The Most Underrated Player on Every MLB Team
Every team has that one guy.
The guy who the die-hard fans love and appreciate even more than the big-name superstars.
Underrated nationally, but adored locally.
Maybe he doesn't make it into many SportsCenter highlights. Maybe you have to custom order his jersey. But he means more to his team than most out-of-towners realize.
In the words of King Abdullah II of Jordan: "It is always dangerous to underestimate anybody."
*All statistics obtained from ESPN.com or FanGraphs.com and are accurate through the start of play on Tuesday, May 7.
Arizona Diamondbacks: Martin Prado
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Career Stats: 714 games, 56 HR, 31 SB, .292/.342/.431
2013 Stats: 31 games, 4 HR, 1 SB, .234/.284/.358
Martin Prado won't be winning any MVP awards in his career, but he's the type of guy who really becomes indispensable to his team.
Despite a rough start to the 2013 season, he sports a batting average just shy of .300 and the versatility to play anywhere on the field. In his career, he's played over 200 games each at second base, at third base and in left field.
He's never been at the top of the depth chart at any position to start the season, but that hasn't stopped him from amassing at least 450 at-bats in each of the past four seasons.
Whether filling in for injured and ineffective left fielders like Reed Johnson and Matt Diaz or simply providing Dan Uggla and Chipper Jones with routine days off, he was such an asset to the Braves for the past seven years that fans were sad to see him leave town in exchange for Justin Upton. (They're probably OK with the trade at this point.)
Atlanta Braves: Eric O'Flaherty
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Career Stats: 315.1 IP, 242 K, 2.83 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
2013 Stats: 14.0 IP, 8 K, 1.93 ERA, 0.79 WHIP
If you don't know what an asset it is to be able to repeatedly call Eric O'Flaherty's number in crucial situations over the course of the season, I'd like to congratulate you on a lifetime of never having to root for Brad Lidge.
O'Flaherty has evolved into one of the most reliable middle relievers in the game today. From May 3 of last season through May 6 of this season, O'Flaherty has a 1.02 ERA, a 1.00 WHIP and 34 holds with only two blown saves.
Yet, O'Flaherty has never made it onto an All-Star roster, because middle relievers never seem to get the respect they deserve.
We'll see how underrated he remains if and when he hits free agency this offseason.
Baltimore Orioles: Jason Hammel
Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports
Career Stats: 891.2 IP, 647 K, 4.74 ERA, 1.43 WHIP
2013 Stats: 41.2 IP, 26 K, 4.10 ERA, 1.37 WHIP
Those aren't particularly exceptional numbers, as Jason Hammel struggled in his first six years in the big leagues with Tampa Bay and Colorado.
However, he's had pretty respectable FIP and xFIP numbers in each of the past four seasons, finally resulting in a more noteworthy 3.43 ERA in 2012 in his first season with the Orioles.
If he can get his K/9 from 5.62 back up to the 8.62 it was at last year, he should turn in another better-than-average season, perhaps garnering a little more respect around the league.
Boston Red Sox: Junichi Tazawa
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Career Stats: 86.2 IP, 80 K, 3.53 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
2013 Stats: 14.1 IP, 18 K, 2.51 ERA, 0.98 WHIP
It's kind of hard to fly under the radar in Boston, but that's exactly what Junichi Tazawa has done for the past year.
Tazawa was very impressive pitching in Japan in 2008 and in the Red Sox farm system for most of the 2009 season, but he struggled considerably when he was promoted to the big leagues—posting a 7.46 ERA in 25.1 innings of work. He then missed all of 2010 and a large chunk of the 2011 season after undergoing ligament replacement surgery.
In 2012, he was pretty masterful in the proverbial "mop-up" role. In his first 24 appearances of the season, the Red Sox either lost or were winning by enough runs that it didn't really matter how Tazawa did. In those 32.1 innings of work, however, he posted a 1.67 ERA with 31 strikeouts and only four walks.
In the final month of the season, he pitched 11.2 innings, allowing one run on three hits with one walk and 14 strikeouts—and picked up a win and five holds while being used in more crucial situations.
Thus far this year, he's picked up right where he left off, averaging better than a strikeout per inning and routinely being used in the late innings of close games.
However, everyone seems more focused on whether Andrew Bailey or Joel Hanrahan will be the guy closing out the games in which Tazawa maintains Boston's lead.
