We've watched it happen to at least one player in nearly every season in recent memory. Projections don't see it, minor league profiles gave no indication it was possible, and scouts & pundits alike stare at each other equally befuddled when the end of the season rolls around.
The breakout season. The comeback year. The career year.
The Great White Buffalo.
It's occasionally a momentum thing, and a player simply continues to keep getting better and better before your eyes. Joey Votto's 2010 season - which, from a home run perspective, at least, appears to be an outlier - may have surprised some folks who weren't #blessed with the opportunity to see him everyday, but for those of us who had the chance to see him play the previous few seasons, there wasn't really anything about that season that surprised us. It was natural. Expected, almost. You could see it happening even though it hadn't happened to that extent before. Joey Votto broke out, and it was glorious.
Sometimes, a destitute player on his last legs turns back the clock enough to make bloghole aficionados look like idiots for declaring their careers extinct. They'd done it before back when gas was a buck and the SB Nation search function actually worked, but long enough ago for the framed box scores of their previous exploits to have been gathered a thick dust. They're a dice roll, a recast, a deadweight contract that couldn't be moved. We need not look any deeper into the history of the Cincinnati Reds than Ryan Ludwick's 2012 to find an example of that, as the bargain bin signing unexpectedly exploded for the fourth team he'd represented in the previous 22 months after being cast off by the previous three. He was neither injured nor ineffective, two things he had a habit of being, and the stars aligned to back him for an extending period, and it, too, was glorious.
Then, there are just those seasons where bloop hits fall in, line drives hit the pitcher's ass instead of being caught, and mistake pitches look like beach balls coming in slow motion. BABIP spikes that are unsustainable sustain themselves for 6 months of a single season instead of 3 months in different years. Rain delays knock out pitchers a hitter can't hit. You name it, it happens, and a player with an already distinct profile throws the book out the window. You get Ryan Hanigan's OPS+ of 124 in 2010 despite him never topping 95 in any other season, or Jerry Hairston's 2008, or even Brandon Phillips' 2011. The piles of data you have access to cannot help you make sense of them, but they happen nonetheless. It? Glorious.
Asking for that to happen to someone on the 2014 Reds isn't that outlandish, is it? Maybe even several someones? With the context of a rather drab 2013 in mind and an even more drab 2013-2014 offseason, it's actually the one unaccounted for component powering our anticipation. Aside from a slight OBP bump for Shin-Soo Choo (thanks to a career high in HBP) and an impressive, albeit injury plagued rookie season from Tony Cingrani, none of the other regulars in the Reds core really had a season one could categorize as unexpectedly good.
They're due. We're due.
Jay Bruce has gotten on base at a .350 clip before and has also slugged over .500 before, but never in the same season. It's not crazy to think that 2014, his 27 year old "peak," is the year that materializes, right?
What if Billy Hamilton's 2013 was the aberration, and his 2012 is the norm? There are numerous franchises who believe that AA performance is a better indicator than AAA performance. What if his rookie year materializes akin to the way Todd Frazier's did? Frazier, we forget, was also a Top 100 MLB prospect, drafted in the top 50 of his class, and was the #1 prospect in the Reds system before his initial AAA stumbling spread doubt on his ability. Speaking of which, would it shock you to see Frazier hit 25 HR next year?
Johnny Cueto could be healthy, and so could Sean Marshall. What if Zack Cozart has a BABIP anywhere close to his 2011 AAA mark of .345 instead of the .282 and .285 marks he's had the last two years in the majors?
What if Devin Mesoraco's MLB career parallels his minor league career, where he was cast aside as an afterthought following 2+ miserable years as a professional only to reemerge as potentially a well above-average everyday catcher and occasional All-Star?
These aren't all going to happen. If they do, I'll eat my Reds' 2014 World Series Champion hat I will have spent $40 bucks on...but some of them will. Several of them, even. In fact, I'll stride confidently out to the breaking point of my limb to say that the fact that none of these things happened in 2013 is actually harder to fathom than several of them happening in 2014. Why not? There is optimism to be had in the Winter doldrums among which we find ourselves beset. Maybe that's naivete, or perhaps it's just being overtly a pollyanna.
Perhaps it's just called "being a fan." But can you really say you don't expect one...two...three of those things to actually happen?