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Brett Gardner and the 20 Most Unheralded MLB Players of 2010

Asher ChanceySenior Analyst ISeptember 21, 2010

Brett Gardner and the 20 Most Unheralded MLB Players of 2010

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    If you hit 30 home runs for a playoff team, everyone in baseball knows who you are.  If you win 20 games for a team that clinched a playoff berth a month ago, there will be no shortage of accolades.

    But what if you are an above average hitter and play standout defense for a mediocre team?  What if your pitching is leaps and bounds ahead of your appallingly bad staff?  What if you got off to a slow start but were on fire in the second half?

    Or, what if you are third -year player having a breakout season on a team full of over-paid and under-achieving superstars?

    Then, in all likelihood, you will be unheralded.

    Here is a list of the 20 most unheralded players in baseball.

20. Franklin Gutierrez, Seattle Mariners

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    In his second straight season as the best defensive centerfielder in the American League, it will be interesting to see if he can wrestle the Gold Glove away from Torii Hunter.

    If WAR is an indicator of overall–meaning offensive plus defensive–value, then check this out: Gutierrez, who is not a great hitter, ranks ahead of Hunter, David DeJesus, and Austin Jackson in WAR.

19. J.J. Hardy, Minnesota Twins

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    Here's an interesting stat that we should make too much out of:

    On July 3rd, J.J. Hardy returned to the Minnesota Twins after missing half of May and almost all of June due to injuries.  Four days later, Justin Morneau was lost for the season with a concussion on July 7th.

    From that point on, the Minnesota Twins went from 45-39 to their current record of 90-60, playing 24 games over .500 after having played six games over .500 through the first half of the season.

    I'm not saying Hardy was the difference, but he was one of the difference makers. Once a good hitting/bad fielding shortstop, Hardy has somehow reversed himself, becoming a mediocre hitter but an excellent fielder.

    Playing on a team notorious of eschewing the base on balls in favor of playing to contact, having a great defensive shortstop is vital, and Hardy has fit the bill.

    Honorable Mention: Danny Valencia, who has also been amazing for the Twins in the second half.

18. Daric Barton, Oakland Athletics

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    Really, anyone who plays defense for the Oakland Athletics in 2010 is unheralded, as the unit–particularly the infield–has been outstanding.

    Daric Barton, though, is unique in that he has gotten it done on both sides of the ball. According to FanGraphs.com, Barton is the leading defensive first baseman in the American League, and Baseball Reference.com sees him as the major league leader in fielding runs.

    Throw in the fact that Barton leads the majors in bases on balls, and currently has an on-base percentage over .400, and Barton has been quite an asset this season.

17. Michael Bourn, Houston Astros

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    Michael Bourn isn't going to win any batting titles any time soon, but he is second-to-none in the National League in the all-important center field defense department.

    Bourn distantly leads the majors in fielding runs, is second in outfield assists by a center fielder, and dominates the majors in ultimate zone rating. There simply isn't a defensive stat that Bourn doesn't dominate; he even leads all of baseball in the defensive component of WAR.

    And it isn't like he's a terrible hitter; he has a National League leading 52 stolen bases.

16. Juan Pierre, Chicago White Sox

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    Once left for dead in Los Angeles before a Manny Ramirez suspension for using mascara (or something), Juan Pierre has spent the last two years positively resurging.

    Not only does he have tons of range in left field for the Chicago White Sox, but he has also committed only one error there all season.

    Additionally, he leads the American League in stolen bases and being hit by pitches, and is probably the most valuable player whose value doesn't appear in OPS in all of baseball.

15. Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox

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    There is a new class of defensive shortstops in major league baseball, and Alexei Ramirez is at the top of it.

14. Ubaldo Jimenez, Colorado Rockies

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    Remember him?

    It is important to note that even though Ubaldo has finished his Bob Gibson impersonation from the first half of the season, he is still enjoying the best season (by far) in the history of Coors Field.

    And consider this: he has a 2.50 ERA away from Coors Field, which indicates that he'd be having a much better go of it if he pitched in a more pitcher friendly park.

    And then of course there is his eight home runs allowed. My brain hurts trying to process that.

    While I don't have Ubaldo too high on this list, because he has obviously been heralded this season, he nevertheless belongs here in light of the fact that he is no longer even in the Cy Young conversation, which is unfair.

