MLB Metrics 101: The 10 Most Overrated Stars of Baseball

Zachary D. Rymer@zachrymerMLB Lead WriterApril 27, 2017

MLB Metrics 101: The 10 Most Overrated Stars of Baseball

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    Jamie Squire/Getty Images

    The latest in Bleacher Report's MLB Metrics 101 series will take on a topic that's guaranteed to never get anyone riled up.

    Ha. Just kidding. Everyone will leave here feeling good and P.O.'d.

    The topic of the day is the most overrated stars in Major League Baseball. This is normally something that's entirely subjective, but the aim here is to (knock wood) try for an objective spin on it. 

    It really comes down to two questions:

    • Which active major leaguers can fairly be called "stars?"
    • Which of these "stars" aren't actually that good?

    As for the best way to answer these questions, well, that part is complicated. Read on for a full explanation.


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    G Fiume/Getty Images

    Since a perfect way to answer that first question doesn't exist, the good enough way will have to do.

    This involves focusing on what's in the final column on a player's page: All-Star Games, Silver Sluggers and Gold Gloves, as well as MVP, Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards.

    These things aren't determined by statistical accomplishments. Each comes with a gray area that can be influenced by a player's reputation. That makes them good fodder for the following "Reputation Points":

    • 4 points for each MVP, Cy Young or RoY
    • 2 points for an All-Star start
    • 1 point for an All-Star reserve
    • 1 point for each Silver Slugger and Gold Glove

    To ensure a current list of stars, only players who were All-Stars or major award winners in 2015 or 2016 were considered. Disregard all relief pitchers—who are part-time stars even at the best of times—and throw in a minimum of five Reputation Points, and 47 players make the cut for consideration.

    For that second question, the fairest thing to do is weigh a player's overall body of work and his best work equally. For that, this works well enough:

    • Calculate a player's average WAR per season (not including 2017)
    • Calculate a player's average WAR in his three best seasons
    • Add the two figures together and find the average

    This will be called "Normal/Prime WAR."

    Logically, the next step is to find some kind of ratio between a player's Normal/Prime WAR and his Reputation Points. But because a star with many Reputation Points and a high Normal/Prime WAR would have the same ratio as a star with smaller numbers in both departments, that just doesn't work.

    So, things will be kept simple: Which of the 47 qualifying stars have the lowest Normal/Prime WARs?

    First up are some honorable mentions. Then it's on to the top bottom 10.

(Dis)Honorable Mentions

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    Dylan Buell/Getty Images

    Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

    Madison Bumgarner has six Reputation Points and a 3.88 Normal/Prime WAR. For perspective, the rough baseline for an All-Star-caliber player is 4 WAR. 

    Granted, this isn't counting Mad Bum's frequent dominance in October. Nor does it count what he can do with his bat. But due to the boost he gets from pitching at AT&T Park, there actually is an argument that he's deserving of the dreaded "O" word.

    Yadier Molina, St. Louis Cardinals

    By way of seven All-Star nods and eight Gold Gloves, Yadier Molina has a whopping 19 Reputation Points. But he's right there with Mad Bum with his 3.89 Normal/Prime WAR. He was indeed an excellent defender as he was winning his Gold Gloves. But since he's spent much of his career as a mediocre-to-bad hitter, the brakes should be pumped on the assumption that he's a future Hall of Famer.

    Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros

    With a 3.37 Normal/Prime WAR to go with nine Reputation Points, Dallas Keuchel qualified for a spot in the top 10. But an executive decision was made to hold him out. 

    Keuchel's a late bloomer who wasn't viewed as a star until he actually became a star. Plus, nobody can say he didn't earn his 2015 Cy Young or his three Gold Gloves. He's a special case.

    Wil Myers, San Diego Padres

    With a 1.70 Normal/Prime WAR to go with six Reputation Points, Wil Myers qualified as the most overrated star among the players in the sample.

    But he's another special case. He was a deserving Rookie of the Year in 2013 and a deserving All-Star in 2016. What makes him look bad is a small sample size in '13 due to a late call-up and injury-marred seasons in 2014 and 2015 that put his star power on ice.

10. Carlos Gonzalez, Colorado Rockies

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    Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images
    SeasonsASG (Starts)Major AwardsGG/SSReputation PointsNormal/Prime WAR
    9 3 (3)011 3.86

    On the bright side, Carlos Gonzalez sure does hit some impressive dingers.

    On the not-so-bright side, well, he's on this list.

    Although Gonzalez's star has faded as he's battled ups and downs with his health and consistency in recent seasons, he still took home a Silver Slugger in 2015 and earned an All-Star nod last season. The 31-year-old got those on the strength of a bat that still has life left in it.

    The big catch with CarGo's bat, however, is that it becomes less potent when he gets away from Coors Field. His career OPS at home (.981) is 238 points higher than his career OPS on the road (.743).

    Gonzalez's reputation is also boosted by the three Gold Gloves he won between 2010 and 2013. He's not a good defender now, and he wasn't a good defender even then. In fact, he accumulated negative defensive value in those seasons.

    There's no mistaking Gonzalez for a bad player, mind you. He's more of a flashy player who doesn't have much under the hood.

