All 30 MLB Teams' Most Underrated Player in 2013
The greatest thing about sports—about being a sports fan—is the raw emotion it produces in all of us, leading to some epic discussions and debates.
Chances are, after looking at the title of this article and seeing Mr. Lincecum as the lead photo, you've already begun to construct a rant about how he can't possibly be considered underrated. Overrated maybe, but underrated? No way!
I beg to differ, and perhaps you'll find yourself looking at "The Freaky Franchise" differently after you've read this.
But that's what I'm out to do here: change our perceptions of one player on each team who simply doesn't get the attention, credit and notoriety that they deserve. Some of it is due to injury, others due to the markets in which these players play.
To be sure, there are a handful players on this list who are simply having down seasons, lowering their value—both real and perceived—around the baseball world.
But you could make the argument that a contender could—and probably would—find a roster spot for each and every player mentioned here if the opportunity to add one to their team presented itself.
Let's take a look at who we are talking about, shall we?
*Unless otherwise noted, all statistics courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are current through games of August 5.
Arizona Diamondbacks: CF A.J. Pollock
A.J. Pollock's numbers might look underwhelming, but the Diamondbacks aren't battling for first place in the NL West without the early-season contributions that they received from their 25-year-old rookie.
With Adam Eaton sidelined until early July with an elbow injury, Pollock was called upon early to replace his fellow rookie's expected production, both at the plate and in the field. He did just that, hitting .279 with a .755 OPS and playing Gold Glove caliber defense.
While Pollock has slumped since the beginning of June, hitting only .218 with a .630 OPS and he's been relegated to part of a left-field platoon with Jason Kubel, Pollock continues to contribute with his glove, getting to balls that other outfielders simply have no chance of reaching.
According to FanGraphs, Pollock's 35.3 UZR/150 leads all qualified National League outfielders and trails only Boston's Shane Victorino (41.7) for the major league lead.
Atlanta Braves: RP Jordan Walden
Years from now, when Frank Wren is no longer the GM of the Atlanta Braves and he looks back on his career, his acquisition of Jordan Walden from the Los Angeles Angels in exchange for Tommy Hanson to last November will stand out as one of his best.
Walden has thrived as one of Craig Kimbrel's primary setup men, holding the opposition to a meager .203/.272/.268 slash line while averaging more than 10 strikeouts per nine innings of work. The most remarkable thing is that the control issues that dogged him in Los Angeles have seemingly disappeared:
In a bullpen that lost two key pieces in Eric O'Flaherty and Jonny Venters early and has been relying on unproven talent for much of the season, Walden has been one of the few players that manager Fredi Gonzalez has been able to call on without any hesitation.
Baltimore Orioles: SP Chris Tillman
Despite being tied for the second-highest win total in baseball and on pace to become Baltimore's first 20-game winner since Mike Boddicker went 20-11 in 1984, Chris Tillman has gotten almost no mention outside of the Inner Harbor.
Sure, his overall numbers are underwhelming and advanced metrics show that they should probably be worse, but you can't dispute the facts—and the facts are that Baltimore wins when Tillman takes the hill, going 17-5 in the 22 games started by the 25-year-old right-hander this season.
Boston Red Sox: RP Junichi Tazawa
With the job that Koji Uehara has done replacing the injured Andrew Bailey and Joel Hanrahan as Boston's closer this season, it's easy to overlook Junichi Tazawa. But we shouldn't, for it's Tazawa who has picked up the slack left by the team's decision to remove its best setup man—Uehara—from the equation in the eighth inning.
The 27-year-old rises to the occasion when there are runners on base, holding the opposition to a .193/.228/.277 slash line. When those runners are in scoring position he's even better, with batters posting an even more minuscule .132/.180/.132 line against him.
Chicago Cubs: SP Travis Wood
It might seem odd to have someone who was a member of this year's National League All-Star squad on a list of underrated players, but Travis Wood simply doesn't get the kind of attention that he deserves.
Overshadowed by Jeff Samardzija and Edwin Jackson in the Cubs rotation, Wood has been the team's best starting pitcher player this season.
Wood has as many quality starts as Felix Hernandez and more than Madison Bumgarner, Matt Harvey, Cole Hamels, Cliff Lee and Chris Sale, among others.
His ERA didn't rise above 3.00 until after his last start, when he allowed five earned runs to the Los Angeles Dodgers in just over three innings of work on August 2. It was only the third time all season that the 26-year-old has allowed more than three earned runs and only the fourth time that he's failed to throw at least six full innings.
Without Travis Wood, the Cubs would be battling the likes of Houston, Miami and their crosstown rivals, the White Sox, for the worst record in baseball. He gives the Cubs a chance to win every time that he takes the mound, which is more than you can say about some more well-known arms in the game.