13. Carl Pavano, Minnesota Twins

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    I think most people think Carl Pavano died sometime during his stint with the New York Yankees. Not so.

    Pavano is 17-11 with a 3.60 ERA, and leads the AL in complete games and shutouts. Not bad for a dead guy.

12. Jonny Venters, Atlanta Braves

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    In his first ever major-league action, the 25-year-old Braves lefty has struck out 83 batters in 76.1 innings, and has a 1.76 ERA to show for it.

11. Kerry Wood, New York Yankees

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    After virtually disappearing from the baseball map and enduring a horrid season in Cleveland, Wood has come alive in New York.

    At present he has allowed only one earned run—a home run, no less—in 21.2 innings over 20 appearances.

    His current ERA with the Yankees is 0.39, and his ERA+ is 1055.  Wow. 

10. Chase Headley, San Diego Padres

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    Until something changes, no hitter playing his home games at Petco Park will ever get his due.

    Chase Headley has kept his head above water, while leading the San Diego Padres in games played and ranking second in most other statistics behind Adrian Gonzalez.

    Headley has also been an elite defensive third baseman, which is an essential element of a team whose pitching must repeatedly carry them to victory.

9. Jered Weaver, Los Angeles Angels Of Anaheim

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    Sadly, Jered Weaver—who broke into the majors with an 11-2, 2.56 ERA debut in 2006 and then suffered some ups and downs over the next four years—is enjoying a breakout season as the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim suffer through one of their worst seasons in a decade.

    For his part, though, Weaver is striking out over a batter per inning for the first time in his career, topping 200 for the first time at 220 and counting, and has an ERA under 3.00 for the first time since his rookie year.

    Truth be told, he's been a bit of a hometown hero in 2010, with a 1.72/4.25 ERA split, but at the same time he is playing with a rather lousy defense behind him that has eaten up formerly good pitchers in Joel Piniero, Scott Kazmir, and Joe Saunders.

8. Andres Torres, San Francisco Giants

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    I don't get it; all I can do is tell you about it.

    Playing all three outfield positions in 2010, 32-year-old Andres Torres has committed only one error, has seven outfield assists, and has the second best ultimate zone rating amongst outfielders in baseball.

    He is also a plus/minus system superstar, ranking in the top 10 in the National League at all three outfield positions, which strikes me as preposterous.

    And keep in mind: Torres is a first-time regular after five major league seasons, and 12 years in the minors.

    His offensive performance has been, to say the least, solid: 14 home runs, 23 stolen bases, and 43 doubles in 131 games.

7. Brett Gardner, New York Yankees

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    After a couple of less than impressive stints at the major league level in 2008 and 2009, in 2010 Brett Gardner has come into his own and established himself as one of the leading speed/on-base threats in the game.

    Out of 31 players with more than 20 stolen bases in 2010, Gardner has the highest on-base percentage. Meanwhile, he has played a tremendous left field all season, ranking behind only Carl Crawford in ultimate zone rating, and behind only Delmon Young in left field assists.

    Additionally, on the rare occasions when he has batted lead off, he has hit .304 with a .434 on-base percentage.

    He is probably the second-best overall left fielder in the American League, behind Carl Crawford right now.

6. Angel Pagan, New York Mets

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    Angel Pagan is 18th in major league baseball in overall WAR, but he is second in baseball in defensive WAR.

    For whatever that is worth.

    I personally think the New York Mets made a huge error with Pagan in 2010. With Carlos Beltran out with an injury in the first half of the season, Angel Pagan became the starting center fielder, and emerged as one of the elite defenders in the National League.

    On July 15th, when Beltran returned, the Mets were 48-40, and four games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL East. When Beltran returned, they put him back in center field and started moving Pagan variously to left field and right field.

    The problem is, whereas Pagan was one of the best fielders in the NL, Beltran–who is 33 years old and hadn't played in six months–had quite a bit of rust to shake off and did not do so successfully.

    The Mets went 6-14 over the next 20 games, and haven't been a topic of conversation since.

5. Yovani Gallardo, Milwaukee Brewers

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    Yovani Gallardo continues to toil in relative anonymity because, in a vacuum, his numbers seem merely good: 13-7, 3.55 ERA in 175 innings pitched, 161 hits allowed.

