Every MLB team’s most pleasant surprise so far in 2022

About one-fifth of the way into the 2022 Major League Baseball season, we’re outgrowing small sample sizes and the division standings are beginning to take shape.

Offense is down across baseball, with the league-wide .235 average the lowest in history and .683 OPS (on-base plus slugging) the worst since 1971, providing unexpected statistical outputs both positive and negative.

With offense suppressed, it’s been a good time for pitchers with the league-wide 3.84 ERA the second-lowest since 1992 and 1.25 WHIP the best since 1967.

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ATTENDANCE: The good (Jays), bad (Yankees) and ugly (A’s)

From debutants to seasoned veterans, we’re going to focus on the good, and the players who have outperformed expectations in this not-so-young season.

Here’s a look at every team’s most pleasant surprise so far:

Nestor Cortes pitching in the first inning against the Blue Jays in Toronto on May 4.

AL East

YankeesLHP Nestor Cortes: The mustachioed 27-year-old is a big part of why the Yankees have the best record in baseball, posting an AL-best 1.41 ERA in six starts, racking up 42 strikeouts in 32 innings.

RaysOF Manuel Margot: Batting .337 through Friday, Margot’s .898 OPS was almost 200 points higher than his career mark. It was only five years ago that Margot was one of baseball’s top prospects and still only 27, Margot’s 12.6% strikeout rate is the best of his career.

Blue JaysRHP Kevin Gausman: You certainly have big expectations after giving a pitcher $110 million, but Toronto’s new ace has been even better than anybody might have hoped. Gausman has a 2.20 ERA in seven starts, striking out 54 with just two walks in 45 innings and is yet to give up a home run.

Red SoxRHP Michael Wacha: Before hitting the injured list early in the week, the 30-year-old had a 1.38 ERA in five starts having signed a one-year, $7 million deal with Boston in the offseason.

OriolesLHP Bruce Zimmermann: The Maryland native is making himself at home in Baltimore’s rotation after an uneven rookie campaign in 2021. Zimmermann has a 2.67 ERA with 30 K in 30 ⅓ innings across his first six starts and has only given up four earned runs in four starts at recently-enlarged Camden Yards.

AL Central

TwinsRHP Joe Ryan: Walks have been an issue (12 in 31⅔ innings), but Ryan has a 2.56 ERA in six starts and has played a big role in the rotation for first-place Minnesota.

Guardians2B/SS Andres Gimenez: Acquired in the Francisco Lindor trade, the 23-year-old was hitting .333 through Thursday and is solidifying himself as an everyday player in the middle of Cleveland’s infield – perhaps for years to come.

White SoxRHP Michael Kopech: There were some questions about Kopech joining the rotation in 2022 after fading down the stretch in his first full big-league season last year, but he has been dominant with a 0.93 ERA in six starts. He’s averaging less than five innings per start but is yet to give up a home run in 2022.

RoyalsRHP Brad Keller: After a disappointing 2021 season, the 26-year-old has been great with a 2.70 ERA and 0.982 WHIP through six starts. Keller’s 4.09 FIP suggests some good luck, but his walk rate is down to 6.3% from 10.4% last season.

TigersRHP Will Vest: The 27-year-old rookie has 20 strikeouts in 12 appearances and is moving up the pecking order in Detroit’s bullpen. Vest picked up his first big-league save on Friday, registering back-to-back strikeouts to end the game after entering with two on and a two-run lead

Taylor Ward reacts after hitting a home run against the Rays on May 11.

Taylor Ward reacts after hitting a home run against the Rays on May 11.

AL West

Angels OF Taylor Ward: The best hitter on the Angels hasn’t been Mike Trout or Shohei Ohtani, but the 28-year-old who had never played more than 65 games in a season. The Angels’ first-round pick in 2015, Ward led the AL in average, OBP and slugging percentage through Thursday.

AstrosSS Jeremy Peña: Stepping right into Carlos Correa’s shoes was daunting, but Peña has begun his big-league career with a bang, hitting six home runs with 20 RBI and an .853 OPS in 30 games. The 24-year-old is tied for second among MLB shortstops with 4 Outs Above Average on defense.

MarinersSS J.P. Crawford: Already a Gold Glover, Crawford had a quietly good 2021 season and is taking it to another level this year, batting .330 with a .937 OPS in 31 games. He already has four homers after setting a career-high with nine in 619 at-bats last year.