Chicago Cubs: David DeJesus
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Career Stats: 1185 games, 84 HR, 60 SB, .281/.355/.421
2013 Stats: 30 games, 4 HR, 2 SB, .286/.358/.531
If there's a recipe for an underrated career, it's being an above-average player on a below-average team. Over the last nine seasons, David DeJesus's teams have finished a combined 284 games below .500—and the Cubs hardly seem poised to help improve that number for him this season.
Despite that disastrous record, he has a career WAR of 23.0, so those teams would have been even worse without him.
During his seven years with Kansas City, DeJesus batted .289 while averaging 11.3 home runs and 8.7 stolen bases per 162 games. Those are hardly eye-popping numbers, but they're "Better than a poke in the eye."
In his one season with Oakland, his batting average plummeted to .240. His .323 on-base percentage (OBP) was the only season of his career that was lower than .347, which is kind of bizarre considering the multitude of guys that have thrived in Oakland because of Billy Beane's annual success in signing undervalued players with a strong OBP.
He's been slightly rejuvenated this season with the Cubs, hitting for more power than at any other point in his career. DeJesus is on pace for 21 home runs, but he has never topped 13 in his career.
Chicago White Sox: Jesse Crain
Dennis Wierzbicki-USA TODAY Spor
Career Stats: 509.1 IP, 412 K, 3.16 ERA, 1.24 WHIP
2013 Stats: 14.0 IP, 18 K, 1.29 ERA, 1.29 WHIP
At best, Jesse Crain was an average pitcher in his seven years with the Minnesota Twins. In an especially bizarre 2005 season, he had a record of 12-5 as a relief pitcher despite recording 29 walks and just 25 strikeouts in 79.2 innings of work.
Only once in those seven seasons did he have an xFIP better than 3.90, but he's been better than that in each of his three years with the White Sox since then. He's somehow evolved from a guy with a 2.82 K/9 in 2005 to a guy with a 10.47 K/9 over the past three seasons.
He's also done an exceptional job of stranding runners on base. The league average in LOB% is roughly 72 percent, but Crain has been at 85 percent or better in each year with Chicago.
With Matt Thornton, Hector Santiago and Addison Reed bouncing in and out of the closer role, Crain was one of the only bright spots in the White Sox bullpen in 2012, and he seems poised to be a late-game staple for the foreseeable future.
Cincinnati Reds: Shin-Soo Choo
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Career Stats: 731 games, 88 HR, 88 SB, .291/.385/.469
2013 Stats: 32 games, 5 HR, 3 SB, .331/.467/.545
There aren't a lot of people in baseball history with stat lines like the one Shin-Soo Choo has.
There are only 54 players with a career batting average of .285 or better, a career OBP of .380 or better and 88 or more home runs and stolen bases. Just 54 players in 142 years of baseball.
Some of the historical names include Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Willie Mays, Honus Wagner, Mickey Mantle, Frank Robinson and at least another dozen hall-of-famers.
Only six active players meet those criteria: Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Matt Holliday, Albert Pujols, David Wright and Shin-Soo Choo. Choo is making just $7.375 million in 2013, compared to the average of $17.64 million that the other five guys are making.
I'd say that makes him pretty underrated.
Cleveland Indians: Vinnie Pestano
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Career Stats: 145.0 IP, 176 K, 2.48 ERA, 1.10 WHIP
2013 Stats: 8.0 IP, 8 K, 2.25 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
I promise that only two of the remaining 22 teams will have a middle reliever as their most underrated player. We've hit on a lot of these eighth-inning guys in the first eight slides, but Pestano may very well be the best of the bunch.
With a K/9 of nearly 11 and a K/BB ratio better than 3.0, he has been breathing down Chris Perez's neck for the closer role since the moment Pestano arrived in the Cleveland bullpen in 2010.
He's working on a sub-2.60 ERA and sub-1.15 WHIP for a third consecutive season, albeit in fewer appearances than usual due to elbow pains and frequent postponements of Indians games.
Colorado Rockies: Jordan Pacheco
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Career Stats: 173 games, 7 HR, 7 SB, .306/.340/.408
2013 Stats: 20 games, 0 HR, 0 SB, .309/.356/.368
With Jordan Pacheco, we have a rare case of a guy being undervalued by his own management.
