Thursday, January 19, 2012

Baseball's All-Underrated Team

C Miguel Montero-The 28 year-old Arizona backstop has had trouble staying on the field, but as he showed last year he can be a top five catcher when totally healthy.  He led all full-time catchers with 86 RBI in 2011, banged out 55 extra base hits and posted a 121 OPS+ as he set career highs across the board and sustained the potential he flashed in 2009.  He's the second best hitter behind Justin Upton in the Snakes' lineup and figures to be a poor man's Brian McCann with his 20-90 potential.

Honorable Mention: Carlos Santana

A modern day Fred McGriff, the steady Konerko has averaged
 30 homers and 95 RBI per year since 1999
1B Paul Konerko-The slugging first baseman gets a lot less ink than Albert Pujols, Prince Fielder and others who make the position so deep.  Nevertheless, Konk has been a fixture in Chicago's lineup for a dozen years now, and he's quietly put together a strong career.  Since becoming a full time player in 1999 he's averaged a strong .284/.361/.506 line with a 123 OPS+, and can be counted on for 150 games, 30 home runs and 100 RBI every year.  He's continued to improve with age by cutting down on his strikeouts, improving his walk rate and posting consecutive .300 batting averages for the first time in his career.  If he can stay productive for a few more years, he's capable of making a serious run at 500 home runs (he's currently sitting on 396, tied with Joe Carter for 51st all-time).

Honorable Mention: Carlos Pena

2B Ben Zobrist-Tampa Bay's jack of all trades can do a little bit of everything; he hits for power (72 extra base hits last year), runs (19 steals with a 76 percent success rate), gets on base (averaged 87 walks and a .367 OBP over the past three years) and plays pretty good defense wherever the Rays stick him.  Zorilla is also pretty durable, and has averaged 153 games played beginning in his breakout year--2009.  On a team that plays in a crappy market and always seems to exceed expectations, Zobrist just seems to get lost in the shuffle.  Much like J.D. Drew, he is a boring, yet effective baseball player.

Honorable Mention: Ian Kinsler

3B Ryan Zimmerman-He's more or less the National League equivalent of Evan Longoria, but just doesn't seem to get much attention playing in D.C.  Maybe it's because he's missed 142 games, nearly a full season's worth, over the past four years.  But he's a great all-around player entering his age 27 season, so big things could be in store for Washington's hot corner man.  A 35-110-.300 season is well within his reach.

Honorable Mention: Adrian Beltre

SS Yunel Escobar-Although his numbers don't jump off the page and he's never played in more than 141 games in a season, his .289/.366/.401 line is solid as a rock and he's a plus defender to boot.  He doesn't have a ton of pop, but I'll take ten to fifteen home runs from my shortstop anyday. In addition, his strong on-base percentages and good plate discipline make him a natural table setter for Toronto's big bats, Jose Bautista and Adam Lind.  He's somewhat miscast as a leadoff man because he doesn't have much speed, and I think he'd be better as a number two hitter. 

Honorable Mention: Alexei Ramirez

McCutchen is a great player for the Pirates to build around,
a young five-tool stud with Matt Kemp potential
OF Andrew McCutchen-A brutal September slump marred what was a breakout year for the Pirates centerfielder.  Even though Clint Hurdle kept flip-flopping him between the leadoff spot and three hole in their weak lineup, he continued to make great strides on offense; his home runs and RBI both increased by roughly 50 percent and the first time All-Star set a career high with 89 walks (although he probably got pitched around every now and then.  He imrpoved his glovework, too, and the 25 year-old probably hasn't hit his ceiling yet.  He has 30/30 potential appears to be a star in the making, especially if Pedro Alvarez can develop into the middle-of-the-order threat he's projected to be.  Even if McCutchen doesn't improve much more, there's nothing wrong with being an NL version of Torii Hunter.

OF Shane Victorino-It's easy to become the forgotten man on a veritable  juggernaut that features Chase Utley, Jimmy Rollins, Ryan Howard, Hunter Pence, Roy Halladay, Cole Hamels, and Cliff Lee, but the Flyin' Hawaiian led the team in runs and paced the NL in triples.  The switch-hitting centerfielder surprised everyone by rating as the best everyday player for the Phillies last year, and his numbers would have been even more impressive if he hadn't missed 30 games and wilted down the stretch.  He's comfortable anywhere in the lineup (though he'd probably be most effective in the two-hole behind J-Roll) and is a great source of speed and athleticism for a starting nine that's aging faster than Nick Nolte.

OF Michael Bourn-Has surpassed Jose Reyes as the top basestealer in the Senior Circuit by leading the league in three straight years.  Last year he ranked first in the majors by swiping a dozen more than anyone else last year (Coco Crisp and Brett Gardner tied for second in the big with 49 thefts apiece).  Not surprisingly, Bourn uses his speed to play a sterling centerfield.  Juan Pierre is a good comp for him, since they both have tremendous speed but can't hit for power.  The trade from Houston to Atlanta should boost his runs scored totals and help him get more recognition, though. 

