MLB Metrics 101: The Most Overrated Stars of Baseball
No Major League Baseball season is ever complete without some jackwagon standing up and shouting unprovoked about which players are overrated.
On that note, welcome to MLB Metrics 101's take on the most overrated players of 2018. I'm Zach. I'll be your jackwagon.
When we did this last year, the idea was to try for an objective spin on an inherently subjective topic by seeking to answer two questions:
- Which active major leaguers can fairly be called "stars"?
- Which of these "stars" aren't actually that good?
What's different this year is the methodology for answering these questions. Read on for the full explanation.
One issue with the term "overrated" is how the "rated" part implies that star power can be measured. In reality...no, not really.
Last year's workaround for this involved assigning "Reputation Points" based on players' accolades. Rather than go down that arbitrary rabbit hole again, this year's method was to compare Bleacher Report's top 100 to those of MLB Network, ESPN and Sports Illustrated and establish a loose consensus for MLB's best players.
Sans relief pitchers—who are easy targets—there are 80 players who appear on at least three of the four lists. That's a big sample, and the list does read like a who's who of the biggest stars in baseball today.
So, which players are the least deserving of that status?
To answer this, the objective was to pinpoint players with low ceilings and/or low floors. The measuring stick for this was wins above replacement, for which there were five sources:
- 2017 WAR from Baseball Reference
- 2017 WAR from FanGraphs
- Via FanGraphs, projected WAR for 2018 according to ZiPS, Steamer and Depth Charts
From these five figures, the idea was to pluck out each player's best-case WAR and worst-case WAR for 2018, and then calculate the average. The lower a player's number, the higher he's going to rank in this space.
With one exception: Madison Bumgarner. The San Francisco Giants ace ended up at the bottom of the list, but that has much to do with recent injuries that were caused not by wear and tear but by fluky accidents. There's no need to kick him while he's down.
Otherwise, go here for the full results and keep reading to see who did make the final cut.
10. Kyle Hendricks, Chicago Cubs
Best-Case WAR: 3.5 (2017 rWAR)
Worst-Case WAR: 2.5 (2017 fWAR)
Right off the bat, this is where it's important to stress that "overrated" doesn't mean "bad."
Indeed, Kyle Hendricks is quite a good pitcher. His career 2.99 ERA is fourth-best among all active pitchers with at least 100 starts. Some of the names behind him include Bumgarner, Stephen Strasburg, Corey Kluber, David Price and Felix Hernandez.
However, there's at least one thing that should be keeping Hendricks from an ace reputation: his workload.
He's yet to pitch 200 innings in a season and not just because he's had a few injuries here and there. He generally hasn't pitched deep into games. Between 2015 (his first full MLB season) and 2017, he logged just 49 starts of at least six innings and 16 starts of at least seven innings.
Without overpowering stuff, Hendricks has managed contact to get by. He's good at it but not the best. His expected production on batted balls between 2015 and 2017 was about equal to that of CC Sabathia. That calls attention to how the Chicago Cubs defense deserves its share of credit for Hendricks' success.
Sweet changeup, though.
9. J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins
Best-Case WAR: 3.6 (2017 rWAR/fWAR)
Worst-Case WAR: 2.3 (2018 ZiPS)
My first thought: "Actually, J.T. Realmuto is wildly underrated."
My second thought: "Unless...unless maybe he's now so underrated that he's become overrated."
Conversations about Realmuto usually center on what an intriguing specimen he is. He's way more athletic than other catchers, and it shows in his lightning-quick pop times, his legitimately good speed and his developing power.
The catch, though, is that the 27-year-old hasn't had the easiest time translating his superstar potential into a superstar reality.
Realmuto did get better every year between 2014 and 2017 but not to a point where he could challenge Buster Posey for the mantle of baseball's best catcher. His offense was only a tad above average (110 OPS+) between 2016 and 2017, and his defensive value was undermined by an under-construction framing talent.
Of course, there's no ignoring the smell of crow that Realmuto is cooking up. He's surging with a 1.294 OPS and four home runs through his first seven games of 2018. That's a pretty good way to shut down skepticism about whether he's worthy of so much optimism.
8. Eric Hosmer, San Diego Padres
Best-Case WAR: 4.1 (2017 rWAR/fWAR)
Worst-Case WAR: 1.7 (2018 ZiPS)
Ah, good. Eric Hosmer. He offers a much easier "this dude's overrated" argument.
