Saturday, February 8, 2014

Baseball's All-Underrated Team: 2013

Here are, in my opinion, the most underrated and underappreciated players of 2013. None of them made the All-Star team, received MVP votes or won any major award to my knowledge. Most of them were trapped on bad team, played in small markets, or both.

C Jonathan Lucroy
Lucroy put together another great season for the Brewers, batting .280/.340/.455 with 18 homers, 82 RBI and nine steals in ten tries--a performance that was worth about three wins above replacement. Unfortunately, all anybody could talk about in Milwaukee was Ryan Braun.

1B Brandon Moss
After smashing 21 home runs in just 84 games and 265 official at-bats in 2012, Moss was able to stay on the field and prove his power was legit in 2013--his second season with the A's. He blasted 30 home runs, slugged .522, and set career highs pretty much across the board. Another great find by Billy Beane.

2B Daniel Murphy
Murphy's been consistently solid since debuting with the Mets in 2008, a rock at second base and in the lineup. In 2013 he played 161 games and batted second for most of the season, which helped him log nearly 700 plate appearances. All those trips to the plate resulted in some very impressive (and career-best) counting numbers like 92 runs, 188 hits, 13 home runs, 78 RBI, 273 total bases and 23 steals in 26 attempts. He also smacked 38 doubles and batted .286, contributing to an offensive game that was worth 3.6 oWAR according to Baseball-Reference.

3B Kyle Seager
Nobody seems to talk about Seager, but I guess that's what happens when you play for a lousy team from the Pacific Northwest. After breaking out in 2012, the Seattle Mariner took another step forward in his third big league season, setting career highs in numerous categories such as home runs (22), walks (68), bWAR (3.9), total bases (262) and all three triple slash stats (.260/.338/.426. Most of the 2013 Mariners couldn't hit for beans, but Seager can.

SS Jed Lowrie
The perpetually injured Lowrie stayed healthy for the first time, playing 154 games, and delivered his finest season to date. The Oakland shortstop cranked out 175 hits, including 45 doubles (second most in the league) and 15 homers while batting .290/.344/.446 (122 OPS+). His offense was worth more than four wins for the division-winning A's.

LF Starling Marte
Marte was a big reason why the Pirates improved their record by 15 wins from 2012 to 2013. He saw limited action as a rookie on that disappointing 2012 squad, but was a regular in 2013 and emerged as an All-Star caliber player. The 24 year-old's well-rounded game was worth 5.4 bWAR, thanks in large part to his speed (41 steals) and defensive excellence. Although he only walked 25 times, he got on base at a good clip (.343 OBP) by hitting for a good average (.280) and getting hit by 24 pitches. He also showed decent power with 26 doubles, 10 triples and 12 home runs. Andrew McCutchen deserved his MVP award, but I'm kind of surprised Marte didn't pull any votes.

CF Brett Gardner
It would seem impossible that Gardner is both a Yankee and simultaneously underrated, but that's what happened throughout his whole career. When you get down to it, he's not that far from Jacoby Ellsbury, but yet Gardner has never been an All-Star or won any major award. That trend continued in 2013, as he took over for an injured Curtis Granderson in center field and produced another solid season at the plate with several career highs, such as hits (147), doubles (33), triples (10--most in the AL), home runs (8), RBI (52), slugging percentage (.416) and total bases (224). Those numbers would have looked even better had he not missed the final two weeks of the season with an oblique strain

RF Will Venable
Venable was one of baseball's best kept secrets in 2013, enjoying an unexpected power surge at age 30 that was responsible for 22 home runs, 233 total bases and a .484 slugging percentage--all career highs. He also had the highest batting average of his career (.268), topped 20 steals for the fourth straight year and was worth more than three wins to a punchless Padres outfit.

DH Kendrys Morales
Morales acquitted himself well in his Mariners debut, belting 34 doubles, 23 home runs, and hitting .277/.336/.449 (123 OPS+). He gave Seattle almost exactly what he game the Angels the year before, which in this case turned out to be closer to three wins than two.

SP Jhoulys Chacin
Chacin bounced back from an injury-marred 2012 to go 14-10 with a 3.47 ERA, which worked out to be a 127 ERA+. He threw a career-high 197.1 innings with the lowest WHIP (1.26) and walk rate (2.8 BB/9) of his career. The Venezuelan also navigated the always tricky Coors Field, actually holding opponents to a lower OPS there (.683) than on the road (.686). The Rockies are thin on quality starting pitching, so they need Chacin, who was worth almost six wins a year ago, to repeat his success in 2014, which may be tough seeing as how his strikeout rate has tumbled to 5.7 K/9.

CL Steve Cishek
Miami's closer in the wake of their failed Heath Bell signing, Cishek was nothing short of excellent in 2013. He finished 62 games, most in the NL, and did so with a 2.33 ERA and 1.08 WHIP. In addition, he saved 34 games, struck out more than a batter per inning, and maintained a very good 3.36 K/BB ratio.

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