Most Underrated Players in MLB and Why Nobody Loves 'Em

Shawn Tighe@@Stighe05Correspondent IJanuary 28, 2013

Most Underrated Players in MLB and Why Nobody Loves 'Em

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    In today's world, the media tends to harp on the same big-name players while forgetting to give credit to the guys who make teams go. People tend to focus on the players who they continually hear about rather than the unsung heroes of a team, causing certain players to become underrated.

    Whether it be because superstars get bigger contracts that make front page news or because they are the ones making highlight reel after highlight reel plays on the field, we look at these players through a different lens due to the massive amount of exposure they receive. We put superstars on a pedestal because that is what we're told to do when we turn on the TV or open a paper.

    Guys like Josh Hamilton—who, once he stopped chewing tobacco, was a complete abomination—are in the running for MVP annually while a guy like Billy Butler, who actually had a higher on-base percentage and average Hamilton (while not lagging that far behind in home runs and RBI), doesn't even get mentioned.

    In no way am I saying Billy Butler is better than Josh Hamilton; I'm just saying he can be mentioned in the same sentence due to Hamilton's injury history, unpredictable behavior and the fact that he played in one of the friendliest hitter's parks in the league.

    So, let's take a look at who, besides Billy Butler, is underrated and why this has happened.

Billy Butler

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    There's no better place to start since we just touched on Butler.

    The reasons are obvious why Billy Butler is not looked upon as a superstar: 1) He's a slow designated hitter; 2) he plays in a relatively small market on a bad team that gets no national exposure; and 3) his career has really just begun.

    At only 26 years old, 2012 was Butler's first impact year. He posted a triple slash line (average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) of .313/.373/.510 while hitting 29 home runs and driving in 107 men.

    The big knock on Butler prior to 2012 was that he was a DH who couldn't hit for power. Bob Ellis touches briefly on Butler's track record, noting:

    His career number (isolated power) sits at .168, which, looking at all major league batters who qualify as first basemen (according to Fangraphs), ranks him 35 in ISO from 2007 (rookie year) through last season. Taking a quick peek at those who qualify as DH over that same stretch, Butler ranks 22 of 25.

    Adding in the fact that Butler doesn't play the field, not many people were looking his way prior to last year. After increasing his career home run total by eight (his previous career high was 21), Butler gained some attention, but the Royals' woes were enough to keep him out of the limelight.

    With the addition of James Shields and a solid core of players in Eric Hosmer, Alex Gordon and Mike Moustakas, in addition to Butler, the Royals should have a fighting chance this year, which may finally get Butler noticed.

Ben Zobrist

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    Let's compare two Rays players over the past four years:

    Player A: 77 Home Runs, 331 RBI, 25.1 WAR
    Player B: 103 Home Runs, 371 RBI, 23.8 WAR

    Player A is Ben Zobrist. Player B is Evan Longoria. Besides the difference in power numbers, Zobrist isn't that far off from Longoria. He has actually contributed about one-and-a-half more wins over that time span than Longoria.

    Overall, Longoria is the better player, but this just shows that as much as you hear about Evan Longoria being so great, Ben Zobrist isn't that much worse and yet you hear nothing about him. 

    Zobrist does hit for a lower average and gets on base a little less, but he is able to play multiple positions and plays those positions well. He's one of the best team players in the game and is the epitome of what the Rays look for in a player.

Brett Gardner

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    No stats are going to help explain why Gardner is underrated—you just have to watch him play the game.

    I don't think there is another player in MLB that plays the game as hard as Gardner. He runs out every ball, never lollygags in the field and whenever he gets on base, you know what's going to happen next.

    The Yankees really missed Gardner's presence in the lineup last year. By the end of the year, the only way they could produce runs was by way of the long ball. When the well dried up in the playoffs (Gardner was back, but you couldn't really consider him back after missing nearly the whole year), the Yankees were out of luck and on their way home with yet another postseason defeat.

    Gardner also represents the "Old Yankee Way" of developing players, rather than their new-era strategy of buying anything with a price tag, giving him special place in the hearts of many Yankee fans.

Martin Prado

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    He may not be underrated now that he has been traded away, and there is a sudden outpouring of attention on all his notable attributes, but he's still making this list anyway.

    Prado is the ultimate team player, bringing a little bit of everything to the table. He is a contact hitter who hits for average with a little power, an above-average defender, a solid baserunner and a fantasy owner's dream, as he played five different positions this past year (1B, 2B, SS, 3B and LF).

    The fact that Prado does a lot of things good but none great is the biggest reason he is underrated. He is never going to be a hitter opposing pitchers fear and despite playing so many positions, he doesn't play any of them exceptionally well (left field is his best position).

    He will never be a superstar and, quite honestly, will always play second fiddle to least one other player on any team he goes to, but he is a great clubhouse guy and brings intangibles to the table that most players don't possess.

Max Scherzer

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    There is one main reason why Max Scherzer is underrated.