Todd Helton is no longer the hitter he once was. This is the third time in the last four seasons that he's been a replacement-level player or worse, yet Pacheco's impressive batting average will likely ride the pine now that Helton has returned from injury and Nolan Arenado has been even better than advertised in a small sample size.
Seven home runs for someone on the Rockies might seem alarmingly low, but he does have some pop to all parts of the field. With more regular playing time, he could provide something in the range of 15 home runs and a dozen stolen bases with a .300 batting average.
He strikes me as the type of guy who could spark up a respectable second half of his career in Oakland.
Detroit Tigers: Max Scherzer, Anibal Sanchez and Doug Fister
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Career Stats: 2402.2 IP, 2107 K, 3.67 ERA, 1.28 WHIP
2013 Stats: 119 IP, 133 K, 2.57 ERA, 1.08 WHIP
For whatever reason, the Detroit Tigers and Washington Nationals are playing a pair of two-game series against each other, the first of which takes place in D.C. this Tuesday and Wednesday.
Living in the D.C. area, I don't often get the chance to see American League teams unless I travel out to Baltimore, so I was excited about the chance to see the Tigers.
When I was deciding which game to attend, I checked the projected pitching rotation in hopes of seeing Justin Verlander. To my dismay, the options were Anibal Sanchez or Doug Fister.
On another team, though, both of those guys and Max Scherzer might be competing for the honor of being the ace of the staff.
Sometimes we forget what an embarrassment of riches the Tigers have in their pitching rotation beyond Verlander. Except for Rick Porcello. Let's not pretend he's anywhere near the level of those other four guys.
Houston Astros: Jose Altuve
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Career Stats: 235 games, 10 HR, 42 SB, .292/.335/.394
2013 Stats: 31 games, 1 HR, 2 SB, .331/.373/.431
Jose Altuve is a beacon of light in a sea of darkness, or whatever the polar opposite would be for the adage "every rose has its thorn."
The Astros are headed towards possibly the most inept season of the past century, but it won't be Altuve's fault nor will his statistics suffer for it. His defense is suspect to say the least, but it's hard to deny the value of a middle infielder who can bat .300 and steal upwards of 40 bases in a season.
The only other guys on that level are Jose Reyes, Elvis Andrus, Starlin Castro and the guy on the next slide—all of whom are shortstops.
Altuve deserves better than a $500,000 salary to play for the worst team in the league.
The real shame is that he might not even be the Astros' representative in the All-Star Game now that they're in the American League. With Robinson Cano, Ian Kinsler and Dustin Pedroia all primary suspects to be second basemen on the roster, it'll be extremely entertaining to see who Houston sends if not Altuve.
Kansas City Royals: Alcides Escobar
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Career Stats: 532 games, 17 HR, 82 SB, .267/.308/.361
2013 Stats: 28 games, 3 HR, 7 SB, .282/.320/.410
Fantasy owners love Alcides Escobar. He provides a good amount of stolen bases and a solid batting average at a position where you're usually hoping for one or the other. He's one of just eight shortstops owned in 100 percent of ESPN standard leagues.
However, I doubt many casual baseball fans outside of Kansas City have ever even heard of the light-hitting shortstop. Teammate Chris Getz returns 4.33 million results when doing a Google search for his name, and Chris Getz is hardly a household name.
Escobar's name only returns 1.56 million results—and the most popular auto-complete option is "Alcides Escobar fantasy."
He averages just five home runs per season, so he won't get much recognition on the "Going, Going Gone" segment on Baseball Tonight. (Do they still do that segment?) Nor is he much of a staple on "Web Gems" with a career UZR/150 of 0.3 runs, making him a perfectly average defender.
Still, shortstop isn't the 30 homer position it was in the 1990s. Average defense with better-than-average speed and batting average is good enough for All-Star potential now that Derek Jeter's reign is coming to an end.
Los Angeles Angels: Howie Kendrick
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Career Stats: 833 games, 62 HR, 78 SB, .292/.328/.428
2013 Stats: 31 games, 4 HR, 3 SB, .293/.323/.431
Howie Kendrick doesn't get the respect that he deserves because there is someone else on the Angels who is better than him at just about every facet of the game.
