second baseman Andres Gimenez #0 of the Cleveland Guardiansthrows out Elvis Andrus #17 of the Oakland Athletics at first to end the top of the sixth inning at Progressive Field on June 11, 2022 in Cleveland, Ohio. (Photo by Jason Miller/Getty Images)

    Gimenez had an all around solid rookie season with the Mets in 2020, but he was dealt to Cleveland as part of the deal that sent Francisco Lindor to Queens after the season. Gimenez continued his great defense and base running with Cleveland in 2021, but he could not hit. At all. Gimenez had a very poor .218/.282/.351 slash line and he was even optioned to the Minor Leagues for a couple of months. Gimenez has clearly put 2021 behind him as he’s top three in AVG, SLG, and wRC+ among all qualified second basemen so far this season. Gimenez’s biggest improvement at the plate from 2020-2021 to now is that he’s started barreling baseballs. Gimenez only barreled 3.5% baseballs from 2020-2021 but has barreled 8.3% this season. This has also led to increases in his hard hit% and average exit velocity which have drastically helped him at the plate. Another reason why Gimenez has improved so much this season is a little bit of BABIP luck. Giminez’s BABIP was about league average at .292 from 2020-2021 but has soared to .357 this season. His quality of contact has definitely helped, but there’s probably a little bit of luck involved, too. With an extremely poor walk rate (4th percentile), Gimenez needs his BABIP to remain high in order to be successful at the plate. Regardless, there’s a legitimate argument that Gimenez should be the American League’s starting second base at the All Star game. Here’s how Gimenez has stacked up against some of MLB’s best second basemen so far this season:

    Andres Gimenez64.355.5021451040.32.5
    Jose Altuve61.356.513152-20-4.02.1
    Jazz Chisholm Jr.60.325.535139432.02.5
    Jeff McNeil68.378.451140-201.62.3

    I am a freshman studying magazine, news and digital journalism at the Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications

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    Justin Girshon
    I am a freshman studying magazine, news and digital journalism at the Syracuse University Newhouse School of Public Communications


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