Overlooked Figures: the 7 Most Underappreciated Men in Baseball

Joe HalversonCorrespondent IMay 29, 2011

Overlooked Figures: the 7 Most Underappreciated Men in Baseball

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    SAN FRANCISCO, CA - APRIL 08:  The 2010 World Series trophy is displayed as San Francisco Giants players line up before the start of the Giants' opening day game against the St. Louis Cardinals at AT&T Park on April 8, 2011 in San Francisco, California.
    Pool/Getty Images

    Some people in baseball always seem to get the credit that is coming to them.  It's tough to find a fan who does not believe that Derek Jeter, Albert Pujols or Billy Beane has received their proper due.

    There are many others, however, who have done some impressive things during the course of their careers, yet have never gotten the credit they deserve.  Here is a list of people who most fit into that category.  

    And note that the list is not limited to players, either.  You will not believe who finishes in the top spot. 

7. Derek Lowe

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    ANAHEIM, CA - MAY 22:  Derek Lowe #32 of the Atlanta Braves throws a pitch against the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim on May 22, 2011 at Angel Stadium in Anaheim, California.   The Angels won 4-1.  (Photo by Stephen Dunn/Getty Images)
    Stephen Dunn/Getty Images

    In the middle of the last decade, a lot of people made a huge deal out of John Smoltz going from starting to closing to back to starting again.  Well, Derek Lowe did it before it was cool. 

    Lowe arrived in the Majors as a starter in Seattle and remained in that role even after he was traded to Boston in one of the most notorious deadline deals in MLB history.  The Red Sox then moved him to the bullpen, and Lowe was, for a brief time, the best closer in all of baseball. 

    Two years later, he was back in the starting rotation, turning in a season that probably would have won the Cy Young award had he not been on the same team as Pedro Martinez.  He’s been in the rotation ever since, rolling up a career ERA-plus of 116 and helping to break Boston’s World Series drought before moving on to the Dodgers and now the Braves. 

    Did I mention that Lowe has gone his entire 14-plus year career without ever going on the disabled list?  Livan Hernandez is the only other pitcher who can make such a claim, and Livan (ERA-plus of 97) has been nowhere near as effective in his career as Lowe.

    His recent DUI arrest aside, Derek Lowe has simply been one of baseball’s most versatile and reliable arms.  He will never be a true ace, but he should continue to be a frontline pitcher for the next few years.

6. Jim Joyce

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    HOUSTON,TX- APRIL 10 :  Home plate Umpire Jim Joyce gives warnings to the of the Houston Astros and  the Florida Marlins bench in a MLB  baseball game on April 10, 2011 at Minute Maid Park in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Thomas B. Shea / Getty Images)
    Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

    By nature, virtually all in-game officials in sports tend to go underappreciated.  Fans have an unfortunate habit of only remembering the mistakes, meaning that an official will be remembered negatively even though they nearly always make the correct call and have reached the very top of their professions.

    No umpire better illustrates this fact than Jim Joyce.  To most fans, Jim Joyce is known as the guy who blew the call at first base and cost Armando Galarraga a perfect game last season.  There are still fans who remain outraged that this man continues to be employed.

    But here’s what you may not know about Jim Joyce: He might be the best umpire in baseball.  ESPN conducted a player poll in the wake of Galarraga’s imperfecto, and 53 percent of the respondents listed Joyce as one of the top three umpires in the game. 

    While this poll is almost certainly biased, it is also not the first time that Joyce has been named one of the best in MLB by the players.  Scouts seem to agree, calling Joyce one of the five best ball-strike umpires, according to Lindy’s baseball preview.

    Joyce has also not gotten nearly enough credit for his actions following the infamous call.  He admitted that, while he thought it was correct at the time, the call he made was a mistake.  He also personally apologized to Galarraga for ruining his perfect game. 

    Honestly, can you think of another pro official—in any sport—who has apologized to an athlete for making a mistake?

