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This is something I like to call the All-Surprise Team. By surprise, I mean the pleasant variety as opposed to, say, an IRS audit or a trans-Atlantic plane ride seated next to Bronson Pinchot. Now to classify something as a “surprise,” you’re wallowing in the subjective. It’s a bit like calling someone “underrated” or “Democratic presidential candidate”–loosely defined and perhaps without any value at all.

In order to apply a standard more firm than my own capricious notion of the word surprise, I’ve turned to Nate Silver’s PECOTA projection system. In isolation it’s enough to give a liberal-arts buffoon like me that monkey-opening-coconut feeling, but fortunately it’s laid out right here in all its easily digestible glory. Know that it rawks, and that I’m leaning heavily on it for this little ditty.

In any event, with a shout-out to PECOTA, here’s my 2003 All-Surprise Team…

  • Catcher: Javy Lopez, Braves. Lopez hasn’t had a truly impressive year at the plate since 1999, but this season he’s been “slap yo’ momma” good. PECOTA’s 90th-percentile projection (meaning at least a fair number of planets must be aligned for him to pull it off) called for a .262/.326/.430/.263 EQA season. What’s he done? He’s knocked the crap out of the ball (.327/.379/.668/.333 EQA). He’s missed some time to injury and Greg Maddux weirdness, but Lopez has still exceeded all reasonable expectations. He’s been underrated for a long time.
  • First Base: Doug Mientkiewicz, Twins. As with any ad hoc All-Star team, there has to be at least one underwhelming selection that strains to meet even vaguely defined criteria. Underwhelming selection, thy name is Doug. Even so, Mienkie is besting his PECOTA 75th-percentile forecast by a slim margin and, of course, putting up strong rate stats for the year (.300/.390/.457, .296 EQA). Those aren’t head-slappingly good numbers for a first baseman, but considering his PECOTA weighted mean called for a .269/.364/.412 season I feel justified enough for gummint work.
  • Second Base: Marcus Giles, Braves. Giles put up impressive minor league numbers, but a lack of playing time, slow starts and personal tragedy all conspired against him at the highest level. 2003, however, has been a different kettle of fish altogether. Giles is swatting to the tune of .319/.393/.538 with a .323 EQA. Although many have long predicted he’d emerge as a strong offensive middle infielder, he’s exceeding expectations by a healthy margin. He’s outperforming his 90th-percentile PECOTA forecast and is a big reason the Braves have repositioned themselves as an offensive juggernaut.
  • Third Base: Bill Mueller, Red Sox. Mueller’s always been a solid-to-good offensive player, but he’s never displayed batting chops like this. He’s raking in ’03 (.323/.398/.550, .316 EQA) and has been the best third baseman in all of baseball. On the PECOTA side of things, Mueller gives a hearty bitch-slap to even his 90th-percentile forecast, which called for a .295 EQA.
  • Shortstop: Angel Berroa, Royals. Two years ago, Berroa was one of the most coveted middle-infield prospects in the game. But he then became a casualty of the Dominican Carbon-Dating ProjectTM and topped off that with an alarmingly poor season at triple-A Omaha. So his performance in 2003, which in a just world will garner him the AL RotY award, has been quite a … wait for it … surprise. He’s playing short and hitting .288/.339/.462 on the year. That’s good for a .267 EQA, which means he’s just a whisker behind reigning faux MVP Miguel Tejada in terms of production. PECOTA’s 90th-percentile forecast tabbed him for only a .255 EQA, and the weighted mean called for an EQA of merely .223.
  • Outfield: Jose Guillen, A’s. I’ve always had a remarkable command of the painfully obvious, so in keeping with that I’ve selected Guillen to join the team. His numbers this year shatter anything he’s done heretofore (.316/.363/.578 compared to pre-2003 career marks of .260/.305/.398). His EQA of .306 is comfortably better than his PECOTA 90th-percentile projection of .288. Interestingly, PECOTA’s weighted-mean EQA for Guillen is .250, just six points shy of his EQA since joining Oakland. Regression to the mean, anyone?
  • Outfield: Milton Bradley, Indians. Bradley has a reasonably strong minor league dossier, but he’s reputed to have an attitude worse than that of B.A. Baracus. This year, however, it’s come together. Before going on the DL, perhaps for the balance of the season, with a bad back, Bradley was hitting .321/.421/.501, which was good for an EQA of .322. That’s second only to Jim Edmonds among center fielders. PECOTA’s 90th-percentile tea leaves predicted a .280 EQA for him.
  • Outfield: Reggie Sanders, Pirates. OK, maybe Sanders wasn’t a complete surprise, but I don’t think many would’ve foreseen his putting up a .578 SLG at age 35. And he’s also on pace to clout 35 homers, which would be the highest single-season total of his career. He’s been good for a .301 EQA, while PECOTA’s 90th called for a .296 EQA.
  • Outfield: Dmitri Young, Tigers. D.Y. has been having an excellent season with church-mouse quietness. Playing for one of the worst teams in the history of recorded time will do that for you. Of particular note is his power surge (.552 SLG-easily the best of his career). PECOTA calls for a .298 EQA in its 90th-percentile projection, but Young is outdoing that with an EQA of .312 on the season.
  • Right-Handed Starter: Esteban Loaiza, White Sox No kidding, right? Loaiza is the presumptive AL Cy Young winner, and with good reason. In 190.2 IP this season, Loaiza has gone 18-6, posted a 2.45 ERA and a K/BB ratio of just less than 4.0. He’s also second in the AL in support-neutral wins. In short, he’s been excellent. PECOTA’s 90th-percentile called for a 3.52 ERA and 180 innings.
  • Left-Handed Starter: Mark Redman, Marlins In 2003, Redman has tossed 160.2 innings and posted an ERA of 3.47, which is well below his pre-2003 career mark of 4.57. His K/BB ratio of 2.8 is a career best, and he’s also won 11 games for the contending Marlins. PECOTA 75th percentile called for 186 innings and a 3.61 ERA, which Redman should best.
  • Setup Man: Paul Quantrill, Dodgers One of the less ballyhooed members of L.A.’s staff of doom, Quantrill is enjoying a career season at age 34 (67.1 IP, 1.74 ERA, 2.9 K/BB ratio, one home run allowed). PECOTA, even at the 90th percentile, called for 60 innings and a 2.15 ERA.
  • Closer: Rod Beck, Padres Although his 2003 backstory was largely a self-inflicted popularity grab, it’s still pretty cool that he was living in a trailer in Iowa before being summoned by the Padres to replace Trevor Hoffman. He’s logged only 29 innings on the season, but he’s dominated over that span-1.55 ERA, 3.1 K/BB ratio, 20-for-20 in save opps. Since Beck was in quasi-retirement when the season began, he slipped under the PECOTA radar for this year.