Chicago White Sox: SP Jose Quintana
One of the few bright spots for the White Sox this season has been the play of 24-year-old Jose Quintana, who while not a front-of-the-rotation arm like Chris Sale should be a quality No. 3 starter for years to come.
Despite pitching to a 2.58 ERA and striking out nearly a batter an inning over his last seven starts, Quintana only has three wins to show for his efforts, the result of pitching in front of a lousy offense.
Cincinnati Reds: RP Manny Parra
After a forgettable six-year run with the Milwaukee Brewers that saw him struggle both as a starter and a reliever, Manny Parra barely registered as a blip on the radar when the Reds signed him as a free agent in February.
While he still struggles to garner much attention, Parra has been phenomenal as a middle reliever for Dusty Baker's squad, especially as the season has rolled along.
Since getting shelled for four hits and three earned runs in only one inning against Colorado on June 5, the 30-year-old southpaw has been nearly unhittable, pitching to a 0.98 ERA and 0.61 WHIP while holding the opposition to a .131/.172/.141 slash line.
Over that 18.1 inning span, Parra has fanned 23 while issuing only three walks.
Cleveland Indians: UTIL Ryan Raburn
I can admit when I'm wrong and I was way off on my assessment of Ryan Raburn coming out of spring training when I dismissed his strong performance as nothing to get excited about.
Raburn has been as big of an addition for the Indians this year as Michael Bourn or Nick Swisher—and he's been a bigger run producer than either of those former All-Stars.
Consider this: Raburn had one home run and 12 RBI in 205 at-bats for the Tigers last season. When he hit a two-run shot off of Detroit's Darin Downs on July 6, it was his 10th home run of the season and RBI numbers 27 and 28 for the eight-year veteran.
When manager Terry Francona calls on him, Raburn produces and, crazy as it may sound, the Indians aren't contending for a playoff spot this season without his contributions.
Colorado Rockies: 3B Nolan Arenado
Ranked as Colorado's best prospect heading into the season by Baseball America, Nolan Arenado hasn't been the force at the plate that many expected he would be, struggling to hit for average or get on base with any consistency.
But the 22-year-old has quickly made himself irreplaceable because of his fielding, getting to balls that most third basemen can't and making the throws that don't seem possible. According to FanGraphs, only Baltimore's Manny Machado (27.0 UZR/150, 25 DRS) grades out higher than Arenado (26.1, 25).
Without Arenado's glove at the hot corner, Colorado's record would be far worse than the 52-61 mark that the team currently has.
Detroit Tigers: RP Drew Smyly
While Drew Smyly might still figure into Detroit's future rotation plans, he won't be joining Justin Verlander in the team's starting rotation anytime soon, as skipper Jim Leyland told the Detroit News' Tom Gage:
"I'm not stretching him out. He can stretch out during the winter—on his bed."
Not only don't the Tigers need Smyly in the rotation this season, but they'd be in serious trouble without him in the bullpen.
The 24-year-old lefty has been stellar in a setup role for Joaquin Benoit (who was in the running for the "Most Underrated" title as well), averaging more than a strikeout per inning while holding opposing batters to a .528 OPS.
From June 28 through the end of July, Smyly allowed a total of seven baserunners over 13.1 innings of work—none of whom made it past first base—while walking none and striking out 18.
That's impressive, and it's that sort of effort that should be garnering Smyly more attention than he gets.
Houston Astros: Nobody
With Houston is still in the very early stages of its rebuilding process, there isn't much to work with when it comes to the Astros.
You can't say that its two best players, Jose Altuve and Jason Castro, are underrated, for not only are they very likely two of the only players that a casual fan could name on the squad, I'd argue that both are overrated.
Altuve can hit for average and steal bases, but he's a disaster in the field and offers next-to-nothing in the power department. Castro is a decent catcher—nothing more, nothing less.
After that pair, the roster is littered with mediocre veterans, youngsters who haven't played enough for us to really have a handle on what they are all about and career journeymen who aren't worth mentioning.
Kansas City Royals: CF Lorenzo Cain
If only Lorenzo Cain could stay healthy.
Injuries have dogged his career and stunted his development, but on talent alone, Cain should be a household name.
He's not a power hitter by any means (though he has some pop), but Cain can hit for average and has the speed to cause problems once he gets on base. His real value, however, is in the field, where Cain would be a perennial Gold Glove contender if he could ever stay healthy for a full season.
Via FanGraphs, only Arizona's A.J. Pollock has a higher UZR/150 in center field than Cain's 28.0 mark, while Milwaukee's Carlos Gomez (27) is the only center fielder in baseball with more DRS (defensive runs saved) than Cain's 18.
Los Angeles Angels: RP Michael Kohn
While folks may not be familiar with Michael Kohn now, his run of relative ambiguity may not last much longer.