If nothing else, the former Kansas City Royals star has been baseball's most overrated defender in recent years. He's won four Gold Gloves and inspired rave reviews with his work at first base. But between 2011 and 2017, his defensive metrics painted a decidedly different picture:
- Minus-21 DRS: second-to-last among first basemen
- Minus-24 UZR: last among first basemen
This would have been easier to overlook if Hosmer was at least providing the thunderous offense that's typical of first basemen. But largely because he hit way too many ground balls, he didn't. He put up just a 111 OPS+ between 2011 and 2017, which ranked 16th out of 21 qualifiers.
Hosmer did put up a 132 OPS+ in 2017 and he's now authoring a 121 OPS+ in his first season with the San Diego Padres. But while this should be conclusive evidence that he's found a new gear at the plate, his ground-ball habit still elicits a cringe.
Give Hosmer this much credit, however: He's durable. Since 2012, only six players have played in more games.
7. Ender Inciarte, Atlanta Braves
Best-Case WAR: 3.0 (2017 rWAR/fWAR)
Worst-Case WAR: 2.4 (2018 Steamer)
Like J.T. Realmuto, Ender Inciarte may be another for the "so underrated that he's now overrated" pile.
He was a cult hero in his first two seasons with the Arizona Diamondbacks in 2014 and 2015, largely because of what he could do on defense. His 49 defensive runs saved were more than all outfielders except Kevin Kiermaier and Jason Heyward.
It wasn't until Inciarte joined the Atlanta Braves in 2016 that he started getting proper recognition for his defensive wizardry. He's won two Gold Gloves in his two seasons with the team.
And yet, there's room for debate about whether Inciarte is still the infallible gloveman that he was with Arizona. He's been a Statcast darling in each of the last two years, but he's managed "only" 20 DRS and a 11.9 UZR. Those put him in great-not-elite territory.
Inciarte has also been unable to establish himself as a dangerous hitter. His OPS+ never climbed higher than 101 between 2014 and 2017. He's excellent at putting the ball in play, but he offers neither patience nor power.
Unlike Realmuto, meanwhile, Inciarte is off to a slow start in 2018. Bully for the skeptics.
6. Jean Segura, Seattle Mariners
Best-Case WAR: 3.2 (2017 rWAR)
Worst-Case WAR: 2.0 (2018 ZiPS/Steamer/Depth Charts)
If Jean Segura has committed an obvious sin, it's being a just-OK defender at one of the most important defensive positions on the diamond.
Per his minus-10.3 UZR, Segura has been a well-below-average shortstop since breaking into the league in 2012. Per his one DRS, he's been at best a shade above average. The truth of his defensive ability is likely somewhere in between and is best summed up by the word "meh."
In recent years, Segura's bat has been his saving grace. He hit .310 with a 117 OPS+ across 2016 and 2017. Most years, that qualifies as elite by shortstop standards.
But that's not really the case in this day and age. Segura's 117 OPS+ would have been a huge deal in, say, 2013 and 2014. Now, good-hitting shortstops are just about everywhere in MLB, which renders Segura's ability with the bat into something less special.
Segura is also in the process of losing his wheels. He sprinted at an average of 28.7 feet per second with the Milwaukee Brewers in 2015. He slipped to 28.3 with Arizona in 2016 and then all the way to 27.1 in his first season with the Seattle Mariners in 2017.
5. Jake Arrieta, Philadelphia Phillies
Best-Case WAR: 3.2 (2018 Depth Charts)
Worst-Case WAR: 1.9 (2017 rWAR)
Let's ask a simple question: How deserving of an ace reputation is Jake Arrieta in the year 2018?
Arrieta was spectacular when he won the National League Cy Young Award on the strength of a 1.77 ERA over 229 innings in 2015. But he dropped off sharply in 2016 with a 3.10 ERA over 197.1 innings and then even more sharply in 2017 with a 3.53 ERA over 168.1 innings.
It may only be the memory of Arrieta's 2015 dominance that's keeping his ace reputation alive. One wonders if that would be the case if he'd missed out on the Cy Young to either of two more deserving pitchers.
The best thing Arrieta did in 2015 was go on an all-time great tear in the second half. That shouldn't have distracted voters from how Zack Greinke had achieved the best ERA since Greg Maddux in 1995 or from how Clayton Kershaw had achieved the first 300-strikeout season since Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling in 2002.
All this being said, Arrieta will always be the GIF King.
