10 Outstanding Individual Seasons in MLB That Nobody Is Noticing

Kerry Miller@@kerrancejamesCollege Basketball National AnalystMay 24, 2013

10 Outstanding Individual Seasons in MLB That Nobody Is Noticing

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    It seems like an oxymoron.

    By definition, being outstanding means being prominent and standing out from the crowd. How, then, can an outstanding season go unnoticed?

    These 10 guys have pulled it off.

    Some of them are being overshadowed by other guys on their own team. Some are being overshadowed by other players in the league at their position. Others are simply suffering the effects of playing for small-market teams.

    Whatever the cause of their relative anonymity, these guys have been more valuable than you would infer from their coverage in the national media.

    All statistics are courtesy of ESPN.com and FanGraphs.com and are accurate through the start of play on Friday, May 24.

Jake Peavy, Chicago White Sox, SP

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    2013 Stats: 51.2 IP, 42 H, 19 ER, 13 BB, 58 K, 6 QS

    In July 2010, Jake Peavy's shoulder exploded on the mound.

    That's probably not the medical term for what happened, but the injury he suffered was unlike anything we've seen in baseball. The surgical placement of titanium anchors to repair detached muscles and tendons involved what Dr. Anthony Romeo described as "a reverse barb ... like a fish hook. Once they go into the bone, you can't really pull them back out."

    That sounds horrible, but somehow Peavy was back in the starting rotation the following season. He was a serviceable MLB pitcher in 2011, but he wasn't nearly the same Jake Peavy who won the NL Cy Young and the pitching Triple Crown in 2007.

    Peavy pitched surprisingly well in 2012, finishing the season with a 3.37 ERA and a WAR of 4.5, despite an 11-12 record.

    Thus far in 2013, he's had a better ERA and WHIP than he did in 2012 and a K/9 of 10.1 to boot. Yet the only White Sox pitcher anyone seems interested in talking about is Chris Sale.

    Maybe that will change if and when Peavy throws a complete-game shutout against the Marlins this weekend.

    Considering he's less than three years removed from experimental shoulder surgery and is currently 13th in the AL in WAR, it wouldn't kill us to show the Jake-Meister a little more love; he's earned it.

Evan Longoria, Tampa Bay Rays, 3B

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    2013 Stats: 46 games, 176 AB, 9 HR, 29 RBI, 0 SB, .335/.399/.585

    Here we have the first of two face-of-the-franchise third basemen who probably seem out of place on this list.

    However, I can almost guarantee that Evan Longoria has been more valuable than you realize.

    Entering play on Thursday, Longoria has the second-highest WAR, according to FanGraphs. Not the second-highest on the Tampa Bay Rays or the second-highest among third basemen. He's the second-most valuable player in all of baseball right now.

    Longoria has always been good, but he's never been this good. His .391 BABIP is a good bit higher than his career mark of .309, but his plate discipline is much improved from previous seasons, so this might be fairly sustainable.

    Thus far in 2013, Longoria is swinging at just 20.8 percent of pitches outside of the strike zone, which is 20 percent better than his career percentage of 26. He's also doing a much better job of making contact on those swings outside the strike zone. He's sitting at 71.9 percent right now despite entering the season at 60 percent.

    Translation: Longoria isn't chasing pitches as much as he used to, and he's doing a much better job of actually hitting the pitches he does chase. If that trend continues, he could easily finish in the top 10 in the league in batting average, despite never hitting better than .294 in a previous season.

    Coupled with his potential to hit 30 home runs, it's time to start paying more attention to the batter that's helping keep Tampa Bay afloat in the AL East.

Adam Wainwright, St. Louis Cardinals, SP

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    2013 Stats: 72.0 IP, 64 H, 19 ER, 6 BB, 69 K, 9 QS

    Did you know that Adam Wainwright has the highest WAR among pitchers right now? Or did you know that he has the lowest FIP and xFIP of the 37 pitchers with at least 60 innings pitched?

    Wainwright's 11.50 K/BB ratio is the best among all pitchers with at least 30 innings pitched. Bartolo Colon is in a very distant second place at 7.50.

    Other guys have been more unhittable, but no one has been more unstoppable than Wainwright. He's averaging better than seven innings pitched per start and already has two complete-game shutouts to his credit on the season.

    You would have no clue that he has been the best pitcher in baseball based on the lack of national attention bestowed upon him.

    Heck, you'd have no clue that Wainwright is the ace of the Cardinals staff based on the national attention given to Shelby Miller.

    To paint his season in a different light, Wainwright finished third in the NL Cy Young voting in 2009 and finished in second place in 2010. He missed the entire 2011 season following Tommy John surgery. Yet, you could very easily say his numbers in 2013 have been even more impressive than either of those seasons in which he nearly won the award.

    Try not to be surprised if he's the starting pitcher for the National League in this summer's All-Star Game.

