• HaroldHecuba: Mike Mussina is EASTERN EUROPEAN, not Italian....

Quickly, before the playoffs start something like 10 hours, I thought I’d open up the floor for the regular season’s biggest surprises. To get the ball rolling, here are mine, in no particular order:

The (comparative) total suckage of the Cleveland Indians. Last year, they were one ALCS win away from heading to the World Series. Their manager was thought, in some quarters, to be a guru of the beard-wearing, mountaintop-cave-dwelling variety. This year, they finished 81-81, the very definition of mediocre. No one saw this coming. No one.

The sure hands of Ryan Braun. No, left field isn’t exactly shortstop, but even so: in 149 games, he made not a single error (hat tip to Brew Crew Ball). That’s after making 26 at third base last year in 112 games. His range factor and zone rating were both in the top five of qualified MLB left fielders, well ahead of, for instance, Jason Bay, who is touted for his defensive ability. After snubbing Braun with my ROY pick last year largely for his crappy defense, I was surprised but pleased to see the apparent turnaround. Dreamy Eyes, I salute you.

The worst-to-first season of the Tampa Bay Rays. I know, this one’s a gimme. It’s pretty obvious. But unlike most of the commentariat, I think we here at UmpBump actually weren’t that surprised by the Rays’ solid performance this year. (Unlike, say, this breathless cover at SI.) Even so, I don’t think any of us actually expected them to win the notoriously tough AL East this year.

The total badassery of Cliff Lee. Another obvious pick. Show me one writer who picked him to be the best pitcher in the AL this year. Show. Me. One.

The signing of Kenji Johjima. Even at the time, I had absolutely no idea why the Mariners made this deal. A 3-year extension for the subpar Johjima when their best prospect was also a catcher? No wonder the baseball world was blindsided. Now that he ended up OPSing just over .600 this year, the deal looks like the worst of 2008–and the hot-stove season hasn’t yet begun.

That’s all I got for now. (More coffee is clearly required.) What surprised y’all about this season? No surprise too big or too small!

19 Responses to “Open Thread: Big Surprises of the 2008 Season”

  1. how about the immergence of facial hair on The Yankees their not making the post season and the suckiness of just about all of their prospects?

    seriously I thought they had a policy against facial hair.

    How about the Mets blowing it (again)
    and The Brewers kicking ass and even making a big mid-season deal? and Manny getting traded! all suprises to me.

  2. Paul Moro says:

    I’m still surprised that the Twins made it this far. They trade away Santana. Of the four players they received, the only guy that played an inning for them was Carlos Gomez, who was probably the best defensive CFer in baseball, but the guy did OBP below .300, which needless to say, is just plain awful. Lose Santana, get Gomez, survive to play a 163rd game.

    They slug .408 as a team (10th out the 14 AL teams) and still score the 3rd most runs per game. They allow 9.6 hits per 9, tied for 12th out the 14 and still manage to have a better than league average ERA. They collectively bat .279 but hit .305 with RISP, which is a pretty large split.

    If I say it was luck, I will end up seriously offending a lot of Twins fans. But dang it, the simplest answer is the correct one.

  3. Coley Ward says:

    Ryan Ludwick and Carlos Quentin were big surprises.

  4. Coley Ward says:

    Also, I really thought the Braves would do better than they did. But I guess I was assuming John Smoltz would continue to defy the aging process. And Jeff Francoeur — could he have been any worse? Even if you didn’t think Francoeur would have a good season, you couldn’t have predicted that he would be as bad as he was.

  5. Sarah Green says:

    I wasn’t too surprised by the Braves’ season—but I had predicted the Mariners to win the West this year. Go figure.

  6. Paul Moro says:

    Ludwick’s a good one. He’s the leading candidate for the anti-comeback player of the year award for 2009.

  7. Paul Moro says:

    And regarding the Braves, I was more surprised that the Marlins hung in for as long as they did than I was at the fact that the Braves finished 18 under.

    The Marlins had Mark Hendrickson as their Opening Day starter. Who saw Nolasco and Volstad coming?

  8. Coley Ward says:

    I really hope the Phillies win the World Series this year, because I am really scared of what the Marlins could do next season. Volstad, Nolasco and Johnson are a formidable front three. And with the emergence of CF Cameron Maybin…yikes.

  9. Ryan Dempster and his 17 wins after returning to the starting rotation has been a huge and wonderful surprise for me. The guy dedicated himself in the off-season with a new workout routine and he has been nails all-season long. I was also shocked that Jim Hendry was able to pick up Ace pitcher Rich Harden for next to nothing.
    In another shock to me I agree with Coley about something, Carlos Quentin and Ryan Ludwick were also big surprises to me. I saw both of these guys play quite a bit this year and was very impressed.

    I’m still waiting for the biggest shocker of all; CUBS WIN WORLD SERIES!

  10. Paul Moro says:

    Coley, out of the three Florida pitchers you mentioned, I do think that Volstad is going to take a step back. But Johnson and Nolasco can be a good 1-2 as long as their ability to keep walks low (which is something they did for the first time in their careers this year) isn’t a fluke.

    But I still wouldn’t worry about the Marlins in ’09 as of right now. They have like 18 players who are arbitration-eligible. Uggla, Jacobs, Nolasco, Olsen, Gregg, Willingham, Cantu, Hermida, Ross, Johnson, Mitre, Nelson, etc, etc. They can’t resign all these guys.

  11. Sarah Green says:

    Here’s another surprise: Mike Mussina allegedly thinking about retiring. He’s just come off a 20-win season (his first!) and is only 30 wins shy of 300. And yet he’s supposedly thinking of hanging up his spikes. Wow.

  12. Coley Ward says:

    I think Mussina winning 20 was the surprising part. Last year he was washed up.

  13. Sarah Green says:

    But as someone (Paul?) pointed out, that really shouldn’t have been so surprising given his BABIP last year.

    But anytime a pitcher wins 20 these days, it’s definitely a surprise. So I halfway agree with you. :)

  14. Paul Moro says:

    Sarah, it was Nick, not I.

    http://umpbump.com/press/2008/06/04/reports-of-mike-mussinas-demise-were-very-premature/

    But I think it has more to do with his Ks coming back than BABIP.

  15. Sarah Green says:

    You, Nick, who can tell the difference?

  16. Paul Moro says:

    You don’t get it, Sarah? One of us is Japanese. The other lives in Japan. One loves sabermetrics. The other loves sabermetrics. I mean, it’s like night and day.

  17. I am very surprised that the Cubbies are down 2-0 to the LA Mannies right now. especially given how one-note the D’s are, and how much more depth the Cs have.

    also the Tigers are very much a no-brainer “surprise” – that such an all-star roster could be so insignificant, after everyone in April picked them to be a serious contender this year.

  18. Sarah Green says:

    I hate to say I told you so (wait, who the HELL am I kidding? I love saying that!) but I was v. disappointed with the Tigers offseason moves. But still, I did pick them to be a contender. I just thought they would lose in the postseason. All the same, while the enormity of their sucktitude was surprising, I was not surprised that there was some level of suckage.

  19. Alejandro Leal says:

    I’m a bit surprised the White Sox are 4-0 in elimination games this year. It’s like they don’t care if they’re losing, until the game after which they can’t lose anymore… so they win.

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