5. Adrian Beltre

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    CHICAGO, IL - MAY 17: Adrian Beltre #29 of the Texas Rangers fields the ball at 3rd base against the Chicago White Sox at U.S. Cellular Field on May 17, 2011 in Chicago, Illinois. The White Sox defeated the Rangers 4-3. (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Ima
    Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images

    Fans have long suspected that certain players only perform at their best when they are in a contract season, and Adrian Beltre has become the poster boy for their belief.

    Beltre had arguably the finest all-around season ever recorded by a third baseman in 2004—the final year of his contract with the Dodgers.  He then signed a five-year, $64 million contract with Seattle as a free agent and saw his numbers take a serious dive. 

    After failing to live up to expectations with the Mariners, his bat seemed to come back to life during his single season in Boston—leading to a six-year, $96 million contract with the Rangers.  Here we go again, said the naysayers.

    Let’s look past the fact that this idea was unproven during Beltre’s final year in Seattle, when a myriad of injuries limited him to 111 games and prevented from producing when he did play.  Instead, people need to realize that Beltre was not underpaid during his time in Seattle. 

    His perceived struggles at the plate were due almost entirely to playing home games at Safeco Field, which is perhaps the worst ballpark in MLB for right-handed sluggers.  Beltre has a career tOPS-plus of just 82 in games at Safeco, which is 18 points lower than his career tOPS-plus.  Not surprisingly, Beltre has hit 11 percent better than the average hitter on the road during his career—not too shabby, though not in and of itself worth what Seattle paid him.

    Beltre, however, is the best defensive third baseman in all of baseball—possibly the best we’ve seen since at least Brooks Robinson.  His glove has remained consistently outstanding regardless of his home park, and adding him to the defense is the equivalent of saving 20 runs over the average third baseman during the course of a season.

    Still need convincing?  Fangraphs’ valuation numbers place his worth at $67.2 million over the course of his contract with Seattle, or $3.2 million more than he was actually paid.

4. Mike Cameron

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    NEW YORK, NY - MAY 14:  Mike Cameron #23 of the Boston Red Sox bats against the New York Yankees on May 14, 2011 at Yankee Stadium in the Bronx borough of New York City.  (Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)
    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

    Has anybody ever been able to figure out exactly why no team has been able to settle on Mike Cameron as their permanent solution in centerfield? 

    It seems like every time that Cameron changes teams, the team he joins gives up fewer runs than they did in the previous season, while the team he leaves sees an increase in runs allowed.  The Reds, Mariners, Mets, Padres and Brewers all employed him between 1999 and 2009; each of these teams saw an immediate decline in runs allowed in Cammie’s first season with the club, while only the Brewers gave up fewer runs the season after he left (and it was largely attributable to the drop in scoring throughout MLB in 2010). 

    Not surprisingly, four of those teams made the postseason while Cameron was on the team. 

    Cameron has a habit of contributing to winning clubs in ways that are not easily detectable.  He is the best defensive centerfielder of his generation not named Andruw Jones, and his relatively high strikeout totals obscures the fact that Cameron has been an above-average offensive player for most of his career. 

    Cameron does not do any one thing spectacularly well at the plate, but he’s got power (eight seasons with 20-plus home runs), speed (296 steals in his career) and draws his share of walks to compensate for the strikeout numbers.  He also ranks among the classiest individuals in all of sports.

    It must also be said, however, that Cameron is likely the most prominent player to have been suspended for amphetamine usage.  Of course, all you need to do is take a look at the video of his horrific outfield collision in 2005 (which is so gruesome that I refuse to link to it) to understand that he might deserve a pass on that one.

    Why no team has been able to employ Mike Cameron for more than four seasons is truly a mystery. 

3. Brian Cashman

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    TAMPA, FL - FEBRUARY 20: Brian Cashman Senior Vice President and General Manager of the New York Yankees watch the action during the first full team workout of Spring Training on February 20, 2011 at the George M. Steinbrenner Field in Tampa, Florida.  (P
    Leon Halip/Getty Images

    Understandably, it can be very hard to separate the Yankees’ success from their financial advantage over most teams.  But a high payroll is hardly a guarantee of success, and even the richest teams still have to spend their money wisely.

