Ranking the 10 Easiest Players to Root for in MLB
The MLB player that is easily the easiest to root for is A.J. Pierzynski.
Wait? What? Dan Shaughnessy from the Boston Globe noted that he was voted 2012’s Most Hated Player in Baseball by fellow players in a Men’s Journal poll?
Well then. Who are the players that are the easiest to root for in MLB if Pierzynski isn’t the guy? Let’s find out.
To be sure, MLB is full of generous players with a true passion for the game and for others who may not be as fortunate in life as they have been, so this is not an all-inclusive list. It is comprised of players that I find to be the most relatable and the ones that, regardless of whom they’re playing, I look forward to watching.
Some of them are stars, while others aren’t. Some are very active in giving back to the community, while others are just classy.
Here are the 10 players that are the easiest to root for in MLB, ranked by wins above replacement.
Note: All stats are courtesy of Baseball-Reference and are accurate as of game time on Friday, May 9.
10. Hector Santiago, SP
In 2012, he spent time as a closer, long-reliever and a starter before becoming a centerpiece in a three-team trade this past offseason between the White Sox, Los Angeles Angels and Arizona Diamondbacks.
Now in addition to being a quality pitcher who was unheralded coming up, Santiago is a genuinely nice fellow. From Alyson Footer of MLB.com:
Santiago was ending a winter ball stint in Puerto Rico in 2012 during the events of the Sandy Hook Elementary tragedy, and once he returned home, he made the one-hour drive to Newtown, Conn., to meet with a group of older elementary school kids who were emotionally affected in the aftermath.
He wasn't there to counsel; rather, he wanted to do whatever he could to give the kids a mental break from the ongoing trauma from being so close to the tragedy. He told them he grew up around the awfulness of Sept. 11. He encouraged them to stay on the right path. He then opened the floor to questions.
It isn't hard to root for a player who is willing to do whatever it takes to help somebody in need. Even if he hasn’t won a game or looked particularly sharp yet.
2014 stats: 0-6, 5.19 ERA, 5.34 FIP, 18 BB, 30 K, 1.587 WHIP, -0.7 WAR
9. Manny Machado, 3B
Manny Machado makes it easy to be a fan.
He is engaging on and off the field, has immense talent and, more importantly, delivers the results. With runners in scoring position, he has a career .337/.363/.513 slash line.
Then there’s the comeback from his gruesome knee injury.
Not only did Machado remain positive in the immediate aftermath, but he worked his tail off and recently made his season debut for the Baltimore Orioles.
He even gets Hall of Fame shortstop Cal Ripken Jr. excited. Ripken, who took some time to share his thoughts with me on a variety of topics last year during an event for Under Armor at Wrigley Field, had this to say about the young outfielder:
He is just a fantastically gifted physical athlete who has a great set of tools, especially his arm and his ability to catch, but his arm really separates him in a lot of ways from a lot of infielders.
Getting to know him and talk to him a little bit, he has a great aptitude for the game, which helps to put him in the right position.
It is fun to watch him, period, because of the great plays he makes.
It doesn’t hurt that he is arguably the best defensive third baseman in MLB. Sure, he has only been back for a handful of games, but there is little doubt about his abilities.
2014 stats: .148/.233/.148, 3 BB, K, -0.4 WAR
8. Brandon McCarthy, SP
Brandon McCarthy may not be the most electric pitcher in the game, but is certainly one of the most fun to root for thanks to his affability.
Even after getting hit in the head with a line drive, the right-hander kept his sense of humor. Look no further than this post from B/R’s Gabe Zaldivar for proof.
And then there’s this excerpt from an article by Michael Mooney that appeared on BuzzFeed, detailing part of his day:
I did work out yesterday. I came home and went to Fuel City and ate tacos...They were really, really good. Then I came back to get my golf clubs to go to the range, but ended up falling asleep on the floor for two and a half hours.
As Mooney noted, Fuel City is a gas station, and the tacos he ate are made on-site. Who hasn't had tacos from a gas station and then fallen asleep on the floor instead of going to hit a bucket of balls?