Kendrick has a decent amount of pop for a second baseman, but his power is nothing compared to the likes of Josh Hamilton, Albert Pujols and Mark Trumbo.
Kendrick steals a decent number of bases, but Erick Aybar is a better base runner.
Kendrick has a solid batting average and gets on base quite regularly, but Alberto Callaspo is just as good and Mike Trout is even better.
Kendrick has very good defensive numbers, but second basemen never get recognized for good defense.
Add it all up and he's a complete ball player being completely overshadowed by the majority of his teammates.
Los Angeles Dodgers: A.J. Ellis
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Career Stats: 246 games, 17 HR, 0 SB, .269/.372/.388
2013 Stats: 26 games, 2 HR, 0 SB, .283/.394/.402
Last year was A.J. Ellis' first full season in the big leagues, and he did not disappoint.
He was one of only nine catchers to have at least 500 plate appearances. Ellis and A.J. Pierzynski were the only catchers over the age of 30 to accomplish that feat.
Ellis doesn't have any "Wow! Look at what A.J. Ellis is doing!" type of numbers, but 30-year-old catchers who can bat .270 with at least 10 home runs in 500 plate appearances don't exactly grow on trees.
Pierzynski and Bengie Molina are the only other guys to have done so in any of the past five seasons.
Miami Marlins: Justin Ruggiano
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Career Stats: 218 games, 25 HR, 22 SB, .270/.328/.463
2013 Stats: 29 games, 6 HR, 5 SB, .239/.320/.459
Among a few other things he wrote, Mark Twain is famous for having said "The reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated" in response to his obituary appearing in the New York Journal rather prematurely.
Justin Ruggiano could say something similar to everyone asserting that the Marlins are essentially Giancarlo Stanton and 24 guys who belong in the minors.
Dating back to the start of the 2012 season, Ruggiano has 19 home runs and 19 stolen bases in a span of 397 at-bats, which extrapolates to roughly 28 of each over the course of a full season.
Do you know how many guys had 25 home runs and 25 stolen bases last season? A grand total of three—Mike Trout, Ryan Braun and B.J. Upton. Let's go ahead and start showing Ruggiano some love.
Milwaukee Brewers: Marco Estrada
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Career Stats: 301.0 IP, 302 K, 4.54 ERA, 1.26 WHIP
2013 Stats: 38.2 IP, 39 K, 6.05 ERA, 1.50 WHIP
In limited action, his first three seasons were beyond forgettable, giving up 28 earned runs on eight home runs over a span of 31.1 IP.
The long ball has absolutely still been plaguing him, as he's "leading" the league in home runs allowed per inning pitched thus far in 2013.
However, in 2011 and 2012 he had an ERA of 3.82 and a WHIP of 1.17 with a K/9 of 9.0 and a K/BB of 3.98.
The only other pitchers during that time frame with at least 200 innings pitched and a K/9 of 9.0 or better, an ERA of 4.00 or less and a K/BB of 3.8 or better were Justin Verlander, Cliff Lee, Clayton Kershaw and Zack Greinke.
That's pretty good company.
If he could reduce the home-run victimization he's been suffering with, he could be one of the elite pitchers in baseball.
Minnesota Twins: Jared Burton
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Career Stats: 244.0 IP, 211 K, 3.02 ERA, 1.20 WHIP
2013 Stats: 13.0 IP, 13 K, 2.08 ERA, 1.00 WHIP
Over his 75 innings of work with the Twins, Jared Burton has an ERA of 2.16 and a WHIP of 0.93, which even includes the loss he took on Monday after giving up three hits and a run in 0.2 innings of work.
It's nothing astounding, but it's about the closest thing the Twins have to an underrated star. They jettisoned both Denard Span and Ben Revere this past offseason, Joe Mauer is the farthest thing from underrated and Josh Willingham and Trevor Plouffe are largely useless when they aren't hitting home runs.
Justin Morneau is about the closest thing to underrated in their lineup, but how underrated can you really be when you've already won an MVP?
With the possible exception of Scott Diamond, I wouldn't wish anyone in their starting rotation on my worst enemy. So, yes, the set-up guy takes the underrated honor for a team that might win 70 games this season.
