Bob: It's always dangerous to ask a guy is somebody underrated, because you can't speak for the whole country, but my impression is [Troy Tulowitzki] is underrated by the public's perception. He's a pretty extraordinary player.
Rob: He’s absolutely underrated. I think if you could somehow—you know what? The funny thing is, given the internet, one could construct a method to actually rate underratedness.
Bob: That would be fun! I'd like that!
Well, even though I'm Baseball Nation's worst analyst (see, for example, yesterday's trenchant The Brewers are really good! post), I'll give it a go.
Think of this as a first attempt to quantify underratedness. I'm sure you or even your slow-witted cousin could come up with a better way to do this, but it's a start.
I headed over to FanGraphs to find the 30 top hitters and top 30 pitchers in Wins Above Replacement over the last two calendar years. I then googled those players and ranked them in reverse order of search results, so that the least "popular" players are at the top of the list. This is the player's Unpopularity Score. Finally, I added each player's ranks in WAR and Unpopularity to arrive at his
Index of Underratedness Valvano Count.
|Player||Google hits||Unpopularity||WAR||WAR rank||Valvano Count|
That seems like a pretty fair list of underrated ballplayers, with the possible exception of 2010 National League MVP Joey Votto. I'm sure there's a better way to assess a player's "popularity" or "ratedness" than counting search returns from Google (like, say, using AltaVista or Ask Jeeves). Maybe you could use different search terms ("David Price+great") or incorporate award voting somehow. No matter how you slice the numbers, though, it's hard to imagine Ben Zobrist not coming out on top.
I assumed Brian McCann (43rd in Valvano Count) and Chase Utley (41st) would rank higher by any objective measure to quantify underratedness, but I guess googlers are finally hip to the fact that McCann is the best catcher in baseball. And injuries must have kept Utley's WAR down while Mac's love letter ("I think you would be impressed with my speed.") kept his Google hits up.