Now McCarthy is underperforming this season on a woeful Arizona Diamondbacks team, but that doesn’t mean much. Each time he takes the mound—even if he is pitching against your favorite team—he’s a guy you can get behind.
2014 stats: 1-5, 4.67 ERA, 4.01 FIP, 10 BB, 40 K, 1.286 WHIP, -0.4 WAR
7. David Price, SP
David Price is a man of many hats. Not only is he one of the best left-handed pitchers in baseball, but he is is one of the most relatable and generous players in the game.
As a player, Price treats the game as if he was still a child. Marc Topkin from the Tampa Bay Times broke it down some time ago:
The 26-year-old left-handed pitcher is something of their twirling dervish, bouncing around the dugout and clubhouse in constant motion, a steady stream of noise coming from his mouth, always up to something and then, given his short attention span, something else.
He has fun. He loves his teammates. He is a great cheerleader and a not-so-great singer. He has no filter. He loses his phone a lot. And he likes not wearing clothes.
See, just one of the guys. Price’s true measure, however, can be seen in what he does off the field through his charitable foundation, Project One Four.
Earlier this year, Project One Four made matching $15,000 donations to two schools in the Tampa Bay area. It is through acts like these that Price finds a way to give back to the community.
Look no further than his gift of $30,000 for new iPad labs at the beginning of the year.
All told, he's found success on the mound and is gracious off it. That's a hard balance to strike.
2014 stats: 3-3, 4.53 ERA, 3.49 FIP, 6 BB, 58 K, 1.248 WHIP, 0.0 WAR
6. Derek Jeter, SS
Derek Jeter is one of the good guys on the field.
A constant example of sportsmanship, heart and hustle, Jeter has captured the imagination of not just fans of the New York Yankees, but fans of the game.
And he did it in one of the toughest markets in the world to be a professional athlete.
Bill Shaikin from the Los Angeles Times summed up how impressive the future Hall of Famer has been in a recent column:
Jeter played two decades in the greatest media market on Earth, without a stain. When the late Yankees owner George Steinbrenner chastised Jeter for staying out too late and partying too much, Jeter and Steinbrenner turned what could have been a negative into the positive of a Visa commercial, one that ended with Steinbrenner chasing Jeter in a conga line.
Jeter was accommodating and respectful on the field, exceedingly private off the field, even in the TMZ era, in which scandal is but a cell phone camera away.
Simply put, no matter where your allegiances rest, Jeter is a guy to revere.
2014 stats: .262/.336/.327, HR, 7 RBI, 4 2B, 10 BB, 22 K, 0.3 WAR
5. Curtis Granderson, CF
Curtis Granderson is a true philanthropist.
He has his own charity—the Grand Kids Foundation—serves to “aid positive youth development via education, physical fitness and nutrition – providing tools and resources for educational and societal advancement,” according to the foundation’s website.
The site also notes that “Granderson serves as an International Ambassador for MLB, National Ambassador of the White House’s anti-obesity campaign, Let’s Move! and Spokesperson for the Partnership for a Healthier America’s Drink Up water initiative.”
Granderson recently provided a substantial donation to his alma mater, the University of Illinois at Chicago, to build a new baseball facility appropriately named Curtis Granderson Stadium at UIC.
The stadium will also “host youth league games in partnership with Major League Baseball, Chicago Public Schools and other youth organizations,” per a university announcement.
And it’s not just about the charity. Granderson keeps things personal by being a driving force behind matters that have his name attached to them, according to Newsday's Mark Carig.
True, he is struggling this season, but statistics aren’t the only reason you root for a player. Granderson makes it easy to be a fan.
2014 stats: .175/.280/.289, 3 HR, 13 RBI, 4 2B, 15 BB, 35 K, 0.4 WAR
4. Eric Sogard, 2B
They don’t get much more likeable than Eric Sogard. The Oakland A's second baseman is so popular that it took an All-Star third baseman from New York named David Wright to top him in the “Face of MLB” contest this past offseason.
