Fielding MLB's All-Overrated and All-Underrated Lineups
The season's not quite over yet, but with just about a week remaining, not much will sway the statistics enough to change a player's appearance as either an underrated or overrated performer.
At times the distinction can be hard to tell.
On the surface the numbers may indicate that a player is at the top of their game for their position. A deeper look at the statistics can tell an entirely different story. Maybe that player is getting significant help from their surrounding cast, or perhaps their numbers are inflated by meaningless situations.
On the flip side of this argument, there are always a handful of players who have performed solidly for their teams and gone relatively unnoticed or at least not garnered the attention their statistics deserve.
These underrated players are often the unsung heroes of many games along the way to a team's ultimate goal of postseason baseball and a chance to play deep into October in a quest to win a World Series ring.
This is my list of the players I would place on the all-overrated and all-underrated rosters. It is solely based on my own opinion and analysis of the standard and sabermetric statistics that were available on Baseball-Reference.com and FanGraphs.com. If you don't agree with a pick I made, please submit your lists in the comment section below, and thanks for reading.
Alex Avila: Most Underrated Catcher
Which Alex Avila is the real thing, the 2010 version that batted just .228 with seven homers? Or this year's version who is hitting .298 with 19 homers and was named to the All-Star team?
Regardless, Avila has been on fire this season, posting the best season by any catcher in the majors.
His WAR is a position-best 5.6.
Paul Konerko: Most Underrated First Baseman
Paul Konerko has been considered one of the more underrated sluggers for a while now.
This season is no different. He has a .301 average, 30 homers and 103 RBI. His numbers are comparable to Albert Pujols' .305 average, 37 homers and 101 RBI. Yet, Konerko does not get the recognition of the other top-tier first basemen around the league.
Check out where Konerko ranks among the rest of the first basemen in the league by clicking here.
Ben Zobrist: Most Underrated Second Baseman
Ben Zobrist has quietly emerged as one of the best second basemen in the game.
Offensively he has put up a .265/.349/.452 batting line with 16 homers and 84 RBI and even 18 stolen bases.
He's also proven to be one of the league's better defensive middle infielders with a 9.9 UZR rating. In fact, both his defense and his overall WAR rank fifth-best among all second basemen.
Check out for yourself how he stacks up against the rest of the second basemen in the league here.
Pablo Sandoval: Most Underrated Third Baseman
It's too bad injuries have shortened Pablo Sandoval's season. He's batting .308 with 22 homers and 67 RBI for a light-hitting San Francisco Giants team in just 110 games.
He slimmed down during the past offseason and added 40 points to his batting average (ironically, about the same amount of pounds he dropped).
Oh yeah, he also happens to be the best defensive third baseman in baseball this season according to fangraphs.com.
He has an overall WAR rating of 5.0, just 0.2 behind the position leader, Adrian Beltre, and good for third overall at third base.
Yunel Escobar: Most Underrated Shortstop
Yunel Escobar has posted the fifth-best WAR in the majors this season among shortstops with a 4.4 rating. He is currently ranked as the third-best in the American League behind Jhonny Peralta and Alexei Ramirez.
He's batting .290/.369/.413 for the Blue Jays with 11 homers and 48 RBI while playing solid defense as well.
The 28-year-old shortstop should become more well known outside Toronto after the season he has put together.
Josh Willingham: Most Underrated Left Fielder
Josh Willingham has quietly had a career year in Oakland this season, hitting a career-high 27 homers and driving in 92 runs, also a career high.
Brett Gardner and Alex Gordon also are deserving of this spot, and you could certainly argue that they are more deserving, but in an era in baseball where power is becoming more and more scarce, I will take the power-hitting Willingham over the other two.
If he can put together an entirely injury-free season in 2012, you just might see him improve on his career-best season from 2011.
Jacoby Ellsbury: Most Underrated Center Fielder
No other players are even worth considering for this position, Jacoby Ellsbury just might be the most underrated player in all baseball; he certainly earns that distinction for center field.
He's rated the best center fielder in baseball by fangraphs.com by nearly a full point over the second-place Matt Kemp.
