Baseball is a game of numbers. There are more stats and equations than anyone can remember. It is numbers that decide who plays and who doesn't, who gets called up or sent down, who is remembered and who isn't.
Whether it be home runs, wins, steals, or strikeouts, fans want big numbers. We are obsessed with the 40-plus home run Jose Bautistas, 60-something steal Michael Bourns and 24-win Justin Verlanders of the world. This is how players get overlooked—we pass up the guys that just do a little bit of everything.
2011 Stats: .291 AVG, 19 HR, 95 RBI
Billy Butler of the Kansas City Royals gets overlooked by many because he is a DH. Designated hitter is not a glorified position, but Butler is one of the best in the game. He hits in the middle of a powerful lineup full of young stars in Kansas City and is a machine when it comes to driving in runs.
Most of Butler's power is to the gaps, as he has placed in the top 10 in doubles in the AL each of the last three seasons. He is still only 25, and if he can build some muscle and turn some of those gappers into home runs, we could be seeing a star in the making.
2011 Stats: .290 AVG, 11 HR, 48 RBI
The Toronto Blue Jays' Yunel Escobar is a great middle infielder who just gets on base. He has a career on-base percentage of .366 and is just entering his prime at age 29. Hitting at the top of the order of a high-scoring Toronto offense, Escobar is the catalyst that makes the rest of the lineup gel.
Yunel is also a great situational hitter, batting a lifetime .303 with runners in scoring position while getting on base at a .398 clip. If he can stay healthy this year, Escobar could be near the top of the league in runs and give the Blue Jays solid numbers at the leadoff position.
2011 Stats: .285 AVG, 26 HR, 63 RBI
Batting Corey Hart at the top of the Milwaukee Brewers lineup last season hurt his numbers immensely. Of all players with at least 25 home runs, Hart had the lowest RBI total in baseball. In spite of this, he still had a great season for the NL Central champs.
Though his 20-steal campaigns are a thing of the past, Hart will only turn 30 this year and is still a great hitter. With Prince Fielder gone to the Detroit Tigers and Ryan Braun most likely suspended for the first 50 games, look for Hart to get a shot to contribute in the middle of the order and make the most of it.
2011 Stats: 8-9, 3.67 ERA, 202 Ks
Since his no-hitter as a rookie back in 2006, Anibal Sanchez of the Miami Marlins has quietly become a very reliable starting pitcher. His strikeouts-to-walks ratio has steadily improved over the last three years to 3.16 this past year, and he finished third in the NL in K/9 at 9.26.
With the addition of Mark Buehrle and Josh Johnson coming back from injury, Sanchez will most likely be the No. 3 starting pitcher in the Marlins' rotation this spring, but he is just now entering his prime, so don't be surprised if he pitches like an ace this season.
2011 Stats: .285 AVG, 18 HR, 14 SB
The Los Angeles Angels' Howie Kendrick burst onto the scene last year with his sudden power surge, but even with his 2011 campaign, Kendrick remains undervalued. He is an all-around great defensive player, playing second base, left field and first base last year, committing only five errors all season. His .992 fielding percentage led all AL second basemen.
Kendrick's walk total has increased each of the past five seasons, and entering his seventh year in the bigs, this one could end up being a breakout performance for him. He could be a potential 20-20 candidate and a Gold Glove winner in 2012.
2011 Stats: 10-10, 3.32 ERA, 197 Ks
Matt Garza made a very smooth transition from the Tampa Bay Rays to the Chicago Cubs last season, posting a career low in ERA while setting a career high in Ks. Before this year, Garza posted three straight sub-4.00 ERA seasons while pitching in the AL East, a daunting task that few pitchers could take on.
It is easy to forget that this guy is only 28 and still has his best years ahead of him. With Prince Fielder and Albert Pujols leaving the division, the only thing stopping Garza from having a monster year is the Cubs offense. He may not see many wins in 2012, but his ERA and K numbers will be up near the top 10 in the league.
2011 Stats: .259 AVG, 7 HR, 49 SB
Brett Gardner of the New York Yankees is entering his fifth year in the league, and has already increased his stolen base total for four straight years. Whether he hits first or ninth, he always has the ability to get on base and the green light to steal. His power numbers are also steadily increasing thanks to the lefty-friendly Yankee Stadium.
Gardner, however, is most valuable for his defense. He has great range in the outfield and an accurate arm, but was snubbed by the voters last year and missed out on a Gold Glove. By the end of this season, Gardner should have a higher average than last year and that Gold Glove he most certainly deserves.
2011 Stats: 17-10, 3.52 ERA, 207 Ks
The Milwaukee Brewers' Yovani Gallardo is a future Cy Young Award winner. Only five players have reached 200 Ks in each of the last three seasons. Gallardo is one. The other four? Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez, Tim Lincecum and Roy Halladay.
He already has a Silver Slugger, has been an All-Star and finished in the top 10 in Cy Young voting last year. Even with all of this, there is still very little talk about Gallardo as a serious award contender or a top pitcher in the league. This year is the one he becomes a household name and finishes in the top three in Cy Young voting.
2011 Stats: .279, 17 HR, 19 SB
Shane Victorino has been the one constant in the Philadelphia Phillies' successes the past several seasons. He does a little bit of everything: He can hit for average and power, he can steal bases, he has great range in the outfield, and he has one of the best arms in the league. He is your prototypical five-tool player, but on a slightly smaller scale.
Some may say Victorino is seen as very valuable to his team and isn't underrated, but not many people understand what he truly means to the Phillies. He is a three-time Gold Glove winner and a two-time All-Star. He is what makes the Phillies offense work, plain and simple.
2011 Stats: .269, 20 HR, 19 SB
The most underrated player in baseball is Ben Zobrist of the Tampa Bay Rays. He is a player that is rarely talked about, yet puts up solid numbers. Along with those 20 HRs and 19 SBs last season, he also had 99 runs, 91 RBIs and 46 doubles with a .353 OBP.
His defense is just as important. Splitting time last year between second base and the outfield, he committed only six errors and had a .989 fielding percentage as a second basemen. Zobrist could easily go 20/20 in the middle of a stacked Rays lineup in 2012. Look for him to be a major part in the Rays run to the playoffs.
This year, give some praise to the most underrated player in baseball: Ben Zobrist.