Athletics RHP Paul Blackburn: Having pitched 30 games across parts of five prior big-league seasons, Blackburn is finally getting an extended look in Oakland’s rotation and is 4-0 with a 1.74 ERA in six starts, walking just three in 31 innings.

RangersLHP Martin Perez: The veteran has a 2.10 ERA in six starts for Texas after signing a one-year, $4 million deal with the club where he began his career.

Ronald Acuña Jr. celebrates after hitting a home run against the Brewers on May 7.

Ronald Acuña Jr. celebrates after hitting a home run against the Brewers on May 7.

NL East

MetsRHP Drew Smith: The 28-year-old started 2022 with 12 consecutive scoreless outings, earning himself a high-leverage spot in a Mets bullpen that will be without Trevor May for the next month or so.

Phillies – 3B Alec Bohm: After finishing second in 2020 Rookie of the Year voting, Bohm endured a sophomore slump last season and he was in danger of losing his everyday job at third. Having rebuilt his swing in the offseason, Bohm was hitting .309 through Thursday and with his strikeout rate dropped to 16.8% from his 26.6% mark in 2021.

BravesOF Ronald Acuña Jr.: Atlanta got their star back quite a bit earlier than expected and he racked up five stolen bases in his first 10 games – 10 months after tearing his ACL.

Marlins – RHP Pablo Lopez: Has MLB-best 1.05 ERA in 43 innings across seven starts, only giving up more than one earned run once. He’s the early favorite for NL Cy Young and It’s a huge leap forward for the right-hander who had a 3.07 ERA in 20 starts last season.

Nationals1B Josh Bell: A free agent after the 2022 season, Bell is looking like the All-Star he was in 2019, batting .342 with four homers, 21 RBI and a .938 OPS. He has more walks than strikeouts and could be one of the top hitters on the trade market this summer.

NL Central

BrewersRHP Trevor Gott: Having not pitched in the majors in 2021, Gott is off to a great start with a 1.64 ERA and 15 strikeouts in 11 innings, becoming one of Milwaukee’s top relievers bridging the gap to closer Josh Hader.

CardinalsRHP Miles Mikolas: After injuries cost him all of 2020 and most of 2021 (nine starts), the 33-year-old is once again looking like the All-Star he was in 2018, posting a 1.49 ERA in seven starts, holding hitters to a .206 average.

PiratesLHP Jose Quintana: The 33-year-old has been a bright spot for the Pirates with a 2.70 ERA in six starts and has given up just two home runs in 30 innings. Opponents have a .306 slugging percentage against Quintana so far, the best of his career.

CubsRHP David Robertson: After pitching in the Olympics last summer, the 37-year-old Robertson started his 2022 campaign with ten scoreless outings and converted his first five save opportunities for Chicago.

Reds RHP Alexis Diaz: The right-hander has only given up one earned run in 15 appearances (0.55 ERA) to starting his big-league career this season and manager David Bell has been giving him more looks in the late innings.

NL West

DodgersRHP Tony Gonsolin: Not offering many innings so far (27 in six starts), but Gonsolin has a 1.33 ERA and is really building upon his success in small sample sizes over the past few years (2.85 ERA in 35 games from 2019-2021).

Padres1B Eric Hosmer: Actively shopped by San Diego before the season, Hosmer has been unbelievable, batting .377 with a .994 OPS through Friday and already has 23 RBI in 31 games after driving in just 65 runs last season.

GiantsLHP Carlos Rodon: Much like the man he replaced, Kevin Gausman, Rodon has been better than even the most optimistic of projections with a 1.80 ERA in six starts, striking out 53 with no home runs allowed in 35 innings. The 29-year-old signed a two-year, $44 million deal with San Francisco in the offseason, but can opt-out after this season if he reaches 110 innings.

RockiesRHP Chad Kuhl: The 29-year-old has been Colorado’s best starter with 2.88 ERA and 30 strikeouts in 31⅓ innings after signing a one-year deal in March. He’s holding hitters to a .535 OPS, quite an improvement on his career .785 mark entering 2022.

DiamondbacksLHP Madison Bumgarner: The veteran had struggled through the first two years with his new team, going 8-14 with a 5.07 ERA in 35 starts but the Diamondbacks are finally seeing some return on investment this year. Bumgarner has a 1.78 ERA in seven starts and while his underlying numbers aren’t great (4.72 FIP, career-worst walk rate), Arizona certainly isn’t complaining.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: MLB’s most pleasant 2022 surprises: From Nestor Cortes to Ronald Acuña