New York Yankees: Lyle Overbay
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Career Stats: 1352 games, 138 HR, 15 SB, .270/.352/.439
2013 Stats: 28 games, 5 HR, 0 SB, .253/.290/.484
With an honorable mention to David Robertson, who has been absolutely killing it in the set-up role for the past three seasons, Lyle Overbay's contributions to the 2013 New York Yankees have been completely overshadowed by the career renaissance of Vernon Wells and Travis Hafner.
In fact, I'm willing to bet most people didn't even know Lyle Overbay was playing for the Yankees. I certainly lost track of his world travels after departing from Toronto in 2010. In the past three years he's played for the Pirates, Diamondbacks, Braves and now the Yankees, largely disappointing in the previous three landing spots.
Thus far this year, however, he's been more than a serviceable fill-in at first base in the absence of pretty much every other starting infielder on the Yankees' roster.
From June 26, 2010 through the end of the 2011 season, he hit just five home runs in 260 at-bats. Amassing 95 at-bats in the span of five weeks, he's already jacked five homers this season and is helping keep the Yankees in excellent position for when the actual Yankees start coming back from the disabled list.
New York Mets: Shaun Marcum
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Career Stats: 926.2 IP, 754 K, 3.80 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
2013 Stats: 10.0 IP, 8 K, 7.20 ERA, 2.10 WHIP
Clearly 2013 hasn't been everything Shaun Marcum hoped and dreamed it would be, but he's still recovering from several ailments that necessitated a late start to the season.
Let's assume he'll gradually start to turn things around as he stretches out and eventually gets to start a few games against the Miami Marlins.
When Marcum made the shift from Toronto to Milwaukee following the 2010 season, many were expecting a drop in ERA and rise in strikeouts similar to what Matt Garza experienced upon transitioning from the AL East to the NL Central.
No such transformation occurred, and people began to become disappointed that he merely continued to post an ERA in the 3.50 range while striking out seven-plus batters per nine innings pitched.
Now he's been labeled as injury prone, making just $4 million in 2013 despite five better than average years at the big league level.
Technically he's the highest paid pitcher on the Mets roster with Frank Francisco's $6.5 million and Johan Santana's $24.6 million salaries on the disabled list, but that hardly seems like fair value for a pitcher of his caliber.
Perhaps if he gets back to properly honing his craft in a New York market instead of Toronto or Milwaukee, he'll start garnering some of the respect he deserves.
Oakland Athletics: Brandon Moss
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Career Stats: 362 games, 40 HR, 4 SB, .256/.325/.445
2013 Stats: 29 games, 4 HR, 1 SB, .299/.398/.474
Stop me if you've heard this one before, but Brandon Moss bounced around the league for five years before finding a home in Oakland and developing into an on-base percentage machine.
From 2007-2011—playing with the Red Sox, Pirates and Phillies—Moss averaged just three home runs in 136 at-bats per season. The Pirates tried to give him everyday at-bats in 2008 and 2009, but it just never worked out as he failed to reach base even 30 percent of the time.
Since showing up in Oakland in 2012, he's batting .293 and reaching base at a .365 clip. Better yet, he's averaging one home run for every 16.36 plate appearances, which is sixth-best among players with at least 400 plate appearances since the start of the 2012 season.
He's just behind names like Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Bautista, and just ahead of names like Josh Hamilton, Ryan Braun and Miguel Cabrera on that list.
With Chris Carter now in Houston and no longer stealing at-bats from him at first base, Brandon Moss could be poised for a 150-game, 30-homer season for the first time in his career.
Philadelphia Phillies: Michael Young
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Career Stats: 1855 games, 178 HR, 89 SB, .302/.348/.444
2013 Stats: 32 games, 1 HR, 0 SB, .333/.398/.423
Texas' decision to let Michael Young go makes perfect sense. Despite his ability to play any position in the infield, the Rangers' infield is looking just fine without him in there on a daily basis for the first time in 12 years.
Perhaps they briefly considered keeping him around as a DH and utility guy when the starters need days off, but you don't want a DH who batted .277/.312/.370 in 2012, and you don't want to pay a utility guy $18 million when you can pay Leury Garcia and Jeff Baker a combined $2.25 million to do the exact same thing.
After losing Placido Polanco and Ty Wigginton this offseason and unwilling to fully hand the reins over to Kevin Frandsen, the Phillies gladly snagged the 36-year-old third baseman that most assumed was past his prime.