4. Andrew Benintendi, Boston Red Sox
Best-Case WAR: 2.9 (2018 ZiPS/Depth Charts)
Worst-Case WAR: 2.1 (2017 fWAR)
Behold another Realmuto-esque situation. Andrew Benintendi is awfully talented, but maybe everyone's getting carried away with how good he can be.
He checks all the boxes of a superstar-level player. He's a pure hitter with some power and speed, and he can play good defense in center field and even better defense in left field.
All of these abilities were on display in Benintendi's first full season with the Boston Red Sox in 2017. He finished with a .776 OPS and 20 homers and 20 stolen bases. He also had as many defensive runs saved in left field (nine) as Alex Gordon.
But for all that, he was worth just 2.6 rWAR and 2.1 fWAR. And while it's easy to assume that the 23-year-old has better things in store for 2018, he does have a fatal flaw.
Benintendi is like most other left-handed hitters in that he can't hit left-handed pitchers. He owns just a .556 OPS against southpaws, which is second-worst among all lefty batters since 2016. If that keeps up, he may be destined to be a platoon star only.
The Same Guy Who Recently Compared Benintendi to Carl Yastrzemski
3. Edwin Encarnacion, Cleveland Indians
Best-Case WAR: 2.8 (2017 rWAR)
Worst-Case WAR: 2.2 (2018 Steamer)
Let no ill words be spoken of 2012-15 Edwin Encarnacion, who was a slugging god.
An average season for him included 38 homers and a 149 OPS+. And he was truly unlike most other power hitters. The breed tends to excel at taking their walks and slugging. Encarnacion handled not only those two things but also frequently put the ball in play.
But then there's 2016-17 Edwin Encarnacion, who's not quite as foolproof.
He kept the home runs coming by mashing a total of 80 of them, but he wasn't the same hitter in other regards. He went from an ultra-low 10 percent strikeout rate at his peak in 2013 to a 19.7 K% in 2016 and a 19.9 K% in 2017. And as the rest of baseball began slugging more, he began slugging less.
None of this is surprising in light of how Encarnacion started creeping into his mid-30s in '16. Now he's 35, and he's thus far teasing another step down with a .634 OPS through his first 22 games of 2018.
For what it's worth, at least his parrot is still going strong.
2. DJ LeMahieu, Colorado Rockies
Best-Case WAR: 2.9 (2017 rWAR)
Worst-Case WAR: 1.9 (2017 fWAR/2018 ZiPS)
Hey, look. It's a Colorado Rockies player. There must be a Coors Field caveat.
DJ LeMahieu didn't start getting noticed as a hitter until 2015, and the .319 average and .812 OPS he racked up between then and 2017 looks darn impressive on the surface. Underneath the surface, however:
- Home: .346 AVG, .889 OPS
- Away: .293 AVG, .733 OPS
That may not look so bad to somebody like 2017 Charlie Blackmon, but it's still a big disparity that calls into question how good, exactly, LeMahieu is as a hitter. From there, we can debate the merits (or lack thereof) of his Hosmerian ground-ball habit.
LeMahieu also appears to be past his peak as a defensive second baseman. He was worth 26 defensive runs saved in 2013 and 2014. His DRS slipped to 14 between 2015 and 2017, and his UZR was even worse at 2.1.
However, LeMahieu seems to have borrowed a crow recipe from J.T. Realmuto. All he's done through 26 games in 2018 is hit five homers with an .860 OPS, including a 1.122 mark on the road.
1. Yoenis Cespedes, New York Mets
Best-Case WAR: 3.1 (2018 Depth Charts)
Worst-Case WAR: 1.6 (2017 fWAR)
Yoenis Cespedes is and always has been tons of fun.
He rose to fame as the star of arguably the best workout mixtape the world has seen. He's since put his muscles to good use by hitting astonishing dingers and making ridiculous throws. And one would swear he's getting his cars straight off the set of whatever Fast and Furious movie is in production.
But is Cespedes...you know, actually good?
He's been prone to extreme peaks and valleys on offense. Injuries have played a role in that, but so has plain ol' inconsistency. Such is the danger of Cespedes' swing-first, ask-questions-later approach.
The 32-year-old is also at a point where even his laser-guided arm isn't enough to save his defense. According to the metrics, his left field work over the last two seasons has been somewhere between solid (six DRS) and below average (minus-2.1 UZR). He's not one of the best like he was in 2014 and 2015.
So, there's that. I now have a case of the blues for which the only cure is a binge on Cespedes highlights. Bye.