Shin-Soo Choo, Cincinnati Reds,OF

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    2013 Stats: 45 games, 170 AB, 9 HR, 19 RBI, 5 SB, .300/.449/.535

    This marks the fifth time in the last month that I've dedicated a slide to Shin-Soo Choo.

    I noticed his incredible start to the season while researching a late-April article on guys who are bound to regress. At the time, Choo's BABIP was .451 and his batting average was .366. Those numbers have dropped to .353 and .300, respectively. He's definitely regressed, but he's also definitely still doing something right to have an on-base percentage of .449 at the end of May.

    In the beginning of May, I ranked Choo as the 12th-best player among the 2013 class of free agents. A week later, I pegged him as the most underrated player on the Reds and then pointed out how frequently he's been pegged by a baseball.

    All in all, I've done my part to spread the gospel of Choo, but he's still barely a blip on the national radar.

    So, one more time, here's why you need to start paying attention to Shin-Soo Choo.

    Among the 328 players with at least 60 plate appearances, Choo's on-base percentage ranks third behind Joey "Walks" Votto and Miguel Cabrera. Choo is one of just four major leaguers with at least nine home runs and at least five stolen bases—along with Carlos Gonzalez, Alex Rios and Mike Trout.

    Despite having his run total compromised by batting in front of Zack Cozart and having his RBI potential compromised by batting leadoff, Choo ranks 10th among fantasy outfielders, according to ESPN's player rater, and he is tied for fourth in wins above replacement, according to FanGraphs.

    If Dusty Baker would shake up the Reds lineup and maximize Choo's potential, he could be in the discussion for NL MVP right now.

Jason Grilli, Pittsburgh Pirates, RP

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    2013 Stats: 21.2 IP, 11 H, 3 ER, 5 BB, 34 K, 19 Saves

    After 10 years of playing for six different teams and transitioning from a starter to a middle reliever to a set-up guy, Jason Grilli has finally been given a chance to close out games at the age of 36.

    He has not disappointed.

    Grilli leads all closers with 19 saves in 19 opportunities. His 14.12 K/9 is the highest among all pitchers having logged at least 20 innings this season. His 0.74 FIP is by far the lowest among that same group of 227 pitchers.

    No matter how you slice it, he's been the most dominant reliever through the first 45 games of the season. However, mainstream media doesn't appear to have caught on just yet.

    Certainly the Pirates have begun garnering some attention for getting to 11 games over .500, but most of that has been attributed to everyday players like Starling Marte and Andrew McCutchen, or to the rejuvenated seasons of A.J. Burnett and Francisco Liriano.

    Little attention has been paid to the flawless ninth-inning work of Grilli.

    Even former Pirates closer Joel Hanrahan has grabbed more headlines than Grilli, as Hanrahan struggled out of the gate with the Red Sox before having Tommy John surgery.

    Grilli will almost certainly be headed to the 2013 All-Star Game. Perhaps that will result in a more appropriate level of appreciation for what he has been doing.

Josh Donaldson (Oakland Athletics 3B)

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    2013 Stats: 47 games, 168 AB, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 2 SB, .308/.383/.517

    No, Josh Donaldson isn't the second face-of-the-franchise third baseman that I promised in Longoria's slide. He very well could be, though.

    Be honest. If you neither root for Oakland nor own him in fantasy baseball, you would probably have no idea who Donaldson is. However, his current batting average is better than any an Oakland Athletic has finished a season with in the past seven years.

    It's unlikely you'll see him at the All-Star Game, even though he 100 percent deserves to represent the A's in the most overrated exhibition game in the world. Despite how well he has played, he has the unfortunate distinction of being the fourth-best third baseman in the American League.

    In terms of WAR, he's sixth-best in the American League.

    Even if you're a Donaldson enthusiast, that seems a bit high, doesn't it? Though Jason Catania made a compelling case for WAR as the most perfect baseball statistic last week, this is where it becomes a bit silly.

    Because third base in the American League is so incredibly shallow, the replacement-level player that we're comparing Donaldson against is some combination of Mark DeRosa, Jayson Nix and Jamey Carroll. So long as you can walk and chew gum at the same time, you should be worth at least a couple of wins more than that, right?

    Nevertheless, Donaldson could be 60th in the AL in WAR and his current level of coverage in the national media would still be less than he deserves.

    But since when is that news for an up-and-coming star in Oakland? Yoenis Cespedes has gotten a bit of national attention, but that's about it.

    Donaldson deserves the same level of attention Cespedes is getting, and then some.

Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants, SP

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    2013 Stats: 65.1 IP, 49 H, 21 ER, 17 BB, 63 K, 7 QS

    Lost somewhere in the rear-view mirror of other NL Cy Young contenders and somewhere in the hoopla of the rest of the Giants rotation is Madison Bumgarner.

    Clayton Kershaw is obviously the favorite to win the Cy Young Award, while young guns like Matt Harvey and Shelby Miller are understandably stealing what's left of the spotlight. But for some reason, Bumgarner isn't even getting a piece of the national limelight.