Los Angeles' most consistent reliever this season, Kohn could be in line to take over in the ninth inning for Ernesto Frieri, who has struggled badly as of late and may be in danger of losing his closing job.
Kohn doesn't rack up impressive strikeout totals, nor does he crack triple digits on the radar gun with regularity, but the 27-year-old right-hander has been tough against batters form both sides of the plate this season, holding the opposition to a .169 batting average and .657 OPS.
Los Angeles Dodgers: C A.J. Ellis
On a team with superstars like Adrian Gonzalez, Clayton Kershaw, Hanley Ramirez and Yasiel Puig, it's incredibly easy to overlook A.J. Ellis behind the plate, especially when his numbers don't jump off the page.
But Ellis is a big piece of the puzzle for the Dodgers, something that wasn't lost on skipper Don Mattingly after a game against Toronto back in July: (h/t CBS Sports)
He's just consistent. He gives you good at-bats all the time. It's not always hits, but you're always going to get a quality at-bat from A.J. He's a guy who knows what he's doing up there.
Not only does Ellis provide consistent effort at the plate, but he's an underrated commodity behind it. He's thrown out nearly 50 percent of would-be base stealers this season (23-of-47) while posting the second-lowest CERA (Catcher's ERA) in baseball, according to ESPN.
Miami Marlins: SP Jacob Turner
Overshadowed by Jose Fernandez—and rightfully so—Jacob Turner has quietly put together an outstanding 2013 campaign for the Marlins, one that should have people talking about just how good Miami's rotation might be in another year or two.
Acquired from Detroit last season in the Anibal Sanchez trade, the 22-year-old right-hander has provided a quality start for Miami in nine of his 12 outings on the season, allowing more than two earned runs in only three of those starts.
Milwaukee Brewers: C Jonathan Lucroy
He's not on the level of Joe Mauer, Yadier Molina or Buster Posey, but when it comes to the second tier of catchers in baseball, Jonathan Lucroy might be as good a player as you'll find.
The 27-year-old trails only the three aforementioned All-Stars when it comes to OPS at the position and he ranks second among catchers with 16 home runs and 59 RBI on the season, one shy of Toronto's J.P. Arencibia (17) and Posey (60), respectively, for the position lead.
Minnesota Twins: SP Samuel Deduno
Many baseball fans first encountered 30-year-old Samuel Deduno in this year's World Baseball Classic, when he dominated the competition for the Dominican Republic, including in the Championship Game against Puerto Rico, allowing just one run over his 13 innings of work.
Things haven't gone quite as well for him with the Twins, but since joining the team's rotation at the end of May, Deduno has been Minnesota's best pitcher. He's allowed two earned runs or fewer in nine of his 13 starts on the season and failed to get out of the sixth inning only twice.
His control is still far too erratic to consider him anything other than a mid-rotation starter, but that's good enough for a Minnesota club that needs as many quality arms as it can find.
New York Mets: 2B Daniel Murphy
Daniel Murphy has always been able to hit, it was finding a place where his glove wouldn't be a liability that was the major issue.
He's worked his tail off to become an average-fielding second baseman, and while that's not great, it's not terrible, especially when Murphy is swinging the bat like he has in the past.
But he hasn't shown off those skills lately, hitting only .257 since June 1, leading some to overlook him in a Mets lineup that is dominated by the injured David Wright and the resurgent Marlon Byrd. That's a mistake, for Murphy is a far better player than he's shown in 2013.
New York Yankees: SP Ivan Nova
It was tempting to go with Preston Claiborne in this spot, but Ivan Nova is pitching like a front-of-the-rotation arm while receiving the attention you'd expect to see a No. 5 starter receive.
Since the beginning of July, Nova has gone 3-2 with an ERA of 1.66, a WHIP of 0.92 and 37 strikeouts over 38 innings of work, going at least seven innings in each of his five starts. If the Yankees had any semblance of an offense, that win-loss record would be far more impressive.
At this point, Nova has surpassed both CC Sabathia and Andy Pettitte when it comes to the team having confidence in its starting pitcher, a statement that would have been impossible to make only a few months ago.
Oakland Athletics: 3B Josh Donaldson
Even with the A's sitting atop the standings in the AL West for most of the season, Oakland is consistently overlooked, with the focus of conversation being Texas' pursuit of a playoff spot and Los Angeles' struggles.
So it comes as no surprise that one of the better third basemen in baseball, Josh Donaldson, is an underrated commodity around the game.
It was evident with his All-Star snub, and while the 27-year-old has been in a funk since the break, hitting only .147, Donaldson has proven himself to be an above-average defender at the position who can hit for power, average and get on base consistently.
Philadelphia Phillies: SP Kyle Kendrick
Known more for being the victim of the greatest spring training prank of all time than for his performance on the mound, Kyle Kendrick has been a consistent contributor in Philadelphia no matter what role the team has asked him to fill.
