5 Most Underutilized MLB Players
One of the most common characteristics of the American sports fan is an innate desire to play the role of manager to his or her most-beloved team. It has a more common name: "armchair quarterbacking."
In Major League Baseball, the history of questioning a manager's decision is nearly as deep as the history of the game itself. In baseball, everything can not only be questioned, but analyzed, drilled-down, studied and even simulated.
One of the more common critiques of major league managers is how well they utilize their teams' talent. Seconding guessing the manager's choice of closer in favor of a setup man in the setup man in the 'em is one common example. In other instances, fans constantly call for a different leadoff man in the all-too-important "one hole."
Regardless of the situation, there are many players miscast in their respective roles throughout Major League Baseball. Here are the five most underutilized players currently in the game.
Jay Bruce: Cincinnati Reds
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Jay Bruce is an interesting case. Though the Reds slugger is an easy favorite to reside in the heart of Dusty Baker's lineup, statistical analysis shows that Bruce's typical No. 5 spot may not be such a perfect fit.
While Bruce has experienced a solid season in 2011 with a .271 batting average, 25 homers and 75 RBI, Bruce's numbers are heavily inflated in one particular scenario—batting in the first inning.
When taking the plate in the opening frame, Bruce's batting average inflates to a remarkable .421. Bruce also manages to hit a home run one in less than every eight first inning at-bats.
Though there's no denying Bruce's productivity, one can only wonder how much better Bruce could be if he were guaranteed an at-bat in the first inning every game.
Reed Johnson: Chicago Cubs
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You'd be hard-pressed to find a player in Chicago who plays the game with more passion and reckless abandon than Chicago Cubs outfielder Reed Johnson. Whatever the situation calls for, Cubs fans can rest assured that Reed Johnson is capable of producing.
In just 77 games this season, Johnson has managed team-highs in batting average (.353) and on-base percentage (.391). With roughly half as many at-bats, Johnson's 26 RBI are also just nine less than everyday players Geovany Soto and Darwin Barnes.
With the trade of former right fielder Kosuke Fukudome opening the door for more playing time, Johnson hasn't seen as much as he is certainly due. Currently, Johnson shares right field duties with young prospect Tyler Colvin.
Of all Cubs outfielders, Johnson has been the most productive in 2011, yet, for one reason or another, Cubs manager Mike Quade continues to award more playing time to underachieving stars.
Brent Lillibridge: Chicago White Sox
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Much like his North Side counterpart Reed Johnson, Chicago White Sox outfielder Brent Lillibridge has been an undervalued asset to his team's roster. Lillibridge is the definitive "scrappy" player on manager Ozzie Guillen's squad.
Though Lillibridge's numbers won't impress the masses (.255, nine and eighteen), the failures that have been Alex Rios and Adam Dunn should warrant more playing time for the reserve outfielder.
Jason Giambi: Colorado Rockies
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After leaving the New York Yankees, the general consensus of Jason Giambi was that the former American League MVP was, for all conventional purposes, nearing the end of his career.
In 2009, the Oakland Athletics released Giambi and the Colorado Rockies decided to take a gamble on him.
For the majority of Giambi's career in Colorado, he has been relegated to the role of a reserve and late-inning pinch hitter. Though the first base position has been locked up by one of the Rockies' greatest all-time players—Todd Helton—Giambi still holds quite a bit of value—most of which is rarely utilized.
As a pinch hitter in 2011, Jason Giambi has been atrocious, hitting a lowly .087 with just two hits in 22 at-bats. On the rare occasion that Giambi is inserted into manager Jim Tracy's lineup, the results have been rather surprising.
In starting roles this season, Giambi has batted to the tune of a .306 batting average with 10 home runs and 21 RBI. With just 72 at-bats as a starter, numbers like Giambi's are difficult to ignore.
Though injuries have hindered some of Giambi's season, his statistics should prove that there may still be a little something left in the former All-Star's tank.
Grant Balfour: Oakland Athletics
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Grant Balfour is a bit of an enigma. Many casual fans remember Balfour from his days as a setup man for the Tampa Bay Rays, where he was nearly unhittable more times than not.
In his eight-year career, Balfour has been the epitome of a pitcher who simply learned how to pitch. Early on, Balfour was erratic, inconsistent and unsuccessful. Over the last four seasons, however, you'd struggle to find a better setup man.
The only question that still persists in regard to Balfour is why he hasn't had an opportunity to be an everyday closer.
After the success Balfour achieved in Tampa Bay, the hard-throwing righty has found himself in the same role, only on a less successful and less significant ball club—the Oakland Athletics.
While Balfour's presence on a true contender will remain untested in 2011, there's little denying he could offer others much more than he is asked to give in Oakland.