Poll: The Most Pleasant First-Half Surprise

Apparently all Trevor Plouffe does is hit home runs. And all we do is love him for it. Mandatory Credit: Brace Hemmelgarn-US PRESSWIRE

We've survived another frustrating half-season of baseball as Twins fans, but unlike the 2011 season, there have been plenty of pleasant surprises in 2012. Unlike last year, there were no expectations of contention this season. Maybe it's the lowered expectations that have made some of the silver linings this season that much more enjoyable.

  • Scott Diamond: In a season where Twins starters as a whole have totaled an MLB-worst 0.7 wins above replacement (per Fangraphs) and have a shockingly bad 5.68 ERA, Diamond has been a savior. He's pitched to a 2.62 ERA and ranks fourth in all of baseball among pitchers with 70+ innings in groundball percentage (59%). His peripheral stats suggest that there's some regression in store, but even his 3.85 FIP is a welcome sight.
  • Trevor Plouffe: I took Plouffe's Ruthian efforts at Triple-A last season with a grain of salt, and don't think I'm alone in that department. I'd personally have been happy to see Plouffe bat .253 with a .325 OBP and 19 home runs on the season. That those are his totals and we're only at the All-Star Game is amazing, and it now seems like there's a legit chance for the Twins to have a pair of 30-homer bats this year. Between the taters, the #AMERICA tweets, and his #TwinsTroops Twitter campaign, it's hard not to love Plouffe.
  • The bullpen as a whole: I liked a few of the minor league signings the Twins made this offseason, most notably at the time Jared Burton (who's been even better than I thought possible) and Jason Bulger (yeah........ that one didn't go so well). The team's 3.64 bullpen ERA actually ranks in the bottom half of MLB (18th), but it's a stark improvement from last year's 4.51 mark. That it's happened without Joe Nathan is even more remarkable. Thanks to a healthier (until recently) Matt Capps and a distinct lack of Jim Hoey, however here we are. Some of it may be smoke and mirrors (yes, Alex Burnett, we're all looking at you), but to this point we've enjoyed a surprisingly good relief corps.
  • Ben Revere: From a .267/.310/.309 batting line (72 OPS+) in 2011 to a .316/.350/.364 line in 2012 (98 OPS+), Revere has spent the full first half of the season delivering roughly league-average offense, backed of course by his anything BUT league-average defense. Ultimate Zone Rating pegs Revere to save 27.8 runs in right field over the course of a 150-game sample. His emergence has to make you more comfortable with the thought of Denard Span being used as a trade chip.
  • Josh Willingham: The Hammer seems to have reached "beloved" status here in Minnesota in a just three short months. His Thome-esque penchant for clutch taters and extra-base hits combined with his 60 RBI (eighth in all of baseball) are likely the reasons there. I don't think many people were counting on this level of production (I know I wasn't, even though I was expecting good things). He's been a blessing for this fanbase.
  • Joe Mauer: While I don't think it's fair to call Mauer's resurgence a surprise, I know that the pessimistic air surrounding Mauer was (and for some baffling reason continues to be, to an extent) overwhelming around Twins Territory. I think it's fair to assume that a guy who's won three batting titles in the past would contend for another if healthy again, but there were some understandable questions about his ability to be healthy following 2011. Mauer's shown up with a .326/.416/.449 first-half line, leading the AL in OBP. That'll do Joe. That'll do.

The overall results of this team may not be any better than they were in 2011, but it just feels like there's been plenty more to cheer for this season. If I've there's anything I've missed, vote Other and leave it in the comments below.

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