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MLB’s Most Underrated

This week I’m writing about my predictions for the MLB’s highest honors — Cy Young, MVP, Rookie of the Year, etc… — but I’m also writing about the “unofficial” awards, that are sometimes even more meaningful.  This article is devoted to the players who have excelled at their positions but haven’t gotten the credit they’re due.  I’ve chosen one player from each position (C, 1B, 2B, 3B, SS), excluding the outfield (2), plus 2 starting pitchers and 1 reliever. 

CATCHER

Michael Barrett

Michael Barrett is one of baseball’s top catchers, but most people don’t know about it, because he plays for the Chicago Cubs, one of baseball’s current bottomfeeders.  Barrett, before suffering an intrascrotal hematoma (which any man can verify is one of the most painful injuries possible), was hitting .307 with 16HR and 53RBI.  His OBP was a solid .368 and his SLG was a terrific .517.  Those are top-5 numbers among catchers in each of those statistics.  Even more impressive is that Barrett hit a tremendous .341 at Wrigley Field.  Behind the dish, Barrett is very good at saving bad pitches from going wild, and is commonly among the top-10 in fewest passed balls.  Barrett’s only flaw is that he has an inaccurate arm, and base-stealers are successful in a whopping 80% of their attempts against him.  That, as I said, is the one flaw in Barrett’s terrific contributions to the Cubs, and he is my choice for “Most Underrated Catcher of the Year”. 

FIRST BASE

Adam LaRoche

We all know that Albert Pujols, Justin Morneau, Carlos Delgado, and Ryan Howard are the MLB’s top first-basemen, but another terrific 1B is very close to cracking that list.  2006 is the third MLB season for Braves’ first-baseman Adam LaRoche, and he is batting .290 with 31HR and 89RBI this year.  He has an OBP of .359 and an SLG of .567; both terrific numbers for the young slugger.  LaRoche is also a solid defensive first-baseman.  Braves’ manager Bobby Cox has tons of confidence in the 26-year-old LaRoche, and with good reason.  You may not know a lot about him now, but Adam LaRoche will be on your radar when he’s a perennial all-star in two years, which is why he’s my choice for “Most Underrated First-Baseman of the Year”.

SECOND BASE

 

Luis Castillo (now with Twins)

This is a weird choice, in a way, because almost everyone knows who Luis Castillo is.  What most people don’t know, is how talented and valuable a player he is to the Minnesota Twins.  Castillo, in his first season with Minnesota, is the leadoff hitter in Ron Gardenhire’s lineup, and is batting .298 with 3HR and 49RBI in that role.  His OBP is a decent .358 and his SLG is .373.  Those numbers are terrific, but combined with his 25SBs, make Castillo a solid offensive second-baseman.  Add to the equation that Luis Castillo is one of the best defensive 2B’s in the MLB today and in history, and you’ll see why the Twins’ second-sacker is my choice for “Most Underrated Second-Baseman of the Year”. 

THIRD BASE

Ryan Zimmerman

He’s one of baseball’s best rookies in 2006, but most people don’t realize just how much Ryan Zimmerman brings to the table.  Here’s a closer look.  Ryan Zimmerman is a 5-tool player in the truest sense of the word.  He has power, speed, good defense, a good batting average, and a good eye at the plate — is there any more you can ask of a 21-year-old 3rd-baseman?  Zimmerman is batting .284 with 19HR and 101RBI in his rookie season.  He also has 45 doubles, 11SBs, and a .457SLG.  The rookie also has a terrific glove and arm at third-base.  All that talent is adding-up to a strong case for NL Rookie of the Year, and a rock-solid case for “Most Underrated Third-Baseman of the Year”. 

SHORTSTOP

Yuniesky Betancourt

YuBet, as he is commonly known in Seattle, is one of the MLB’s best young shortstops.  He is batting .293 this season with 8HR and 45RBI.  Those numbers are in no way amazing, but the 24-year-old Cuban’s .417OBP is — at least for a shortstop.  Betancourt also strikes-out less that once every 10 at-bats, which means that he gets the ball in play quite a bit — a closer look reveals that YuBet shouldn’t bet, because he’s one of the MLB’s unluckiest players.  On defense, Betancourt is a future gold-glover, and I’m pretty sure he’ll have more than one of those awards.  He may not be the greatest shortstop in baseball, but YuBet is certainly very valuable to the M’s, and that’s enough to earn him my vote for “Most Underrated Shortstop of the Year”. 

OUTFIELD

Matt Holliday

There may be no outfielder in the National League with a more dangerous bat than Matt Holliday’s.  The 26-year-old is in his 3rd year, and is batting a spectacular .332 with 32HR and 107RBI, as well as 9SBs.  Holliday has also compiled a .391OBP and .592SLG — both amazing numbers.  While Holliday clearly benefits from the “Coors Field Effect”, his brilliant .378 batting average at home is still unbelievable, and his nearly equal batting average splits (.330 vs lefties/.333 vs rightis) is equally, if not more impressive.  If baffles me why you don’t hear Matt Holliday’s name mentioned when discussing the NL’s best outfielders; all I can say is, he’s a shoo-in for “co-Most Underrated Outfielder of the Year”. 