Who wouldn't assume that? After nine consecutive seasons with a WAR of 2.4 or better, Young posted a dismal -1.7 in 2012.
That hasn't stopped him from having one of his best batting seasons and playing exceptional defense at third base, committing just one error while achieving the highest zone rating of his career.
Pittsburgh Pirates: Starling Marte
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Career Stats: 77 games, 10 HR, 22 SB, .286/.339/.476
2013 Stats: 30 games, 5 HR, 10 SB, .325/.390/.528
Haters will cite his high BABIP and poor strikeout rate as cause for concern, but Starling Marte has looked like the real deal thus far in a career that hasn't even equated to half of a full season.
I would point out that he's had a high BABIP and strikeout rate every step of the way through the Pirates' farm system. Some guys—especially the speedy ones who can turn routine groundouts into infield singles—just end up having a better than average career BABIP.
I'm not necessarily saying he's the second coming of any of these guys, but Derek Jeter, Matt Kemp and Ichiro Suzuki all have a career BABIP north of .345 and more than 150 career stolen bases. Maybe .361 is higher than it will be in the future, but there's no reason to assume he'll regress to .300 or worse.
Let's end that discussion before it turns into a full-blown rant. Marte is a special talent and deserves at least a fraction of the attention that Andrew McCutchen gets when talking about the Pittsburgh Pirates.
San Diego Padres: Chris Denorfia
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Career Stats: 469 games, 27 HR, 38 SB, .282/.345/.417
2013 Stats: 29 games, 2 HR, 2 SB, .300/.369/.440
Since getting something resembling regular playing time four years ago, Chris Denorfia is batting .283 and averaging 10.5 HR and 15 SB per 162 games.
However, he's always been viewed as more of a fourth outfielder, even by his own teams. He's made plenty of appearances as a late-game defensive replacement or as a pinch hitter/runner, but he's only started 292 games out of a possible 518 since the start of the 2010 season.
There are relief pitchers who appear in games almost as frequently as Denorfia starts them. Even with a .300 batting average and Carlos Quentin and Kyle Blanks missing a combined 26 games, Denorfia has only started 23 out of 32 possible games this season for the Padres.
His playing time is gradually increasing, but there's no excuse for failing to find a spot in the lineup for someone who has consistently reached base better than 33 percent of the time throughout his career.
San Francisco Giants: Sergio Romo
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Career Stats: 249.0 IP, 295 K, 2.17 ERA, 0.88 WHIP
2013 Stats: 15.2 IP, 18 K, 1.72 ERA, 0.83 WHIP
Most people think the latter half of the 2012 season was Sergio Romo's coming-out party, but they would be dead wrong.
With the possible exception of Mariano Rivera, Sergio Romo has been the greatest reliever in baseball for the past six seasons.
Of the pitchers who have logged at least 200 IP since the start of the 2008 season, Sergio Romo has the third-best ERA and the best FIP. His K/BB rate of 6.02 ranks third in the majors behind Koji Uehara (an absurd 7.99) and Mariano Rivera (6.70).
Because the media was too busy exalting Brian Wilson during most of those years, not many realized what an asset the Giants had sitting beside The Beard in the bullpen.
Not only is he the most underrated Giant, but his average draft position in ESPN fantasy leagues (behind John Axford, for heaven's sake) might make him the most underrated guy in the entire league coming into the 2013 season.
Seattle Mariners: Kyle Seager
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Career Stats: 240 games, 27 HR, 16 SB, .264/.319/.424
2013 Stats: 32 games, 4 HR, 0 SB, .293/.348/.496
Consider this a friendly reminder that the Mariners do have guys on their roster other than Felix Hernandez.
Kyle Seager has been a solid third baseman over the past season and a half, coming in eighth in WAR at the position last season while belting 20 homers and stealing 13 bases. The only other third basemen to put up those numbers in 2012 were David Wright, Chase Headley and Hanley Ramirez.
At just 25 years of age, he's nowhere near his peak potential, either.
St. Louis Cardinals: Lance Lynn
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Career Stats: 246.2 IP, 259 K, 3.54 ERA, 1.25 WHIP
2013 Stats: 36.0 IP, 39 K, 2.75 ERA, 1.11 WHIP
Lance Lynn had a couple of stretches in 2012 in which he looked downright awful. In his last three starts of June, he had an ERA of 9.98 and a WHIP of 2.09. Then from July 27 through Aug. 24, he had an ERA of 7.31 and a WHIP of 1.87 before getting relegated to the bullpen for a few weeks.