And what do the fans think of his .319/.374/.539 batting line, 28 homers, 98 RBI, 114 runs scored, 201 hits, 37 stolen bases and 14.0 UZR rating? According to this Yahoo post, some fans are just chalking it up as a fluke season.
I hope that's not what the majority of fans think of Ellsbury; he's just entering his prime and certainly capable of building on this season.
Shin-Soo Choo: Most Underrated Right Fielder
Shin-Soo Choo was not a hard pick either. Despite having missed about half of the season with injuries and other off-field distractions, he's still arguably one of the more underrated stars of the game.
After all, the players voted him the most underrated player in the whole game just earlier this season. Who am I to argue with the actual players who I just write about?
Choo has batted just .259 with eight homers through 85 games this season, but a rebound to his usual 20-plus-homer season is reasonable to expect in 2012 if he returns injury-free.
Michael Young: Most Underrated Designated Hitter
Surprise surprise, a player that even his own team undervalued to the point of trying to trade him all offseason is currently ranked as the second-best DH in the American League.
Michael Young is batting a career-best .334 for the Texas Rangers in his new role as the full-time DH following the Rangers' signing of Adrian Beltre to man third base.
His 3.9 WAR rating is just 0.4 points behind David Ortiz.
There is no question that Michael Young and his 104 RBI are a big contributing factors to the Rangers' current first-place standing in the AL West.
Madison Bumgarner: Most Underrated Starting Pitcher
Would you have guessed that Madison Bumgarner is actually the best pitcher in the San Francisco Giants rotation in 2011?
I live in the Bay Area and I wouldn't have guessed that, yet he currently has the best WAR rating among the Giants starting five, and the 10th-best WAR rating among all qualifying major league starters.
His 5.4 rating is better than Matt Cain's 5.2, Tim Lincecum's 4.5 and Ryan Vogelsong's 2.3.
In fact, when you take into consideration how many runs he is directly responsible for were it not for the fielders per game (fielder independent pitching on an ERA scale, or FIP), Bumgarner factors in at 2.66 (his ERA is 3.21). Matt Cain's FIP is 2.92 and Tim Lincecum's FIP is 3.15.
If you're actually pitching more effectively than one of the most prolific pitchers in baseball, who also happens to be your team's "ace," and no one notices, I'd say that qualifies as being underrated.
A.J. Pierzynski: Most Overrated Catcher
Is it adequate enough of an explanation to say I picked A.J. Pierzynski as the most overrated catcher in baseball simply because I don't like him?
Okay, well that's not true anyway, so I guess it doesn't matter what my personal feelings about him are.
Truth be told, despite his .292 batting average, Pierzynski is managing to drag the White Sox down with his negative fielding rating (-3.0).
Despite the amount of attention he draws to himself, Pierzynski has actually never been an elite catcher, having finished with a WAR on the positive side of zero only once in his entire career.
Carlos Pena: Most Overrated First Baseman
Carlos Pena is sort of an easy pick for this position.
Although I admit that I do like him personally, he's a one-dimensional player that simply can't hit for average anymore and doesn't do a whole lot defensively to help justify his $10 million contract.
Essentially the Cubs are paying $357,000 per home run from Pena.
Hmm, I wonder if I could get around on a single pitch and take an extended vacation? I'm sure in 500 at-bats I could hit one out of the park. Maybe not, but for $357,000 for a single homer I'd certainly like to try.
Dan Uggla: Most Overrated Second Baseman
I've actually seen where some people have rated Dan Uggla as one of the most underrated players in the game. What?!
Aside from his 30-game hitting streak earlier this season, Uggla has been horrible. That hitting streak raised his average to just .231 and to top it off he is a horrible defender, posting a -12.4 UZR rating.
He has set a career high in homers with 35 at least. That's not enough for this one-dimensional player to shake the "overrated" label in my opinion though.
Check out where he ranks among the rest of the second basemen in the league by clicking here.
Alex Rodriguez: Most Overrated Third Baseman
Okay, don't get me wrong with this pick, Alex Rodriguez is one of the greatest players to ever put on a baseball uniform. I'm not disputing that. Is he really as good as the major sports networks and Major League Baseball would like us to think though? Not anymore.