    This is why the great work of GM Brian Cashman has gone so overlooked.  Cashman has made numerous big-money free agent signings, but very few of them have actually been bad contracts.  Mike Mussina, Hideki Matsui, CC Sabathia, Mark Teixiera, Johnny Damon… the list goes on.    

    Cashman has also been excellent on the trade front, bringing in names like Chuck Knoblauch, Roger Clemens, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, Curtis Granderson and Nick Swisher while also showing a knack for holding on the prospects that thrive in New York, such as Jorge Posada and Robinson Cano.

    Just because Brian Cashman has more money to spend than everybody else doesn’t change the fact that he is awfully good at spending it.

2. Ivan Rodriguez

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    WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 15:  Catcher Ivan Rodriguez #7 of the Washington Nationals in action against the Florida Marlins at Nationals Park on May 15, 2011 in Washington, DC.  (Photo by Rob Carr/Getty Images)
    Rob Carr/Getty Images

    Over the past two decades, numerous players have put together careers that, barring extenuating circumstances, should leave them as no-brainer selections for the Hall of Fame.  Yet for some reason, Ivan Rodriguez is rarely, if ever, mentioned in this group.  And I have yet to hear a good reason why, because Rodriguez has a very strong case for being the greatest all-around catcher in MLB history.

    Offensively, Rodriguez is the all-time leader among catchers in hits, runs and doubles, though this is largely a function of the fact that he has caught more games than any player in history.  Rodriguez has a career OPS-plus of 106, a total that has been dragged down by a loss of bat speed over the past few seasons but still above the league average for the time.

    But offense is never a catcher’s primary concern.  Defensively, Rodriguez has no peer.  Defense at catcher has proven to be difficult for statheads to measure, but Rodriguez is the all-time leader among catchers in total zone runs (by a significant margin) and is one of only two catchers in his generation (Yadier Molina is the other) to throw out 45 percent of base stealers in his career. 

    Yes, this barely cracks the top 75 all-time for catchers, but it’s also important to remember that players are so much more efficient at stealing bases than they have ever been.

    Not surprisingly, Rodriguez’s 13 Gold Gloves are more than any catcher in history.

    Yet for some reason, Ivan Rodriguez is never recognized among the greatest players of his generation.  In fact, he is so under-appreciated that his longtime nickname (Pudge) was changed to I-Rod when Alex Rodriguez joined the Rangers.  Clearly, a great career such as this deserves better.

1. Bud Selig

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    ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 29:  MLB commisioner Bud Selig talks with the media at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington on September 29, 2010 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images)
    Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

    Yes, I went there. 

    Bud Selig is similar to umpires in that fans tend to remember only the bad things about his career while never giving him credit for all of the good he has done.  I have pointed this out before, but Bud Selig has had a greater positive impact on the game than any commissioner in MLB history.

    People want to blame him for the 1994 strike and subsequent loss of the World Series (even though he was only the interim commissioner at the time). 

    Nobody gives him credit for being the only commissioner ever to avert a strike or lockout while negotiating a new Collective Bargaining Agreement with the Players’ Union—and he’s done it twice (and is expected to do so again after this season).

    People hold him responsible for the PED issue in sports (even though every commissioner since Bowie Kuhn has known about the problem), yet nobody gives him credit for being the only commissioner to actually do something about it by implementing a meaningful testing system.

    People like to blame him for the payroll imbalance throughout the game, yet ignore the fact that MLB is sharing more revenue than ever—and has more parity than any team sport.

    And people like to claim that he has been twiddling his thumbs while MLB is burning, yet he is responsible for more innovations (the wild card, interleague play, the MLB Network, the WBC, etc.) than any commissioner in the game’s history.

    Let me put it this way: If the CEO of any other business oversaw a 600 percent increase in revenue over an 18-year period, he would be hailed as both a genius and a hero.  Selig has done just that, yet everybody considers him the worst commissioner ever.

    And it ain’t fair.