    It's tough to say whether it's because Jordan Zimmermann has assumed the "underrated pitcher that's slowly becoming overrated because of how much we're talking about him being underrated" spot, or because of the attention being shown to "old guys who still have it," like A.J. Burnett and Cliff Lee. Maybe it's just the infamous East Coast bias.

    Whatever the cause, he's being underappreciated.

    There are 25 NL pitchers who have made 10 starts this season. Bumgarner is one of the five with a sub-3.00 ERA and a K/BB of at least 3.5. The others are Harvey, Kershaw, Lee and Wainwright. Let's at least start including Bumgarner in the discussion with those other aces.

    Meanwhile, in San Francisco, it's fairly easy to miss what Bumgarner has done among all the other storylines to follow in the starting rotation.

    Barry Zito had a 2.75 ERA on May 8 before imploding in consecutive starts against Toronto and Colorado. Now we're left to wonder whether that hot start was just a mirage of yesteryear. Matt Cain has taken the opposite 2013 arc, pitching terribly in April prior to being lights out in three of his last four starts.

    Ryan Vogelsong was pitching horrendously through the first seven weeks, but he appeared to have turned a corner against the lowly Nationals lineup before suffering a broken hand. Whether he's pitching wonderfully or poorly, Tim Lincecum has been a lightning rod for media attention since the day he got called up to the big leagues in 2007.

    There simply isn't much left to cover about the consistently solid pitcher into which Bumgarner has evolved.

Jean Segura, Milwaukee Brewers, SS

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    2013 Stats: 44 games, 174 AB, 7 HR, 20 RBI, 14 SB, .351/.390/.563

    The Jean Segura bandwagon has gained steam in recent days, but there are still plenty of people paying no mind to the starting shortstop for one of the smallest-market teams in the country.

    If All-Star voting was based on WAR in the current season and not whatever in the world the masses base their votes on, Segura would be the leading candidate to start at shortstop in the Midsummer Classic.

    I can live with Troy Tulowitzki getting the job, but so help me if Jimmy Rollins or Andrelton Simmons wins the vote.

    Segura is second only to Miguel Cabrera on the ESPN player rater, and he's light years ahead of Tulowitzki and Everth Cabrera among shortstops. His .351 batting average is second in the NL to Joey Votto. His 14 stolen bases is third in the majors to Everth Cabrera and Nate McLouth.

    So make sure you're one of the dozens of spectators to tune in for this weekend's series between the Brewers and Pirates so you can catch some live action of the 23-year-old who's taking the baseball world by storm.

    And to think, just last July the Angels traded Segura and two other pitchers away for a two-month rental of Zack Greinke. The Angels missed the playoffs by four games, and now Greinke is pitching for the Dodgers. Ouch.

Justin Masterson, Cleveland Indians, SP

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    2013 Stats: 70.0 IP, 53 H, 22 ER, 26 BB, 71 K, 7 QS

    On May 24 of last season, Justin Masterson pitched seven innings of one-run ball against the Tigers to lower his ERA to 4.62, picking up his second win of the season in the process.

    On May 24 of this season, he'll toe the rubber against the Boston Red Sox seeking his eighth win of the year. He would have to give up 14 earned runs without recording an out to finish the night with the same ERA as he did on this day one calendar year ago.

    A 2.83 ERA and 1.13 WHIP in late May is hardly press-stopping news, but it's better than we've ever seen before from Masterson.

    Coming into the season, Masterson had one complete-game shutout in 121 career starts. He picked up his second three starts into the season in a 1-0 win over the White Sox—his third a month later in a 1-0 win over the Yankees.

    In 40 percent of his starts, he has pitched at least seven innings without giving up a single run.

    I wouldn't go putting him on the level of a Felix Hernandez or Justin Verlander, but let's stop assuming he is inevitably going to flame out and start at least including him in the honorable mentions of the AL Cy Young discussion.

David Wright, New York Mets, 3B

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    2013 Stats: 44 games, 157 AB, 6 HR, 28 RBI, 10 SB, .293/.395/.490

    Hard to believe David Wright is being overlooked.

    After nearly a decade of being indisputably the most popular player at Shea Stadium and Citi Field year in and year out, Wright has been playing a severely muted second fiddle to Matt Harvey in 2013.

    All discussions about the Mets seem to start and end with either "Matt Harvey is the best pitcher in baseball" or "at least they aren't the Marlins."

    Meanwhile, David Wright is on pace for more than 20 home runs, 35 stolen bases and 100 RBI.

    A little bit of spreadsheet manipulation tells us that only two people have accomplished those numbers in the past eight years. Those two were Jacoby Ellsbury (32 HR, 105 RBI, 39 SB) and Matt Kemp (39 HR, 126 RBI, 40 SB) in 2011.

    Apologies to Matt Kemp's 2013 fantasy owners, who are now cursing his name for not putting up those numbers anymore.

    Aside from some guy named Miguel Cabrera, Wright is currently the most valuable third baseman in fantasy baseball.