Every MLB Team’s Most Underrated Player for 2013
Who is the most underrated player on each MLB team?
Sure, the stars are the ones who grab the headlines during the season, but every MLB team has their fair share of unheralded players who make significant impacts on a regular basis, too.
Whether it's certain players' given history, or the role that they play on their respective teams, or the popularity of their home franchises, there are players on each team that would probably surprise most folks if they looked closely at what they've done recently on the field.
So for some teams, the term underrated is more of a relative thing, I suppose; perhaps the more accurate term here is under-appreciated. Unsurprisingly, almost a third of the players from this list comes from major league bullpens - I just don't think there's a more unheralded group of players who make the most impact than non-closing relief pitchers.
Still, perspective is key, as always. As I'm approaching this from a very specific point of view, there are likely going to be players that I've overlooked. Maybe you think pinch-hitters are more important than relievers. Other might think the same of pinch runners. Underrated and properly-rated is a fine line to trade, obviously.
That said, I think that there's a decent mix here. The group of players in this list have a couple of things in common: they're generally not household names (although that's essentially impossible to avoid when it came to certain teams with large fanbases), and they're most likely better than you think.
Or, at least better than I thought, anyway.
Arizona Diamondbacks - David Hernandez
J.J. Putz had an excellent season as the Arizona Diamondbacks' closer in 2012, but he wasn't their best reliever.
That honour should go to David Hernandez, who threw 14 more innings than Putz, and whose 12.91 K/9, 0.53 HR/9, 2.08 FIP, 1.02 WHIP, .190 BAA all bettered the D-backs' ninth-inning man. In fact, Hernandez's 2.1 fWAR makes him the 5th most valuable reliever in baseball last season.
Atlanta Braves - Eric O'Flaherty
Craig Kimbrel and Jonny Venters (despite a down year bogged down by health issues) are the big names in the Atlanta Braves bullpen, but how about the guy who gets the ball to them?
Eric O'Flaherty doesn't get quite as much attention as the two because the strikesouts don't come as easily for the lefty, but he's put up a pair of sub-2.00 ERA seasons over the last two years, held opposing batters to just a .225 average in '12, and is a big reason why the Braves' bullpen has been such a force over the last few seasons.
Baltimore Orioles - J.J. Hardy
Would you have believed me if I told you that over the last two years, Hardy has been one of the most valuable shortstops in the game, ahead of names like Starlin Castro and Asdrubal Cabrera?
That's exactly what his 7.6 fWAR indicates; despite a poor .252 batting average and league-worst .294 OBP over '11 and '12, Hardy makes up for it with excellent defense and, most of all, power - with a league-best 52 homers that easily lead his peers over the last two seasons.
Boston Red Sox - Felix Doubront
For all the attention last year over the Boston Red Sox's reliever-to-starter conversion gone wrong with fireballer Daniel Bard, how about the one they got (sort of) right?
Although he ran into his share of troubles with homers and control, Felix Doubront was a pleasant surprise who showed good promise, making 29 starts and pitching 161 innings, striking out 9.34 batters per nine innings in the process. The 4.86 ERA isn't good, of course, but the 3.81 xFIP and .256 BAA suggests that the numbers could be much better.
Chicago Cubs - Tony Campana
For the Chicago Cubs, having a utility man like Tony Campana, who can play all three outfield positions and light up the basepaths (30 steals in 33 attempts over 192 PA in '12), gives them a serious weapon in close games, where the margin of victory is often 90 feet.
Campana's .308 OBP won't play as a regular outfielder in the bigs; but if, for some reason – and with the state of the Cubs these days, there's really no telling – he does get consistent playing time, you could be looking at a 70-steal man with 500 PA, at the pace he was going last year.
Chicago White Sox - Jesse Crain
Injuries cut into Jesse Crain's '12 season, but the righty continued to improve as arguably the best reliever in an already-talented Chicago White Sox bullpen. Crain's 11.25 K/9 and .171 BAA is tops that of Nate Jones, Addison Reed and Matt Thornton, and his 2.44 ERA last year is only bettered by Jones in the quartet of late-inning relievers.
Controls and health are still issues with Crain, but with a 4-year increase in the K/9 and BAA department, he might be as close to a lights-out reliever as the White Sox has.
Cincinnati Reds - Sam LeCure
Sam LeCure's talents are obviously overshadowed by that of Aroldis Chapman, but his 9.58 K/9 in '12 puts him over late-season acquisition Jonathan Broxton, and he's actually the Cincinnati Reds' least-hittable reliever (.216 BAA)...outside of Chapman, anyway.
Cleveland Indians - Michael Brantley
Michael Brantley's 2.7 fWAR in 2012 ties him with Carlos Gonzalez, and makes him a top-35 outfielder in over the likes of Curtis Granderson, Justin Upton, and former Cleveland Indians teammate Shin-Soo Choo.
How, you ask? Defense, and the fact that Brantley makes fewer outs. His excellent 0.95 BB/K in '12 led the majors among his peers in the outfield, and made him more valuable than most would have thought.