    Justin Verlander.

    Many people forget about Scherzer because he pitches behind arguably the best pitcher in the game. Like his ace, Scherzer strikes out a lot of batters—11.08 K/9 in 2012; 9.27 for his career—and can dial up the radar gun.

    The biggest problem that has plagued him his whole career is his control. Scherzer walked nearly three batters per nine innings last year and left the ball up in the zone too many times, resulting in 23 home runs against him.

    The good sign is that his control has steadily improved over the years and if that trend continues, people will start mentioning his name in the same breath as Justin Verlander.

Paul Goldschmidt

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    The scariest part about Paul Goldschmidt is he hasn't put it all together, yet. Still only 25 and coming off his first full season in the big leagues, Goldschmidt has plenty of room to grow.

    Between the big leagues and Double-A in 2011, Goldschmidt hit 38 home runs in 151 combined games, giving the Diamondbacks hope that they had found their next slugger. Surprisingly, that power didn't carry over into his first full year in the majors, as he hit only 20 home runs in 145 games.

    Although he didn't clear the fence as much as he would have liked, Goldschmidt still collected 43 doubles and posted a slugging percentage of .490, ninth among first basemen. Goldschmidt also contributed a WAR of 3.7 and led all first basemen with 18 stolen bases.

    He did strike out too much (22.1 percent of the time) and benefited from a high .340 BABIP, suggesting his .286 average will drop a bit. Once he learns to be patient at the plate and finds his power stroke, Goldschmidt could be a dangerous player for the Diamondbacks.

Eric Aybar

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    Between Mike Trout, Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton, Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson, there isn't much room for any other players on the Angels to get any recognition.

    Aybar has found a way, though. While he is not an elite shortstop by any stretch of the imagination, would you peg him as a candidate for knocking on the top five? I wouldn't, either. But then I looked at his stats more in depth.

    His 3.4 WAR ranked sixth among shortstops while his wRC+ ranked seventh, his average was good enough for fourth and even his OPS was ninth (surprising for a slap hitter such as himself).

    By these measures, he is just as valuable—if not more so—than the marquee names of Elvis Andrus, Jimmy Rollins, Starlin Castro and Hanley Ramirez.

Jonathon Niese

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    Times are looking grim in Queens, but Mets fans can hang their hats on the fact that Jonathon Niese is one of the better young pitchers in the game.

    Last year, Niese pitched to the tune of a 3.40 ERA, a 1.17 WHIP and collected 13 wins (yet another indicator of the Mets' dreadful play). He was helped out by an extremely spacious ballpark (the fences were moved in, though) and had a bit of luck on his side.

    Niese's Fielding Independent Pitching (FIP) was nearly a half-run above his normal ERA and opponents hit only .237 against him. The fact that Niese isn't a dominant strikeout pitcher (7.33 K/9 in 2012) means that hitters will most likely have more success against him in 2013.

    There is a silver lining, though. Niese's FIP in 2011 was only 3.36, which shows he is capable of producing at an above-average level regardless of luck.

    He's never going to be the ace of a staff, but Niese will be a solid No. 3 starter with the potential to be a good No. 2 starter if he continues to improve.

David Murphy

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    David Murphy is one of those players who will never win a series for you, but he is a player you can't win a series without.

    Coming into the league with high expectations, Murphy was written off by many because he didn't live up to his first-round grade. After having a career year last year, you saw the talent that made him worthy of a first-round pick.

    Murphy had a triple slash line of .304/.380/.479 last year, even adding 15 home runs, 65 RBI and 10 stolen bases while playing defense exceptionally well. All that was good for a career-high WAR of 4.0, double his previous high-water mark. 

    While Murphy's average will most likely decline because of his high BABIP (.333), he drew walks at a career rate of 10.4 percent and struck out only 14.2 percent of the time. When you add in his above-average defense (9.4 Ultimate Zone Rating), Murphy is one of the most underrated players in the league.

Bronson Arroyo

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    Before you discount this and move on if all you remember about Arroyo are his corn rows or the 46 home runs he allowed in 2011, hear me out.

    Here are Arroyo's ERAs from the last nine years going, beginning his most recent: 3.71, 5.07, 3.88, 3.84, 4.77, 4.23, 3.29, 4.51, 4.03. Which is the outlier? It's 5.07, right? So we can discount his 2011 year when he gave up 2.08 home runs per nine innings, almost one more than his career rate (1.22 per nine innings).

    Arroyo isn't spectacular, but he isn't horrible, either. When push comes to shove, he actually gets the job done. He has never pitched to an impressive FIP (4.54 for his career), but almost every year he beats the odds and his results end up better than what his stats say they should be.

    He doesn't strike many men out (career 5.87 K/9) yet still pitches well despite this. He's never been close to the ace of a staff, let alone a No. 2 starter, but many people discount him because of his reputation, when in reality, he is a half-decent pitcher.