Shin-Soo Choo of the Cleveland Indians leads off first base during a baseball game against the Baltimore Orioles at Oriole Park at Camden Yards (Photo by Mitchell Layton/Getty Images)
Do you love arguing about arbitrary lists? Well, we have a treat for you. Here's a ranking of the most underrated players in baseball, and there's even a Yankee in there.
Michael Young was recently voted the most underrated position player in baseball by his peers. That would be seven-time All-Star Michael Young, who is currently hitting .273/.304/.353 as a DH in the hittingest park in the American League. He currently has a cool -1.8 wins-above-replacement mark according to Baseball Reference. And the Internet had many chuckles at this ranking.
But as a commenter at Lone Star Ball opines, this shouldn't be that surprising. Young is well-liked. His peers aren't looking at a whole lot beyond average, homers, and ribbies, and Young somehow hasn't finished over eighth in the MVP voting over his 13-year career. The list is an interesting one with the right context. You or I would have a different list as outsiders, of course. A similar poll about pitchers had Jamie Moyer ranked #8, for example. This year. Jamie Moyer was ranked #8 in one of those lists this year.
So let's get one of those lists going. People love lists. People love arguing with lists. If you tape a list of the best Led Zeppelin albums on a telephone pole, people will stop to yell at the telephone pole for 46 minutes. That's how lists work. And here's my attempt to list the most underrated players in baseball. You'll disagree because that's the point..
Note: I'm tempted to put Mike Trout at the top because you do not have a tattoo of him wrestling a pterodactyl on your neck. Do you have a tattoo of Mike Trout wrestling a pterodactyl on your neck? Well, then, he's probably underrated. You should probably have a tattoo of Trout somewhere. Other than that, here's a list of ten other underrated players:
10. Chris Capuano
True story: I was actively looking for a better fit for the #10 slot because I didn't feel like writing about Chris Capuano. Who does? You don't want to read about Chris Capuano. You feel cheated that you clicked on an arbitrary ranking and you ended up with Chris Capuano's name disorienting you and wafting about.
But that's the point of these lists, right? Capuano won 18 games once, and he made the All-Star team the next year -- both of those are things that hint at a higher profile. But he was terrible in 2007 and missed the next two seasons because of injury. Last year, he had a 4.55 ERA despite striking out three times as many as he walked. He's doing the same thing this year, except he's doing it for the Dodgers, and he's been stellar.
Capuano isn't close to as bad as he was last year with the Mets, even though his strikeout and walk numbers are almost identical. He probably isn't as good as he's been this year, but he's still underrated.
Headley is a career .269/.347/.397 hitter. His career OPS+ (which accounts for park and league) is 108. Michael Young is a career .302/.348/.446 hitter. His career OPS+ is 105.
Which is to say, if Headley played in Arlington, he'd be something of a star. Heck, if he played in Comerica Park, he'd be something of a star. His OPS+ isn't that stellar -- 48th in baseball over the last season-plus, between Josh Reddick and Jose Reyes -- but he still isn't someone you think of when discussion the top offensive performers in the game. That has everything to do with his home park.
8. Ian Desmond
Really, this is kind of a tie with Danny Espinosa, and you pick whichever of the two is hitting well at the time. Desmond was thought to be a glove-first guy … except neither UZR nor defensive-runs saved thought much of him. And considering his bat was pretty barmesy, he probably wasn't thought of as a top-half shortstop in the National League by a lot of people.
He's hitting now -- enough to make an All-Star team. If he keeps hitting like this, he could be in line for a Gold Glove! It'll be hard for him to keep up the offense without improving the plate discipline, but even if his stats dip a bit, he's still a fine player. He's only 26, and he's close to doubling his career high in homers after a half-season. Considering what other shortstops are hitting this year, he was a more-than-worthy All-Star selection, though.
7. Matt Belisle
Belisle is the most valuable reliever in the game according to Baseball Reference, and he's the third-most valuable according to FanGraphs. His secret is that the Rockies' starters have averaged just under a third of an inning this season, which has created a lot of opportunities for their bullpen to pitch -- he's third in relief innings, just behind Craig Stammen and teammate Josh Roenicke.
More importantly, Belisle has been good over the last three years. Really good. He's thrown over 200 innings with solid peripherals. He's a pretty good example of how used to the humidor we are -- in 2000, he would have been paraded around Denver as if he were Yuri Gagarin after winning the Super Bowl. Now, though, he's just a quietly effective and well-used reliever whom a lot of people still haven't noticed.