    What one must understand about Gallardo, though, is that he plays in one of the least pitcher-friendly environments in baseball. His team is laced with some of the worst fielders in baseball, from Casey McGehee to Prince Fielder to Corey Hart to Ryan Braun. The fielders who aren't terrible are merely league-average, guys like Rickie Weeks and Alcides Escobar.

    And this shows in the performance of Milwaukee's pitching staff: only Arizona and Pittsburgh have allowed more hits this season than Milwaukee, and every Milwaukee starter has allowed over a hit per inning.

    Except for Gallardo.

    Gallardo allows well under a hit per inning.  He also strikes out over a batter per inning, and is tied for the NL lead with Jonathan Sanchez and Tim Lincecum in that department.

    And, pitching in a home-run park, Gallardo has allowed only 10 home runs on the season, whereas the Brewers other three full-time starters have allowed at least 20 each.

    Gallardo walks too many batters, for sure, but no more than Clayton Kershaw, Ubaldo Jimenez, or Sanchez or Lincecum.

    On a team with even a competent defense, Gallardo would become a star.

4. Aubrey Huff, San Francisco Giants

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    Aubrey Huff came to the San Francisco Giants as an unheralded free-agent acquisition in 2010, and not much was made of the signing of a guy who is good for a breakout every three or four years.

    All Huff has done in San Fran this season is play right field, left field, and first base while leading the team in overall hitting.

    Huff is making $3,000,000 this season, and he has a better WAR (5.3) than Matt Holliday, Chase Utley, and Ryan Howard, all of whom are making several times what Huff makes.

3. C.J. Wilson, Texas Rangers

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    Only stat you need to know: C.J. Wilson has allowed seven hits per nine innings for the Texas Rangers in 2010.

    First question: Guess who was the last starting pitcher to hold batters to seven hits per nine innings while pitching home games at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington.

    The answer: No one.  It has never been done.

    Second question: Guess how many starting pitchers in the history of the Texas Rangers have held opposing hitters to seven hits per nine innings or less over a season.

    The answer: Four. One of them was Nolan Ryan, the hardest to hit pitcher in major league history, and he did it three times.  The other three were Bobby Witt (1988), Bert Blyleven (1977), and Jim Bibby (1973).

    But here's the mind-blower: in the history of Rangers Ballpark, no one else has even been close; no other starting pitcher has even held opposing pitchers to eight hits per nine innings.

    Wilson is having a "Wow" season.

2. Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals

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    There can be no doubt that only a fool would not look upon Silver Slugger and Gold Glove Awards with a certain amount of measured skepticism.

    Nevertheless, in 2009, Ryan Zimmerman won both Awards for NL third basemen, and deserved both of them.

    In 2010, Zimmerman has only become a better hitter, increasing his batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, and OPS. His OPS+ is a career high 142, and he is striking out at a slighter slower rate than last season.

    Where Zimmerman continues to blow away the competition, though, is on defense.  He is simply the best, blowing away the competition in every defensive metric available.

    If this guy played for a winning team, he would be a household name.

1. Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland Indians

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    Pay attention, because I am serious about this: there is a distinct possibility that Shin-Soo Choo is one of the five best players in Major League Baseball.

    His hitting numbers speak for themselves: 20 home runs, 29 doubles, .295/.395/.477 in 600 plate appearances. Assuming it holds, this will be his third straight season with an on-base percentage over .390.

    Choo has also cut way down on his strikeouts—105 after 151 last season—and has taken more walks. Choo also has speed: 20 stolen bases in 26 attempts.

    His 143 OPS+ is good for eighth in the AL, but check this out: as of September 20th, according to baseballreference.com, Choo is now tied with Miguel Cabrera for third in Major League Baseball in WAR, behind only Adrian Gonzalez and Evan Longoria.

    What does this tell us?

    It tells us that Choo is also an amazing fielder. A right-fielder, Choo has 12 outfield assists on the season to go with only four errors. Baseball-Reference.com shows Choo to be worth 13 fielding runs, and FanGraphs shows him to rank only behind Ichiro Suzuki in ultimate zone rating.

    Add it all up, and you get one of the best overall players in Major League Baseball and certainly the most unheralded player in the game.

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