Read that sentence again.
Good. Now let it sink in.
Discussing which players are overrated and which players are underrated is delicate, difficult, and to varying degrees, subjective. Delicate, because even a flippantly placed "overrated" tag can get the mildest mannered of fans fired up. Difficult, because underrated players must be sought out, using much research while possessing a keen understanding what makes a player valuable. Subjective, because the concept of overrated and underrated depends entirely on your perception.
Arguments on 'overrated' and 'underrated' will be made until the end of time; it's a volatile subject that sports fans love to debate. Jayson Stark even wrote a book on it.
My goal in this piece though, is to eliminate the subjectivity and replace it with objectivity and establish grounds for a reasonable conclusion regarding Martin Prado's status as the most underrated player in baseball. What's a more objective start to this than a definition of "underrated" from Dictionary.com.
Underrate (uhn-der-reyt) verb: to rate or evaluate too low; underestimate.
Underrated players often don't surface on the casual fan's radar because they simply aren't talked about by the sports world. They don't hit tape measure home runs, they don't throw 100 miles per hour, and they don't typically make many highlight reels.
As a result, commentators don't usually spend a great deal of time discussing truly underrated players. When they do, as in the case of Michael Young, the player can cease to be underrated.
By now you're probably crying out for some real analysis. Some numbers. Some cold, hard truths. Something to validate your decision to read this article. So why don't we do just that.
According to Fangraphs, as of July 20, Prado is 15th among all position players in Wins Above Replacement, a statistic widely accepted as an accurate and useful metric to measure a player's value. That puts Prado ahead of the names of Matt Holliday, Adam Jones, Carlos Gonzalez, and though injury has put a dent into their WARs, Josh Hamilton and Giancarlo Stanton.
Also take this into consideration: Prado's strikeout rate is lower than everyone above him in WAR.
And yet, inexplicably, Prado was 15th among National League outfielders in All-Star voting. Among National League position players, Prado ranks ninth in WAR. This means that fans simply don't know how good Martin Prado is.
Prado's case already begs "underrated," does it not?
Taking a look at the rest of Prado's stat line, he's hitting an aesthetically pleasing .311 with a very sustainable .333 BABIP, getting on base at a .369 clip, and is on pace to score almost exactly 90 runs and drive in 70, hit 10 home runs, and steal 20 bases (ESPN).
This isn't some out of the ordinary "career year" for Prado either. He did this in 2009. And in 2010. He would have likely done this in 2011, if it weren't for multiple injuries that kept him from playing at full strength, referenced in this article.
Prado's career high in home runs is only 15, but Prado makes up for it in doubles power, and owns a 2012 OPS of .809, which ranks him ahead of Nick Swisher, Jay Bruce, Asdrubal Cabrera, and teammate Freddie Freeman (Fangraphs).
Also part of what makes Prado so valuable is his ability to play anywhere on the diamond.
No, literally anywhere on the diamond.
Since his big league debut in 2006, Prado has played every position on the baseball field, save catcher and pitcher, which he might do in time, given the need (Baseball-Reference). He was brought up as a second baseman, but has seen a lot of time at third base, and has predominantly been a left fielder the past couple years. Upon Chipper Jones' retirement, Prado will probably make the move back to third base. A selfless and notably hard worker, Prado delivers a team-first attitude night-in and night-out, doing whatever is necessary to help Atlanta win baseball games. Said Prado regarding his move to left field:
“I guess they see me as one of those guys that can play different positions. I’m glad they thought about me at that [left field] position, and I have to assume it, take that responsibility … and do the best I can.” (Atlanta Journal-Constitution)
Martin Prado does not hit towering home runs. He does not steal 40 bases every year. He does not even get All-Star votes for his services. But he doesn't strike out, and he can lay down a bunt. He can play anywhere on the field, and he can get on base at nearly a .370 clip.
To put it simply, he does a little bit of everything, and he does it well.
And that's what makes Martin Prado the most underrated player in Major League Baseball.