I'm as much of a Giancarlo Stanton fanatic as the next guy. Love batting-practice monsters, especially when they're far, far younger than their peers. But Goldschmidt doesn't get a tenth of the attention that Stanton does, even though he's only 24 and hitting .300/.367/.544 for the Diamondbacks. He's not quite the same physical specimen as Stanton, but he's still imposing as all heck. You don't want to play your "If he played on the Red Sox or Yankees" card too early or often in these sorts of posts, so let's just note that playing in Arizona isn't doing wonders for his profile.
5. Kyle Lohse
Because Kyle Lohse is good now. There's something so loaded in that sentence. It challenges everything you thought you had figured out. Lohse was an innings-eater's innings-eater -- a sinkerballer without a decent strikeout rate, but an average ability to keep runs off the board. Then he refined his control:
Walks per nine innings
It's also worth noting that as a sinkerballer, he's usually at the mercy of his infield defense, and the Minnesota AstroTurf didn't help him slow his grounders down either. Now that he's limiting the free runners, pitching on grass again, and playing behind solid infield defenders in a low-offense environment, he's something much more than an innings-eater. That's an unexpected twist.
Robinson Cano made the players' list, which caused a philosophical debate: Can a Yankees player truly be underrated? I mean, there's no way Cano can be, right?
But I think Kuroda proves that you can be an underrated Yankee. I mean, not you. You're terrible at baseball, especially when compared to Manny Alexander or Juan Castro. But Kuroda proves underrated Yankees exist.
He was almost the perfect free-agent pitcher last offseason. He wasn't young enough to expect a long-term deal, which is great, because pitchers are usually lousy by the end of their long-term deals. The Yankees really needed to catch a break, and it looks like they finally have.
He was just voted into the All-Star Game. He signed with the Rangers for $80 million, and that's after completing a $64-million deal with the Mariners. He's finished with MVP votes in each of the last two seasons. How can he be underrated?
Because no one's talking about him being one of the great third basemen of all-time. Which he isn't yet. According to Baseball Reference's wins-above-replacement calculation, Beltre is the 14th-best third baseman of all-time. So he has a ways to go. But I'd say he's about two really productive seasons from getting some stray Hall of Fame votes, and deserving more than a few.
He's not Brooks Robinson, but he's about as close as this generation's going to get. And since he left Safeco Field, he's turned into the middle-of-the-order monster he was also supposed to be, but never could with any consistency. Now that he has, there's more than a decent chance he'll end up this decade's Jeff Kent -- a guy who makes it to his late 30s without anyone realizing he's been spit-shining some serious Hall of Fame credentials along the way.
2. Martin Prado
Prado was miserable last year, hitting .260 with a .302 on-base percentage and without the doubles power he'd shown in the past. It was odd because we'd just gotten used to the idea of Prado as a good player. From his age-24 to -26 seasons, he hit .309/.358/.461 (118 OPS+) while playing second, third, and left (along with three other positions in a pinch.) That's a really, really valuable asset. Then 2011 came, he was terrible, and that was the end of that.
Except he's just as good again, if not better, threatening career highs in just about every offensive category. He's also 11 for 12 in stolen-base attempts this year, and he's even played 13 innings at shortstop. I mean, stood in the general vicinity of the shortstop position. It still counts.
But when was the last time you thought of Martin Prado as anything other than a nice, complementary player? He's better than that. It's been a nice career for a guy who most certainly was not a prospect coming up through the Braves' system.
/knocking at the door
Me: Can I help you?
Large man in dark suit and sunglasses: Excuse me, but did you write an underrated-players feature without mentioning Shin-Soo Choo?
Me: Well, I ...
Large man in dark suit and sunglasses: Please come with me.
Me: Aw, nuts.
Yeah, no thanks. I've seen the gulags they throw you in. All they give you is a 1984 edition of Baseball Encyclopedia with the "J" section taken out. So Choo makes it.
But if you think Headley makes the list because of his home park, Choo definitely makes it. Did you even know that Progressive Field was a pitchers' park? It's playing like an extreme pitchers' park this year after a few years of playing like a slight pitchers' park. As such, Choo's raw numbers aren't exactly electric, but he's tied for 11th among all major-league hitters since 2008 in OPS+. He's so underrated, you're scared that'll make him overrated, and then … nope. Still underrated. Never made an All-Star team, for example.
I started this list with Choo at the bottom, and the whole writeup was going to be about how he's so underrated that he's overrated. Then I moved him to #9. Then up to #7. Ranking this guy is like a bag of Funyuns. Couldn't stop. And after staring at his Baseball Reference page and watching videos of him for the past half-hour, he's at the top. It's the easy choice. It's the obvious choice. I wish I could be more original. But Choo is often described as a nice player, when he's probably closer to a great one.