Honorable Mentions: Nick Swisher, Shin-Soo Choo, Peter Bourjos

DH Billy Butler-He's a hefty line drive machine hits for high batting averages and piles up doubles, but Kansas City would like to see more of those two-baggers clear the fences.  Offensively, his statistics mirror those of Nick Markakis.  The comparison is fitting, as both are perpetually on the brink of a breakout season but have yet to follow through.  Butler is only 25, though, so it's very possible he hasn't reached his potential yet.  Markakis, on the other hand, is 28 and seems to be regressing.

Honorable Mention: David Ortiz

Cain tossed 26 quality starts last year and 25 in 2010
SP Matt Cain-Pitches in the shadow of Tim Lincecum and a dearth of run support has wreaked havoc on his win-loss record, but he's a perfect number two starter who could probably be the ace on a different staff.  The workhorse combines durability--he has started at least 32 games six years running and seems to turn in a quality start every time out--with good stuff and command.  Since breaking out in 2009 he's averaged a 2.97 ERA with a 1.12 WHIP and 176 K's per year.  He's a great hurler, but falls just short of elite.  Because of his consistency, I view him as a wealthy man's Mark Buehrle.

SP Ricky Romero-Has quietly evolved into an ace north of the border.  The southpaw set career bests in just about everything last year and posted a 2.92 ERA despite pitching in the AL Beast in a park conducive to the long ball.  All his numbers are trending in the right direction, and I wouldn't be surprised if he forces his way into the Cy Young discussion next year.

SP Ted Lilly-A great number two or three starter who's really taken advantage of a move from the AL Beast to the weaker National League.  In his five seasons in the Senior Circuit he's averaged 32 starts per year with a 1.13 WHIP.  Regressed a bit last season and at 36 is getting up there in age, but a sterling finish to the season (2.09 ERA after the calendar flipped to August) gives me hope that he'll rebound strong in 2012.

SP Shaun Marcum-In Toronto he was overshadowed by Roy Halladay and A.J. Burnett, and in Milwaukee he's a step behind Zack Greinke and Yovani Gallardo.  Marcum doesn't throw hard, but still manages to miss plenty of bats and makes up for his lack of velocity with excellent command figures.  He eclipsed 200 innings for the first time last year even though he got dinged up, so he should continue to thrive in the National League.  The losses of Prince Fielder and Ryan Braun will make it difficult for him to win more than fifteen games, though.

SP Jordan Zimmermann-If you look past last year's mediocre 8-11 record, you'll find a 3.18 ERA, 1.15 WHIP and four strikeouts for every walk.  Those are some darn good numbers, and you can bet that he'll be better than Stephen Strasburg next year, because in 2011 he was basically Matt Cain.  He's a key ingredient in the Nats' young, talented nucleus, and figures to play a prominent role in the franchise's revival.

Honorable Mentions: Tim Hudson, Chris Carpenter, Hiroki Kuroda, Ervin Santana, Mat Latos

Clippard was worth 3.4 bWAR last season
RP Tyler Clippard-Another Washington National, but he's one of the best relievers in the game.  The first-time All-Star finished with a microscopic 1.83 ERA and 0.84 WHIP.  The Yankee Clippard also recorded more than 100 strikeouts for the second straight year, and teamed up with fireman Drew Storen to form an intimidating bullpen duo a la Daniel Bard and Jonathan Papelbon.  With a salary south of half a million dollars last year, Clippard was one of the best bargains in baseball for a team that shelled out 126 million bucks for Jayson Werth.

RP Fernando Salas-"For Sale" (my own creation--think it will catch on?) got bumped from the closer's role because of Tony LaRussa's played musical chairs with his bullpen after Ryan Franklin suffered a Trevor Hoffman-esque collapse last year, (Jason Motte won that round) but still managed to compile two dozen saves, a 2.28 ERA and sub-one WHIP for the eventual World Series champs.  His struggles against Texas in the Fall Classic came on the heels of dominant performances against the Phillies and Brewers earlier in October.

Honorable Mention: Mike Adams

CL John Axford-The NL saves leader is so good that midseason import Francisco Rodriguez, a formerly elite closer affectionately known as K-Rod, immediately became his setup man as soon as he arrived in Milwaukee.  One of the best closers in baseball, the Axe whiffed 86 batters in 73.2 innings and maintained a tidy 1.95 ERA.  Somehow he didn't make the All-Star team, but went on to earn Cy Young and MVP votes.

Honorable Mention: Andrew Bailey


  1. Your obviouslly a fan of the NL

  2. I'm not, but the NL tends to have more small market teams which translates to less publicity and more underrated players.