Baseball has been ruined for me. I'm talking about the jersey and hat combo wearing, not shaving until they lose, "Yankees suck" kind of baseball. It's gone and I have no one to blame but myself. For, you see, I play fantasy baseball.
My allegiance to one particular team is gone. I find myself just as likely to be rooting for the Royals as the Red Sox because Brian Bannister pitched a good game for me the other day and Youk went 0-fer.
In some ways, fantasy baseball has made real baseball miserable and stressful to watch. In other ways, it's made it amazing. I can ball park stats for pretty much every player in Major League Baseball and every player that could potentially be added to an MLB roster.
It has exposed me to the unsung heroes of the game-the guys that lead their team, but don't get any credit.
And that's why I'm here. I now present to you, the 2008 MLB All-Underrated Team.
Let’s start with the pitching staff.
Aaron Cook, SP, Colorado Rockies - In the past, "Ginger" (as I like to call him) worked as a middle and back end of the rotation innings eater for the Colorado Rockies.
This past year, he made giant strides in becoming the pitcher many saw glimpses of during the 2007 season. He’s not a big strikeout guy, but he has a nasty sinker that when paired with a good slider and a moderate fastball can be deadly. This year, his ERA hovered right around 4 and the guy won 16 games for a sub-.500 Rockies team.
Gavin Floyd, SP, Chicago White Sox – Chicago saw something in this guy that Philadelphia didn’t and it’s paid dividends. Floyd became major league ready this year and enamored Chicago fans with his low 90’s fastball, big-league hook, and alright change.
Next year Floyd will attempt to top his 17 wins and 3.84 ERA. Not bad for a guy who is still relatively unknown behind proven names like Buerhle and Vazquez.
Jesse Litsch, SP, Toronto Blue Jays – I cannot remember a more surprising move than when the Jays sent Jesse Litsch to Triple-A Syracuse midseason. He was pitching admirably, albeit with an ERA approaching 4.50 through July, for an anemic Jay’s offense with an injured Vernon Wells and a pop-less Alex Rios.
It was shocking to me and apparently lit a fire under Litsch as he posted a stellar 4-1 record in September and finished 13-9 with an ERA under 4.00 for the second consecutive season. Next year, Litsch will attempt to get his name recognized in the best-in-the-majors rotation of Halladay, Burnett, McGowan, and Marcum.
Zack Greinke, SP, Kansas City Royals – Besides the Josh Hamilton and Rick Ankiel stories, Greinke’s is the feel good story of 2007/2008.
Once one of the top prospects in baseball, Greinke was sidelined with severe social anxiety and depression for almost all of the 2006 season. He returned the following year to pitch in 52 games, mostly as a reliever, before returning to the rotation in 2008. This year, Greinke posted career highs in IP, K’s/9, wins, and ERA while mired at the top of the starting rotation for the perennially awful and forgotten Royals.
Wandy Rodriguez, SP, Houston Astros – The diminutive Rodriguez does not look like he belongs on a Major League mound. At 5’11” and 160 pounds, he is far from intimidating. But over the past three years he has routinely pitched like Randy Johnson at Minute Maid Park while getting lit up away from home.
This year, Rodriguez evened out his home/away record and while he pitched less innings, notched a better K/9 rate, an equal amount of wins, and a better ERA than 2007. If he can stay healthy and keep his splits intact, I expect him to make a name for himself among National League pitchers.
Honorable mentions: Aaron “Down Year” Harang (Cincinnati), Paul Maholm (Pittsburgh), Todd Wellemeyer (St. Louis), Ted Lilly (Chicago Cubs), and Jamie “I’m Still Alive and Freaking Good” Moyer (Philadelphia)
Next up, I will delve into the 2008 MLB All-Underrated Team’s relief pitching. While pretty much every reliever is unknown and under-appreciated, I’ll attempt to grab some shockers.
I appreciate all comments, criticisms, suggestions, and hate mail, so feel free to send it along.