The postseason wasn't any better, as he allowed 11 runs (seven earned) in just 11 innings of work.
With all those bad numbers, it's easy to forget just how dominant he was for the first 10 weeks of the season. By mid-June, he was 10-2 with a 2.42 ERA and 86 strikeouts in 81.2 IP. He just seemed to run out of gas halfway through his first full season in the big leagues.
Thus far in 2013, he's looked almost as good as he did early on in 2012. We'll see if he can make it into July this year before starting to fall apart.
Tampa Bay Rays: Joel Peralta
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Career Stats: 470.2 IP, 422 K, 3.86 ERA, 1.13 WHIP
2013 Stats: 13.2 IP, 15 K, 1.32 ERA, 0.95 WHIP
Whether or not his pitches are still being aided by pine tar has yet to be determined, but Joel Peralta has been the most consistently good part of the Tampa Bay organization thus far this season.
In fact, he's been one of the more consistently good relievers in baseball for the past four seasons. Since the start of 2010, he has a 2.83 ERA and 0.91 WHIP while striking out better than one batter per inning.
Texas Rangers: Mitch Moreland
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Career Stats: 327 games, 44 HR, 6 SB, .265/.327/.442
2013 Stats: 32 games, 4 HR, 0 SB, .271/.325/.449
For the first time in his four-year career, first base is Mitch Moreland's and Mitch Moreland's alone. No more Michael Young or Mike Napoli to compete with for playing time.
Thus far, he's doing a fine job. Not a great one, but good enough for a bit of recognition. He's on pace for 142 hits and 20 home runs and has pretty solid triple slash numbers.
Once it warms up a bit and balls really start flying out of Rangers Ballpark in Arlington, don't be surprised if he gets closer to 30-35 home runs.
Toronto Blue Jays: Casey Janssen
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Career Stats: 405.2 IP, 302 K, 3.53 ERA, 1.23 WHIP
2013 Stats: 11.0 IP, 12 K, 0.82 ERA, 0.27 WHIP
The career numbers are a bit high because of his failed experiment as a starting pitcher. The numbers in 2013 are a bit insanely low because of a small sample size. Since the start of the 2011 season, though, Janssen has an ERA of 2.28, a WHIP of 0.91 and a K/9 of 9.1.
Despite those numbers, people spent most of the 2012 season expecting Sergio Santos to come back and reclaim the closer role rather than appreciating the masterful job Janssen was able to do for a team that barely gave him five save opportunities per month.
In slightly more frequent outings this season, he's been completely shutting down opponents. He's allowed only three baserunners over 11 innings of work in converting saves in each of his eight chances.
With the eternal exception of Mariano Rivera, you'd have a hard time arguing for anyone other than Janssen as the closer for the American League if the All-Star Game were being held today.
Washington Nationals: Jordan Zimmermann
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Career Stats: 523.1 IP, 423 K, 3.32 ERA, 1.17 WHIP
2013 Stats: 44.0 IP, 27 K, 1.64 ERA, 0.75 WHIP
When it comes to Washington Nationals who had Tommy John surgery, made a handful of starts at the end of the following season and were held to 160 IP in the year after, the conversation seems to start and end with Stephen Strasburg—as do most conversations about the Washington Nationals' pitching staff.
However, the Nats did the exact same thing with Jordan Zimmermann the year before infamously doing it with Strasburg. Whether it's because they didn't push him too hard when he first came back or not, Zimmermann has evolved into one of the best pitchers in the majors, but can't seem to even get out of the shadows of Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez on his own roster.
In 2012, Zimmermann recorded a quality start (six or more IP, three or fewer earned runs) in 24 of his 32 starts en route to a 2.94 ERA and 1.17 WHIP—every bit as good as Gio Gonzalez's numbers, but with significantly fewer strikeouts. Only five pitchers had a higher percentage of quality starts, including both Cy Young winners.
So far in 2013, he's got a quality start in five of six starts and is working on a stretch of 18 consecutive scoreless innings in which he's allowed three hits, two walks and has 13 strikeouts.
Leaving Zimmermann out of the discussion of baseball's elite pitchers is a mistake.