OUTFIELD

Grady Sizemore

What’s not to like about a 24-year-old, 5-tool outfielder that many MLB analysts consider a future MVP?  Grady Sizemore is batting .292 with 27HR and 74RBI, as well as 22SBs.  His .378OBP is near the top of all AL leadoff hitters, and his .537SLG is amazing for a centerfielder.  Sizemore also has 52 doubles and 11 triples this season, along with a whopping 340 total bases.  Combine that with stellar defense and range in centerfield, and it’s clear why Sizemore is expected to win the AL MVP award someday.  I think part of the reason Grady doesn’t get all the credit he’s due is that he’s playing for the Indians, who have had a disappointing year.  Expect him to get plenty of attention in the future!  He’s my second choice for “co-Most Underrated Outfielder of the Year”. 

STARTING PITCHER

Clay Hensley

If you’re not a big Padres fan or an avid fantasy baseball player, chances are you know next-to-nothing about Clay Hensley.  He was a reliever for the majority of his minor-league and early major-league career, but the Padres have found Clay Hensley’s true talent in 2006, making him their #4 starter.  Hensley is 11-11 this season, tied for most wins on the team with Chris Young, with a 3.77ERA.  The 27-year-old righthander has struck-out 118 batters in 181 innings of work, in 36 total appearnaces, of which 28 have been starts.  The most impressive thing about Hensley is the way he has pitched in September.  He is 3-1 with a 2.67ERA this month, and Hensley has allowed just 9 runs in his 5 September starts.  Pitching that well in the clutch should get Hensley some praise and attention, which is why he’s my “co-Most Underrated Starting Pitcher of the Year”. 

STARTING PITCHER

Jeremy Bonderman

You’ve heard Kenny Rogers and Justin Verlander mentioned as the dynamic duo of amazing starters in the Tigers’ rotation.  It’s actually a terrific trio, if you count Jeremy Bonderman.  Bonderman is 13-8 with a 4.11ERA this season.  Those aren’t spectacular numbers, but remember, we’re honoring the most underrated, not the best players here.  I’m willing to bet Bonderman is one of the few, if not the only, 200K pitcher you may not know about.  He has 196 strikeouts right now, but with 2 starts left for the righty this season, Bonderman is all but certain to break the 200 mark.  Equally impressive is that Bonderman has allowed just 18HR in his 203 innings of work, and also that he has walked just 60 batters (unusually low for a high-strikeout pitcher).  Bonderman isn’t the best pitcher the Tigers have, but he’s certainly the most underrated, which is why he’s my “co-Most Underrated Starting Pitcher of the Year”.

RELIEF PITCHER/CLOSER

JJ Putz

Welcome another newcomer to the MLB’s best closers in their first season at the position.  In addition to Jonathan Papelbon and Chris Ray (both rookies), JJ Putz is an amazing first-year closer.  Putz, working the 9th inning for the not-so-good Mariners, has recorded 34 saves in 40 chances, while compiling a 2.21ERA.  He has 93K’s in 73.1 innings pitched, and lefties have hit just .192 off the tall righthander.  Putz has also allowed just 4 Homeruns in his 73.1 innings of work — an amazing statistic and a crucial one for any successful closer.  He has all the tools to succeed as a 9th-inning-stopper for many years, which is a good reason to get to know Joseph Jason Putz.  I’m giving him credit by awarding him the “Most Underrated Relief Pitcher of the Year” award. 

Whew!  That was a bunch of players that aren’t getting all the credit they should be!  Hopefully they’ll get slightly louder cheers now that you know why they deserve them.

_______________________________________________________________

Trivia Time!

Yesterday’s Question was…

The Orioles last won the World Series in 1983.  Who was the winning pitcher in Game 5 (the final game) of that Series?

…and the correct answer…

Scott McGregor

A good effort by Kevin LeSeay, who guessed Storm Davis.  Davis was the winning pitcher in Game 4 of that same World Series. 

Here’s today’s question…

Adam LaRoche’s brother, Andy LaRoche is currently a top prospect for which team? 

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6 Responses to “MLB’s Most Underrated”

  1. I ain’t even heard of Clay Hensley before this post. Thanks!

  2. i think the most underrated player in baseball is carl crawford

  3. Crawford was certainly a guy I considered listing in the Outfielder category, but I think Holliday and Sizemore have him beat in terms of lack of appreciation for their talents.

    Crawford is a great player, there’s no doubt about that, and he certainly deserves more credit than he’s gotten, however when you consider how good Holliday and Sizemore are versus how much people know about their greatness, Crawford in my mind, takes a back-seat.

  4. Carl Crawford??? — if a player is elected to the All-Star game twice, and also gets MVP votes, then that player isn’t really underrated.

    I saw Carl Crawford play high school basketball 16 years ago or so. I remember one game in which an aggressive (but fair) play turned into a push which turned into a shove which turned into a brawl. Carl Crawford was the aggressive player and shover.

  5. G’day!
    As an Australia-based Twins fan, I found your blog on google and read a few of your other Twins posts.
    I just added you to my Google News Reader. Keep up the good work. Look forward to reading more from you in the future.

  6. That is a really good tip especially to those
    fresh to the blogosphere. Simple but very accurate information…
    Appreciate your sharing this one. A must read post!


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