MLB Preview: 10 Most Underrated Defenders
Though hitting is the real glamour aspect of the sport, defense in baseball is just as or even more critical.
Many players make their living based on defensive skills.
MLB’s system of Gold Gloves is very flawed. Once a player wins one, their reputation precedes them for the next year’s voting.
For example, there was no way Derek Jeter should have won the Gold Glove last season. He may have had the highest fielding percentage, but lacked the range of some other shortstops.
A handful of strong offensive players are often overlooked for their defense.
Here's a list of the 10 most underrated defenders in baseball today.
10. Mark Ellis, 2B, Oakland Athletics
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Mark Ellis has quietly put together a decent career. Heading into his ninth season, he’s a player we rarely hear about—but nonetheless plays the game the right way.
He defense is probably the strong point of his game. Early in his career, he saw limited time at a few different positions. Since then, he has settled into second base.
He has only committed 19 errors since 2006 and has posted a career .990 fielding percentage. His ability to turn the double play also makes him a valuable asset when teamed up with shortstop Cliff Pennington.
The A’s are poised to contend this season, and Ellis’ up-the-middle defense will be a big part of their success.
9. Yunel Escobar, SS, Toronto Blue Jays
Escobar fell out of favor with Bobby Cox in Atlanta last season for Escobar's apparent lack of hustle. Judging by his defensive stats, it’s easy to see why Cox had enough.
Escobar had nine errors in 74 games for Atlanta and promptly recorded nine more with the Blue Jays over his last 60 games.
Though he has a tendency to be lazy, Escobar has the ability to be a top-notch defender. He has great range and a cannon arm. It’s a shame that he doesn’t use his talent properly.
Look for Escobar to have a bounce back year with both the glove and the bat in 2011.
8. Stephen Drew, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks
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Stephen Drew has started to establish himself as one of the better offensive shortstops in the game.
However, his defense rivals his offense, making him an all-around threat.
Drew recorded a .984 fielding percentage in 2010 with just 10 errors. Errors can often be a skewed statistic because some players with great range may get to more balls (as opposed to those who let the ball go through for a hit.)
Drew is the type of player who always gets his uniform dirty.
I would hate to be Casey Blake here.
7. Nyjer Morgan, CF, Washington Nationals
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Speed is a gift that helps in all aspects of the game. Nowhere is this more evident than with Nyjer Morgan.
Morgan developed the reputation of a bad boy towards the end of last year, but that does not detract from his defensive skills.
Though his arm is only average, everything else he does with the glove is well above-average. His speed gives him the ability to get to balls that no player should even come close to.
He’s not afraid to fling around his body to make the big catch.
Once he gets moving, there’s no stopping until the ball finds his glove.
6. James Loney, 1B, Los Angeles Dodgers
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James Loney is underrated in pretty much all he does.
He has become a consistent offensive threat out west for the Dodgers, significantly improving his defense in the last few seasons.
He committed 13 errors in 2008, but has only committed 11 the past two seasons. His .997 fielding percentage made him an important asset to the Dodgers.
On an infield that features the gun-slinging Rafael Furcal and the erratic Juan Uribe, a strong defensive first baseman is essential.
5. Angel Pagan, OF, New York Mets
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With Carlos Beltran sidelined for the first half of last year, Angel Pagan showed how valuable a commodity he can be.
He played a tremendous center field, showing Beltran-like range.
When Beltran returned, Pagan shifted to right and continued playing good defense.
Pagan played so well in center that there will be a competition between him and Beltran for the starting center fielder’s job in spring training.
Pagan hustles no matter what, but unfortunately his hustle has also led to a few injuries.
However, Pagan would run through walls to help his team win.
4. Adrian Beltre, 3B, Texas Rangers
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When you think of Adrian Beltre, you think of violent swings that produce massive home runs.
However, he’s also pretty slick with the glove.
Don’t let the stats fool you.
He has a tendency to make errors because he tries to do too much sometimes, but he takes away countless hits and has a terrific arm.
3. Justin Morneau, 1B, Minnesota Twins
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Morneau is another player known for his offensive prowess.
However, the 2006 A.L. MVP has a .996 career fielding percentage.
He only had one error last year in 77 games and only had 12 in the previous three seasons.
He is a force both offensively and defensively. At only 29, he may have another few MVP caliber seasons in him.
2. Ben Zobrist, UTIL, Tampa Bay Rays
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When you think of a utility player, usually it’s a guy who can play multiple positions adequately but struggles at the plate.
However, Ben Zobrist is the rare utility player who can actually hit too.
He regressed offensively last year from his big year in 2009, but he still played six different positions and made just four errors.
He has played every position except catcher in his career. Though he isn’t known for the dazzling defensive plays, it’s his versatility that must be noted.
Zobrist should see the majority of his time in right field this year, but don’t be surprised if he winds up all over the diamond.
1. Shin-Soo Choo, RF, Cleveland Indians
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Cleveland’s best kept secret is no secret anymore.
Shin-Soo Choo is arguably the most underrated player in the league, maybe because he plays for the Indians, or maybe because he goes about his business without much flash.
He hits for power, hits for average, drives in runs and steals bases.
He also plays a fantastic right field defense.
Choo has great range and a stellar throwing arm. In the last two years, he has recorded 25 outfield assists.
Though Ichiro is still considered tops among outfielders from the Pacific Rim, Choo is gradually becoming a household name.