He doesn't have overpowering stuff, but Kendrick provides a quality outing whenever he takes the ball more often than not, sitting with as many quality starts on the season as Justin Verlander, Stephen Strasburg, Jose Fernandez, Jeff Samardzija and Yu Darvish have mustered.
Pittsburgh Pirates: LF Starling Marte
He's created as many runs as Pedro Alvarez, yet Starling Marte doesn't get a fraction of the attention that Pittsburgh's third baseman does, much less what Andrew McCutchen receives in center field.
While he's cooled off some after hitting .327 over the first month of the season, Marte remains a quadruple-threat on the field.
He can hit for average, hit for power, cause problems with his speed and plays exceptional defense in left field, leading all left fielders in UZR/150 and DRS by a wide margin, according to FanGraphs.
San Diego Padres: OF Chris Denorfia
While he might be nothing more than a fourth outfielder on a contending club (one of the exceptions I was talking about in the introduction), Chris Denorfia gets overlooked even in that conversation by the likes of Nate Schierholtz and Justin Ruggiano.
The 33-year-old has some pop in his bat, can hit for average and has enough speed to post double-digit stolen base totals on a yearly basis. Defensively, he can play all three outfield positions well, making him a versatile weapon that any manager would love to have on his bench.
San Francisco Giants: SP Tim Lincecum
With the way that people talk about Tim Lincecum, you'd think that he was getting shelled every time that he stepped on the mound and was throwing a junk fastball that topped out in the low-80s.
While he's no longer the perennial Cy Young Award contender that he once was, he's still an above average major league starter.
Over his last 11 starts, Lincecum has gone 2-6 with a 3.78 ERA and 1.19 WHIP, striking out 74 batters in 69 innings of work while walking 21. But even those numbers are skewed.
Take his three-inning, eight earned run start against Cincinnati on July 28 and then look at his numbers: a 2.89 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 72 strikeouts over 65.1 innings of work with 20 walks.
That's more indicative of the kind of pitcher Lincecum is still capable of performing like, making talk of his transition to a relief role premature.
Seattle Mariners: 3B Kyle Seager
Just like Josh Donaldson in Oakland, Kyle Seager is another big-time third baseman who gets overshadowed due to the team he plays for and the plethora of big-time third baseman in baseball at the moment.
He isn't as strong defensively as the likes of Donaldson or Chase Headley in San Diego, but I'd take Seager's bat over those of his West coast counterparts—and with Seager, 25 years old, just entering the prime years of his career, his offensive production only figures to improve with each passing season.
St. Louis Cardinals: 1B Allen Craig
I really made the case for Allen Craig being overlooked and underrated in another piece I wrote about two weeks ago, so rather than repeat myself here, I direct your attention to this link to see a more in-depth analysis of why Craig deserves more attention than he's getting.
The short version, which I'll share here, is that Craig ranks among the league leaders in multiple offensive categories and has created more runs (via FanGraphs) for the Cardinals this season than players like Jose Bautista, Adrian Beltre, Adrian Beltre and Evan Longoria have for their respective clubs.
Tampa Bay Rays: RP Alex Torres
Primarily a starter in the minor leagues, 25-year-old Alex Torres has found a home in Tampa Bay's bullpen and emerged as one of the premier left-handed relievers in baseball this season—yet you never hear his name.
This is a guy who has a WHIP that is more than twice as high as his ERA—a pitcher who has issued more walks (11) than he's allowed hits (10) on the season. In 21 appearances on the season, Torres has allowed one earned run.
Texas Rangers: 1B Mitch Moreland
We had just begun to see what 27-year-old Mitch Moreland was capable of doing with regular playing time when the injury bug struck in early June and sidelined the first baseman for a few weeks. At the time of his injury, Moreland was hitting .288 with an .899 OPS, 12 home runs and 29 RBI.
Since his return, Moreland hasn't been the same player, hitting only .177 and showing none of that early-season confidence. Whether he can break out of his funk remains to be seen, but Moreland is a far better player than his overall numbers indicate.
Toronto Blue Jays: CF Colby Rasmus
After years of being labeled a bust, Colby Rasmus is finally beginning to live up to the hype that made him one of the most intriguing prospects in baseball back in 2008 and 2009.
After years of hitting for power but struggling to hit for average, Rasums seems to have finally figured it all out, putting together one of the best months of his career in July with a .371/.413/.588 slash line while playing above-average defense in center field for the disappointing Blue Jays.
Washington Nationals: CF Denard Span
Denard Span's first season in Washington has been a disappointment as the 29-year-old center fielder has struggled to contribute offensively and continues to try and get comfortable in the field for the defending National League East champions.
It's fair to chalk his issues this season up to nothing more than a down season, but that leads to people underrating—and undervaluing—a player like Span, who has a substantial track record of major league success and is a far better player than he's currently being given credit for.