9. Bartolo Colon, Atlanta Braves

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images
    SeasonsASG (Starts)Major AwardsGG/SSReputation PointsNormal/Prime WAR
     194 (0) 13.79 

    To be fair, Bartolo Colon wouldn't be here if not for the Cy Young he won a lifetime ago in 2005.

    But while we're on the topic, Colon shouldn't have won the award that year. He only had the eighth-best ERA and tied for 10th among American League pitchers in WAR. He won because all that mattered to the cavemen who voted for the Cy Young in those days was that he had 21 wins.

    In the time that's passed since then, Colon has gone from being a washed-up veteran to a miracle comeback story to everyone's favorite jolly, fluffy and fun 43-year-old pitcher. 

    However, he's generally been just a solid pitcher. Between 2011 and 2016, Colon tied for 27th among qualified starters in WAR. And even when he made the All-Star team last year, he had an ERA that ranked 17th among qualified National League starters.

    Colon's value of late has more to do with his ability to eat innings than anything else. That is, unless he plans on hitting more dingers.

8. Justin Upton, Detroit Tigers

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    Hannah Foslien/Getty Images
    SeasonsASG (Starts)Major AwardsGG/SSReputation PointsNormal/Prime WAR
     103 (0)  03.75 

    The Arizona Diamondbacks selected Justin Upton No. 1 overall in the 2005 draft. They seemed to have a true superstar on their hands by 2011, as he did it all en route to a fourth-place finish in the MVP voting.

    Since then, Upton's career has been...well, weird.

    Not bad. Just weird. He's generally been productive since 2012, posting an .805 OPS and hitting 134 home runs. But his ability to mix in speed with his power has come and gone. The same has been true of his offensive production in general.

    "He has great leverage in his swing when he hits it, but he has areas that pitchers can exploit, so he's a streaky player," said one MLB executive to's Jerry Crasnick in 2016.

    Meanwhile, Upton's defense has remained an enigma. Even now, with much of his former athleticism having faded into myth, he's still a good athlete by traditional corner outfielder standards. But on the whole, he's done more harm than good with the glove.

    At this point, it's unlikely that Upton has another superstar-level season in him. But because he's been red-hot since last August, now's a good time to look and see his superstar ability before it's gone again.

7. Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners

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    Ted S. Warren/Associated Press
    SeasonsASG (Starts)Major AwardsGG/SSReputation PointsNormal/Prime WAR
    124 (2) 01 3.51

    There have been several stages to Nelson Cruz's career, including one in which the gap between his perceived ability and actual ability was a lot bigger than it is now.

    Cruz was an All-Star and a big-name player for the Texas Rangers between 2009 and 2012, but there were a couple of flies in the ointment. He didn't have an easy time staying on the field, averaging only 130 games per season. And when he did play, his .844 OPS qualified him as a good but not great hitter.

    Now 36, Cruz truly has become a great hitter in recent seasons. He hit at least 40 homers each year between 2014 and 2016, and posted a .903 OPS that made him one of baseball's 10 best hitters.

    But one of the 10 best players? No, not quite.

    Although Cruz's bat has evolved, he's continued to be a significant liability on the basepaths and on defense. And where the power he has to offer was a huge asset back in 2014, its value has come down to earth as home runs have become prevalent in the last two seasons.

6. Adam Jones, Baltimore Orioles

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    Patrick Semansky/Associated Press
    SeasonsASG (Starts)Major AwardsGG/SSReputation PointsNormal/Prime WAR
    115 (3)  013 3.50 

    Chris Tillman has done his part, but it's largely because of Adam Jones that the Erik Bedard trade is one of the biggest robberies in baseball history.

    Jones played his first season with the Baltimore Orioles in 2008 and was an All-Star by 2009. Between then and 2016, he made five All-Star teams and won four Gold Gloves and a Silver Slugger.

    Ah, but there are nits to pick.

    The big one is the iffy connection between the 31-year-old's defensive reputation and defensive reality. He won his Gold Gloves between 2009 and 2014, a span in which he actually posted negative defensive value

    On the other side of the ball, Jones has held his on-base percentage back by refusing to take his walks. He's relied on his power to get by, and said power has gotten a boost from Oriole Park at Camden Yards. Hence, his OPS+ between 2009 and 2016 was only 11 points better than average.

    Through it all, Jones has indeed been a good player. But whether he's ever been a great player is debatable.

5. Salvador Perez, Kansas City Royals

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    Tony Gutierrez/Associated Press
    SeasonsASG (Starts)Major AwardsGG/SSReputation PointsNormal/Prime WAR
    64 (3)  012  3.14

    Salvador Perez caught more games than any other catcher between 2013 and 2016, and that's not even counting the extra work he did in the postseason. There's value in that kind of reliability.

    Outside of his reliability, however, Perez doesn't really have that much to offer.

    The four Gold Gloves he has in his collection beg to differ, and he did indeed accumulate more defensive value than any other catcher in winning them between '13 and '16.

    But that's misleading. Perez has a strong arm and a big body for blocking wayward pitches, but Baseball Prospectus' metrics shine light on how terrible he is at framing pitches. That's arguably the most important skill a catcher must have on defense.