Rodriguez has battled injuries this year and missed significant time. He has still managed to put up a .281 batting average and 16 homers in his 95 games though.
Still though, you'd think for all the attention he gets, he'd rate higher than just fourth for the position, and barely ahead of Kevin Youkilis.
See for yourself how A-Rod stacks up against the rest of the league's hot-corner players by clicking here.
Jason Bartlett: Most Overrated Shortstop
Expecting to see Derek Jeter, weren't you? Guess again.
Is Jeter worth the contract he receives based solely on his statistical contributions? No. Is he the most overrated player at the position though? Also no.
Rather than bore you with more stats, let's just put it like this: Jason Bartlett can't hit, can't hit for power and it's been six seasons since he was really great with his glove. This season he is posting a negative UZR rating. Yet somehow, he still gets credit as being one of the better shortstops in the game?
Check out where he rates against the other shortstops in the league, click here.
Ryan Ludwick: Most Overrated Left Fielder
It was a little bit surprising to me that so much was made of Ryan Ludwick's availability at the trade deadline.
It's certainly not that I think he is a bad player—he's not. He's just not a great player. He's a .237 hitter this season with 13 homers. His only truly great season was 2008.
If you were paying attention to the buzz before July 31 though, you'd have thought the Pirates were acquiring the .299 hitter with 37 homers (his 2008 stats).
Further, his WAR this season is just 0.7, not very impressive.
Check out where he ranks against the rest of the league by clicking here.
B.J. Upton: Most Overrated Center Fielder
B.J. Upton is supposed to be a five-tool center fielder.
He earns this spot on the overrated side in large part because of his .237 batting average and -0.2 UZR rating this season. By my estimation, and I know this is mildly unfair, that reduces him to a three-tool player still being hyped as a five-tool guy.
Upton may just need a change of scenery, something that seems likely this coming offseason since his name was shopped prior to this year's trade deadline already.
Jayson Werth: Most Overrated Right Fielder
Forget the term "overrated"—let's consider the term "bust" in the case of Jayson Werth.
His power numbers are still respectable—19 homers is certainly not a number you'd roll your eyes at anymore—but he saw a drastic drop-off from his production the past few seasons with the Phillies.
Interestingly enough, Werth still rates way higher than the other player I considered for this position, Ichiro Suzuki.
I gave Ichiro the benefit of doubt of one down season based on a career of proof to the contrary, but his decline had him rated just below David DeJesus in terms of overall WAR rating at 0.4 (Werth's was 2.6).
For anyone that would have rather seen Ichiro occupying this slot, I certainly can't say I would disagree with you.
David Ortiz: Most Overrated Designated Hitter
I expect a mixed reaction for selecting David Ortiz as the most overrated designated hitter.
He's batting .312 with 29 homers and 96 RBI after all, and he has the best WAR rating among all designated hitters. If Ortiz is the standard by which all DHs should be measured in 2011, how can he also be considered overrated?
For one, his batting average is largely aided by playing in the hitting-friendly Fenway Park. At home he is batting .342 compared to just .276 on the road. Fifty-six of his RBI have come at Fenway as well, compared to just 40 on the road.
His numbers also drop significantly when batting in clutch situations. He has just a .215 batting average with runners in scoring position and two outs, and is at his absolute best (.347 average) when the Red Sox already have the lead and his at-bat is of less significance. Fifty-one of his 96 RBI have come with Boston ahead, just extending their lead.
Josh Beckett: Most Overrated Starting Pitcher
Yes, Josh Becket is 13-6 with a 2.70 ERA, and yes those numbers signify a great season. He has been incredibly lucky this season though if you take a deeper look at his numbers.
Becket's FIP (as we explored with Madison Bumgarner a few slides ago) shows that while his ERA sits nicely at 2.70, if you took away some spectacular defensive plays that saved some runs, he was responsible for 3.43 runs per game.
Although you'd never guess it by paying attention to the major sports networks, Beckett actually ranks behind Justin Masterson, Doug Fister, James Shields and Brandon McCarthy in WAR rating.
Great season? Yes. Overrated? Definitely.