Usually when players vote for stuff, they get it wrong -- Hall of Fame, American President, clubhouse video, etc. -- but this time they got it right. Sports Illustrated polled 259 major leaguers, asking them to name the most underrated player in the majors, and they actually got it right:
Most selected was Shin-Soo Choo (13%), followed by the Atlanta Braves' Martin Prado (5%), the Texas Rangers' DH Michael Young (4%), the Boston Red Sox's 1B Adrian Gonzalez (4%) and the Washington Nationals' 3B Ryan Zimmerman (3%).
It's not exactly a landslide victory, as apparently a lot of players received just a vote or three. Maybe a bunch of guys voted for themselves?
But I think if you could somehow graph WAR vs. public acclaim, Choo would be at or very near the top of the list. Zimmerman probably should have done better in the poll, though. It's not that nobody talks about him, but they probably talk about him enough. According to FanGraphs, he's been the third-best player in the game since 2009. A lot of that's due to his defense, and should be looked upon with at least mild suspicion. But I don't have any problem with the notion that Zimmerman's one of the dozen best players in the majors. When he's not on the DL, anyway.
Of course, there are ways to objectively rate underratedness. One easy way is to compare hitting stats to All-Star berths. By that measure, Tim Salmon was terribly underrated, and after him Bobby Abreu.
Another, more modern way would be to somehow graph performance vs. Google hits or something.
I prefer the old-fashioned way, though: Just making stuff up. In that spirit, here's your 2011 All-Underrated Team:
No, all these guys aren't exactly unknowns. Particularly Fielder and Verlander. And Rasmus is probably too young for this list. But we're looking for excellent players who excellence, for whatever reasons, is under-appreciated. And there just aren't many players who fill that bill.
I'm sure I missed some of your favorite underrated players; please feel free to educate me.