Some of them are famous: Zollo Versalles (1965), Terry Pendleton (1991), Steve Stone (1980). Others, infamous: Brady Anderson (1996), Luis Gonzalez (2001), Adrian Beltre (2004). But, while they rarely result in MVPs and Cy Youngs - like the former trio - there are instances every year, a solidly mediocre major league veteran turns in a performance well above his career averages, in most cases, never again to be duplicated. They're almost impossible to predict, especially prior to the start of a season. And, even a few weeks in, there's no reason to believe that the fast starters won't revert back to their normal selves by midseason. Nonetheless, here's a few candidates to be this year's version of Mark DeRosa (2006) or Aaron Small (2005).
Jason Marquis - SP - Chicago Cubs
This winter I got a call from an old friend in St. Louis, a diehard Cards fan, who just wanted to let me know that he had been a little worried about all the Cubs' offseason acquisitions, until they signed Jason Marquis. He said, "You know, the guy that didn't even make the Cardinals postseason roster." Six weeks into the season, I haven't heard from him. The Cardinals pitching staff is depending on continued brilliance from Braden Looper, while Marquis is 5-1 with the third best ERA (1.70) in all of baseball. While it is too early to call Marquis a Cy Young candidate, it is worth noting that his league worst ERA in 2006 was largely due to a few truly putrid starts in which he gave up 10 or more runs. He did manage to win 14 games nonetheless, and he won in the teens for St. Louis three years in a row. There is an important rub to take into consideration: in his seven year career, Marquis is 38-22 in April, May, and June, but 23-31 in July, August, and September.
Kyle Lohse - SP - Cincinnati Reds
His record is 1-3, but it's got nothing to do with him. His 3.21 ERA is more 1 1/2 runs below his career mark. His 32-9 K/BB ratio is among the best in baseball, and he's only given up 4 HR, despite making most of his starts so far at some of the league's best launching pads (Cincinnati, Houston, & Chicago). Lohse has been a durable back-of-the-rotation starter throughout his carreer (mostly in Minnesota), making 30 starts in four consecutive seasons before last year (he was only prevented from it in 2006 by a prolonged demotion to the bullpen before being traded to the Reds), but he has never flashed the wicked bite on his breaking pitch and the movement on his fastball that has him looking like an elite pitcher in his first seven starts. The Reds will start scoring some runs for him eventually, so if he keeps throwing like he has been, he'll still have an outside chance at fifteen wins. There is reason to believe he might keep this up, considering Lohse generally gets better as the season progresses.
Tim Wakefield - SP - Boston Red Sox
Just a few things to throw out there. When Charlie Hough was 40, he won 15 games, pitched 252 innings, and had a 3.32 ERA. When Tom Candiotti was 40, he won 11 games, pitched 201 innings, and had a 4.84 ERA. When Phil Niekro was 40, he won 21 games, pitched 352 innings, and had a 3.39 ERA. When Joe Niekro was 40, he won 11 games, pitched 225 innings, and had a 3.83 ERA. In all honesty, who can predict what a knuckleball is going to do?