Of all the multitude of reasons for the Boston Red Sox's turnaround in 2013, having healthy and productive stars is near the top of the list.
After missing a combined 181 games in 2012, the trio of Dustin Pedroia, David Ortiz and Jacoby Ellsbury have been on the field for all but 34 games, most of which came when Ortiz started the year on the DL. And despite Clay Buchholz's perpetual woes, the other four starters have stayed largely intact.
However, stars alone can never carry a truly elite team, and that is where the Red Sox have really separated themselves from their recent past. When bench players had to fill in for stars in 2012, disaster struck. Among semi-regulars, the Sox had six position players and six pitchers who were replacement level or worse. This season, there have only been three position players and three pitchers at sub-replacement levels.
The Red Sox's overall balance was the goal of all those mid-tier offseason signings. None of Boston's acquisitions have had the sizzle of past moves like Adrian Gonzalez or Carl Crawford, but they have created more well-rounded organizational depth.
An individual's importance often gets lost in the refrain of "team play," a mantra the Sox have rallied around. But without several players outperforming expectations, the Red Sox would certainly not be in command of their own postseason destiny.
With that, here are five players whose noteworthy seasons have gone largely underappreciated.
*All stats courtesy Fangraphs.com.