Colorado Rockies - Rex Brothers
Wait, a 3.86 ERA and 1.48 WHIP in '12? How is Rex Brothers underrated?
Well, how about a top-20 11.04 K/9, and a .208 BAA that tells you about his lights-out stuff?
If only he didn't walk so many batters. Brothers is more talented – and more valuable - than his numbers would suggest, despite a season of wild up-and-downs. The 3.29 FIP and 1.3 fWAR suggests that he's not so far apart from Colorado Rockies closer Rafael Betancourt.
Detroit Tigers - Al Alburquerque
Al Alburquerque has just 56.2 major-league innings under his belt, including just 13.1 from '12...and he may already be the best reliever on the Detroit Tigers.
Over the last two years, Al-Al has put together the lowest ERA among all Tigers relievers, and strikes out batters better than anyone else on staff with a 13.50 K/9 over that period. Is the poor walk rate a concern? Sure. That said, when you can put guys away like he can, it makes the walks that much more palatable.
Houston Astros - Justin Maxwell
Finding under-appreciated players on bad teams isn't easy, but Justin Maxwell's power display in '12 wasn't difficult to notice. You might not think much of his .229 AVG and .304 OBP, or the fact that he strikes out 32.4% of the time, but his 18 homers in 352 PA would have put him on pace for 30+ in a full season, and his above-average defensive abilities contributed to his 2.3 fWAR in '12, despite his relative lack of opportunities.
Kansas City Royals - Tim Collins
Consider this a brief Tim Collins awareness lesson: Tiny Tim's 12.01 K/9 in '12 is second in the Kansas City Royals bullpen, second only to Greg Holland, and Collins has a slightly better walk rate (4.39 vs. 4.57) than the team's current closer. On top of that, Collins also leads the team with a .212 BAA.
Small he may be, but Collins is more than capable topping the big numbers that his bullpen compatriots in KC can dish out.
Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim - Joe Blanton
Unspectacular he may be, Joe Blanton was an under-appreciated member of the vaunted rotation in Philadelphia. I have the feeling that the inning-eater, who went back to throwing his usual 190+ innings last year after missing almost all of '11, will be in a similar position with the Los Angeles Angels.
His control has improved significantly in spite of the injury, posting a excellent 4.88 K/BB after years of upward trending in the department. If he could just cut back on the homers, Blanton's 3.39 xFIP suggests that he could perform well above expectations in '13.
Los Angeles Dodgers - AJ Ellis
Just a former back-up as late as '11, A.J. Ellis made the most of his opportunities as a full-time starter in a big way, putting up a .270/.373/.414 triple slash that helped make him the 7th most valuable catcher in the game in 2012, with a 4.1 fWAR that tied wunderkind Matt Wieters, and ahead of players like A.J. Pierzynski and Carlos Santana.
Miami Marlins - Rob Brantly
There's not much for the Miami Marlins to look forward to these days, but one of the bright spots on the team is Rob Brantly, the catcher prospect who arrived as part of the Anibal Sanchez trade, and who made his major-league debut with a very promising 113 PA stint.
Brantly hit .290/.372/.460 at the plate, and showed an excellent batting eye with a 0.81 BB/K. Essentially everyone outside of Giancarlo Stanton on that team could be called under-appreciated, but I like Brantly's chances of being that much more in '13.
Milwaukee Brewers - Wily Peralta
Lost in the 13th-in-NL 4.22 ERA of the Milwaukee Brewers last season – made worse by the the departure of Zack Greinke – was the promising arrival of prospect Wily Peralta, who put up a 2.48 ERA and 1.21 WHIP in 5 starts, while holding opponents to a paltry .235 BAA. He was an underrated rookie last season, but with a starting job firmly in hand for '13, that may not last for long.
Minnesota Twins - Glen Perkins
Glen Perkins has pitched like a top reliever for the last couple of years, and he still hasn't gotten the recognition around the league, even after getting the 9th inning job in the latter part of '12.
Perkins' 2.9 fWAR from '11 to '12 puts him over the likes of Jason Motte and Vinnie Pestano, and has significantly improved in his velocity, strikeout rate, and control over the last three years, with his fastball topping out at a 94.9 mph average in '12, and a 4.88 K/BB that puts him in the top 15 relievers, while striking out almost 10 batters per nine innings.
Don't let the Minnesota Twins shield fool you – Perkins is the real deal.
New York Mets - Dillon Gee
If Dillon Gee's season hadn't been ended by shoulder problems, we might not be talking about him as an under-the-radar player at this point.
Gee showed improvements in virtually all areas in '12, striking out almost eight batters per nine innings, while significantly improving on his control with a 2.38 BB/9.
Essentially, he's Jon Niese, who had an excellent '12 – it just hasn't happened yet for Gee.
New York Yankees - Phil Hughes
“Underrated” and the New York Yankees don't really go together, do they? Still, if there is a player who is going to get that label in the Bronx, I'm going to go with Phil Hughes.