    On offense, the 26-year-old has been a below-average hitter in general and has been a downright bad hitter in recent seasons. It doesn't help that he tends to break down after the All-Star break. What hurts even more is his utter inability to take his walks.

    In fairness, there aren't many great catchers to choose from out there. But there are better ones than Perez.

4. Ian Desmond, Colorado Rockies

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    Chris Coduto/Getty Images
    SeasonsASG (Starts)Major AwardsGG/SSReputation PointsNormal/Prime WAR
    82 (0)  032.96

    Ian Desmond is here mainly because of the reputation he built as the Washington Nationals' shortstop between 2012 and 2014. He was an All-Star and a three-time Silver Slugger.

    But really, he was just an OK player.

    Desmond had power and speed aplenty, as he averaged 23 home runs and 22 stolen bases in those three seasons. But he's another guy who suppressed his offensive value with an aggressive approach.

    It was really Hanley Ramirez and Troy Tulowitzki who were the class of National League shortstops on offense. And Desmond wasn't a top defensive shortstop, either.

    In making a smooth transition to the outfield and putting up good numbers in the first half, Desmond seemed to have reinvented himself with the Rangers early last season. But he ultimately fell into a bad slump and rated as a below-average defender.

    So the $70 million contract that Desmond got from the Colorado Rockies? Even before Desmond broke his hand in spring training, Dave Cameron of FanGraphs had a gripe in labeling it the worst deal of the winter.

3. Jay Bruce, New York Mets

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    Rich Schultz/Getty Images
    SeasonsASG (Starts)Major AwardsGG/SSReputation PointsNormal/Prime WAR
    93 (0)  0 52.89

    In fairness to Jay Bruce, he wouldn't be here without an All-Star selection in 2016 that arguably shouldn't have happened and which definitely obscures the recent trajectory of his career.

    Bruce spent much of 2014 playing on a bad knee, and his production suffered accordingly. He didn't quite snap out of his funk in 2015 or 2016. Thus, smack in the middle of his career is a three-year span in which he accumulated just 0.2 WAR.

    But how good was Bruce even before then?

    Pretty good on the surface, as he averaged an .826 OPS and 30 home runs between 2010 and 2013. He made two All-Star teams and won two Silver Sluggers and rated as a strong defender, to boot.

    However, Bruce was a notoriously streaky hitter. He was also a lot better at Great American Ball Park (.869 OPS) than he was on the road (.784 OPS). He wasn't as good a hitter as several of the NL's top right fielders.

    So no matter which way you slice it, Bruce has always been an odd fit for the "star" label.

2. Matt Wieters, Washington Nationals

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    Jim McIsaac/Getty Images
    SeasonsASG (Starts)Major AwardsGG/SSReputation PointsNormal/Prime WAR
    84 (0) 02.85 

    There was a time when Matt Wieters was a legitimately great catcher.

    He was an All-Star and a Gold Glover in 2011 and 2012, and deservedly so. He posted a solid .771 OPS and hit 45 homers and accounted for more defensive value than any other catcher. And unlike Salvador Perez, there was no "Yeah, but" about his framing.

    What's been buoying Wieters' reputation since then? Well, All-Star selections in 2014 and 2016 and... That's actually pretty much it.

    The first crack appeared when Wieters had a rough season in 2013, posting just a .704 OPS and struggling to live up to his defensive standards. He then had Tommy John surgery in 2014 and lost a good chunk of the 2015 season to his recovery from it.

    Wieters was back to full strength last season, but his talents didn't return as much as his All-Star selection would suggest. He had just a .711 OPS, and hidden beneath his solid defensive rating was bad framing.

    No wonder it took Wieters so long to find a contract over the winter. He has much more name value than actual value at this point.

1. Eric Hosmer, Kansas City Royals

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    Eric Christian Smith/Associated Press
    SeasonsASG (Starts)Major AwardsGG/SSReputation PointsNormal/Prime WAR
    61 (1)  052.27

    You could throw a rock in a room full of major league first basemen, and chances are it would hit a superstar. There are lots of them at the position.

    And then there's Eric Hosmer.

    Hosmer's star power is boosted by his lofty defensive reputation, which exists in part thanks to the three Gold Gloves he won between 2013 and 2015. But there is perhaps no other player whose defensive reputation is more out of whack with reality.

    The 27-year-old rates as a bad defender for his career. And even in rating as a solid defender between 2013 and 2015, he was far from being one of baseball's most valuable defensive first basemen.

    “Where Hosmer has really struggled is the range component. He just doesn’t get to as many balls as other first basemen," said Baseball Info Solutions analyst Scott Spratt last year, according to Rustin Dodd of the Kansas City Star.

    It's harder to gauge Hosmer's offensive reputation, but it does seem to be greater than his actual hitting ability. He's a solid contact hitter with good power, but much goes to waste courtesy of his extreme ground-ball habit. He fails to stand out among the many heavy hitters at first base.

    Decent player? Sure. 

    But a star? Nope.

    Data courtesy of (including WAR), FanGraphs and Baseball Prospectus.


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