One thing that makes it so easy to root for Sogard is that he seemingly came out of nowhere.
As Athletics Nation’s swatnick noted, he was never a top prospect and was a “throw-in” to complete an otherwise nondescript trade. No one expected Sogard to be as valuable to the A’s as he has been despite being a second-round pick.
He is having a pretty poor year—hitting just above the Mendoza line—but "Nerd Power" lives on.
2014 stats: .203/.294/.257, 6 RBI, 4 2B, 10 BB, 9 K, 0.6 WAR
3. Mark Buehrle, SP
What isn’t there to like about Mark Buehrle?
From a statistical perspective, Buehrle is on point this season for the Toronto Blue Jays. He has turned into the front-line starter that general manager Alex Anthopolous hoped he was acquiring when he traded for the left-hander prior to the 2013 season.
His success runs deeper than that, however. Just consider what he has accomplished since being drafted out of Jefferson College in the 38th round in 1998 by the Chicago White Sox:
- 192-143, 3.81 ERA, 4.12 FIP, 1.277 WHIP, 2,929.2 IP
- World Series champion
- Perfect game (2009)
- No-hitter (2007)
- Four-time All-Star
- Four Gold Glove awards
And don’t forget about the dogs. Buehrle loves dogs.
When he was traded to the Blue Jays after the 2012 season, the rest of his family stayed in Miami due to Ontario’s ban on pit bulls.
In 2009, he and his family paid the medical bills for a Sheltie mix named Shelby that had a “hunting arrow piercing its side,” according to Kenn Bell at Dog Files.
Because of his compassion and all-around performance, Buehrle is one easy guy to root for.
2014 stats: 6-1, 1.91 ERA, 3.02 FIP, 12 BB, 29 K, 1.170 WHIP, 1.5 WAR
2. Mike Trout, OF
Mike Trout is the most enjoyable player in MLB to watch because, well, he's Mike Trout.
Here is some fantastic perspective from The Philadelphia Inquirer's Phil Anastasia on what Trout means to the kids in the area where he grew up:
Sure, Trout put up numbers in his first two full seasons that compare to the production of all-time greats such as Mickey Mantle, Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr., among others.
Sure, Trout projects as a first-ballot Hall of Famer if he stays healthy and follows the trajectory of his early career over the next 15 years.
But these kids are perceptive. They see more than baseball brilliance when they look at Trout.
They see hustle. They see enthusiasm. They see an athlete with a new $144.5 million contract who still plays the game as if he's back in Little League in Millville, racing around the bases with a smile on his face and the thought of a postgame hotdog on his mind.
And isn’t that what the sport is all about? It’s a kid’s game, played by grown men. And without players like Trout, the fanbase would be consumed with the darker side of the business.
No question, Trout is a joy to watch. Not only is he the best player in the American League, but he plays with a passion that is without equal.
2014 stats: .287/.373/.535, 6 HR, 8 2B, 3 3B, 18 BB, 40 K, 2.4 WAR
1. Troy Tulowitzki, SS
Troy Tulowitzki is having the best season in MLB to this point, which makes it very easy to watch him play. However, this enjoyment goes beyond raw statistics.
He brings a level of enthusiasm that is contagious. Playing your hardest doesn’t go very far if the results don’t match the intensity, and Tulowitzki delivers both.
He is making his presence felt in more than one way off the field as well. MLB.com’s Thomas Harding wrote:
Tulowitzki has become known for quirky programs like growing a mullet -- the 1980s rock-star look of long hair in the back, short in the front -- as a well-publicized fundraiser for Children's Hospital. He also has raised money for the Children's Miracle Network and lent his efforts to the American Academy of Dermatology's Play Sun Smart program to raise awareness of skin cancer. There have been other similar efforts for which Tulowitzki didn't ask for publicity.
The Colorado Rockies are the feel-good story of the season and Tulowitzki is their chief catalyst. Rooting for the over-achieving shortstop isn’t very hard to do.
2014 stats: .407/.510/.761, 9 HR, 31 RBI, 11 2B, 25 BB, 15 K, 3.7 WAR