For all the flak he caught about his generous home run-giving ways, Hughes bounced back in a big way in '12, especially after the mess with his velocity and effectiveness in the '11 season. His 3.59 K/BB is the best in his career yet, and there was a 2-month stretch where he was excellent, even – 2.67/1.07 ERA/WHIP in June, and 3.09/1.06 in July.
What people will remember is that Hughes gave up a ton of homers, but that's simply not giving the 26-year old enough credit.
Oakland Athletics - Chris Carter
Brandon Moss got the attention for his breakout season with the Oakland Athletics, but it's Chris Carter who showed more promise.
Both players strike out a whole lot, and both showed monstrous power, but Carter has a significant edge in his ability to draw walks (15% BB% compared to Moss' 8.8%).
Philadelphia Phillies - Antonio Bastardo
How good is Antonio Bastardo? Well, for starters, he strikes out more batters per nine than any other Philadelphia Phillies reliever, and he held opponents to a lower average in '12 than the team's big-name closer, Jonathan Papelbon.
The 4.33 ERA on Bastardo is misleading – with stuff like that, don't be surprised if it's closer to is 3.34 FIP next season. He's closer to Papelbon than you might think.
Pittsburgh Pirates - A.J. Burnett
Here's the story of how A.J. Burnett went from being an overrated bum, to being underrated again: he signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates and returned to the NL.
Burnett, who posted a 3.51 ERA and 1.24 WHIP in '12, also had a 2.90 K/BB that represented a five-year best, and his 3.4 fWAR season made him a top-30 pitcher in the league, ahead of guys like Mat Latos and Jered Weaver. Yes, seriously.
San Diego Padres - Jesus Guzman
Power isn't something that the San Diego Padres have in abundance, but they do have it in utility man Jesus Guzman, who went on an eye-catching run at the end of '11, and showed that not all of it was a fluke – namely, his power.
Guzman, a pinch-hitter who can play both at first base and the corner outfields, hit 9 home runs in 321 PA, posting a .171 ISO that's very similar to catcher Yasmani Grandal's. The problem? Well, he could only hit lefties.
When he did, though, he smashed them to the tune of a .942 OPS, making him one of the best lefty-hitting pinch hitters in the league.
San Francisco Giants - Gregor Blanco
How does one find an underrated player on a team full of them like the San Francisco Giants? Well, I'll start with Gregor Blanco, who was a 2.4 fWAR player despite getting just 453 PA in '12.
The reasons why he was so valuable, despite not being about to do much with the bat? Defense -18.5 UZR/150 and speed – 26 steals in 32 attempts.
Seattle Mariners - Kyle Seager
You might not think that a 3rd baseman who hit just .259/.316 last season would be a top-10 player among his peers, but that's exactly what Kyle Seager was, as one of just three 3B-man to hit at least 20 homers and record 10 steals.
Plus, he also plays a big of second base and shortstop too!
St. Louis Cardinals - Jon Jay
Carlos Beltran. Desmond Jennings, Andre Ethier. Jon Jay's 4.1 fWAR says he was more valuable than than all of them, despite playing in only 117 games in '12.
How? Although Jay lacks power, he was essentially a 4-tool player in '12, hitting .305/.373 with 19 steals, while playing above average defense. Better than I thought, certainly.
Tampa Bay Rays - Alex Cobb
On a stacked rotation like the Tampa Bay Rays', it's hard to find someone who might be considered underrated. That said, Alex Cobb might be the best 6th starter in the game in '13 – where else would a 2.2 fWAR pitcher with a 2.65 K/BB and a 4.03/1.25 ERA/WHIP have to fight for a starting job?
Texas Rangers - Matt Harrison
How much more does Matt Harrison have to get the recognition he deserves? His 5.84 K/9 is well below his elite peers, but the guy has thrown 399 innings between '11 and '12 with a clean 3.34 ERA, and a 8.2 fWAR over that time that puts him above the likes of Cy Young winner R.A. Dickey, among numerous others.
Yu Darvish and his ridiculous stuff might garner more attention, but Harrison has been one of the quietest top-20 pitchers over the last two seasons.
Toronto Blue Jays - Emilio Bonifacio
Emilio Bonifacio comes to the Toronto Blue Jays following a poor .645 OPS season, but he could easily wind up being the most popular of the Marlins quintet that came over from Miami this off-season.
Fans in Toronto have always loved players who can do a bit of everything, and that's exactly what Bonifacio is – he plays all over the field, doesn't hurt you badly with poor on-base skills, and can steal bases with the best of them (30 steals in 33 attempts over 274 PA).
He's expected to be the everyday second baseman in '13, and if that's the case, it's possible that not John Gibbons' base-stealing-adverse ways can keep Bonifacio from swiping 50+ bases.
Washington Nationals - Tyler Moore
The Washington Nationals is another team where underrated requires something of a search (mostly because they were so good all year), but I'll settle with Tyler Moore, who is unfortunately something of an odd man out in Washington, even if he's someone who can hit the ball as hard as any of his teammates.
What else would you call 10 homers and 9 doubles in just 171 PA, good for .515 slugging and .250 ISO, number that trump those of Ian Desmond, Adam Laroche, and Ryan Zimmerman?