- FanGraphs Baseball - http://www.fangraphs.com/blogs -

SI’s Underrated List of Underrated Position Players

Earlier this week, Sports Illustrated posted the results (in slide-show form, yay!) of recent survey they took asking 228 MLB players to name the most underrated position player in the game. These sorts of things usually generate “interesting” results, and this case was no exception. This is supposed to be a fun exercise, so it would be unfair to complain about the “unscientific” nature of the poll: why 228 players? How were they distributed across the teams? Were they position players themselves or a mix? How many votes did each player get? The notions of “underrated” and is itself vague (underrated by the media? The fans? Statistics?), so the respondents may have been thinking of different things when answering. Wouldn’t a truly underrated player fail to show up on a list of “top underrated players” at all?

Such complaints sort of miss the point. I assume this was simply meant to be a fun way to generate discussion. I personally would have liked to have seen one or two comments from respondents about each player to get a sense of what the respondents were thinking about when they answered. In any case, the list has some results that are pretty hilarious, as one might expect. One way of responding would be to come up with a different list. Grant Brisbee wrote up an excellent list of his own. Another would be to simply go through SI’s list and comment on it.

This post takes the second path, but the truth is, it is not quite the “fisking” one might expect. Yes, some choices are downright hilarious. However, given the qualifications above, I thought the responding players did okay. It is not the list I would have made, but they made some decent choices. Or maybe the list is like the movie Juno: the beginning is so horribly annoying that the rest seems better than it actually is.

1. Michael Young. Okay, so the players did not get off to a strong start. Michael Young has been arguably the most overrated player in baseball for a number of years. An “underrated” player is not the subject of a loving montage during the playoffs that makes him sound like a victim who “never complained” (even though he complained a fair bit). I can’t come up with an original Michael Young joke today, make your own. The main point for this post is to not let this ridiculous choice (we really need to see player comments here) ruin the rest of the list.

2. Howie Kendrick. I am not sure if Howie Kendrick is actually underrated or not. He certainly is not overrated. He rarely gets much press despite playing for a successful, L.A. team. He is actually hitting horribly this year, but maybe the players should get some credit for looking beyond just this season.

3. Paul Konerko. Overall, Konerko is just a good player. He can hit, but his poor fielding and baserunning really cut into his value. But most players who have hit like Konerko has since 2010 and have similar faults would be lauded as among the best in the game. Konerko has a better wRC+ over the last three seasons than Prince Fielder, and his wRC+ is just one point behind David Ortiz‘s. Konerko is vastly underrated if you compare the attention he gets relative to players similar to him.

4. Shin-Soo Choo. The players nailed it. Grant covers this one better than I can. I’m not sure I’m quite as high on Choo as Grant is, but yeah, Choo should get more love.

5. Gerardo Parra. From the X-Files… Obviously Parra is not overrated, since you rarely hear about him, so maybe he should be mentioned a bit more often. Maybe that is what the players are thinking about when they voted for him. That and his glove fielding. Not terrible, just puzzling.

6. Nick Markakis. Another enigmatic choice. Markakis does not get that much press, but he is not that great, either. Markakis is having a nice bounce-back with the bat this year, but that says as much about how disappointing he has been the last couple of seasons than about how good he is now. I am not sure he is underrated, though.

7. Ben Zobrist. Zobrist is not the superstar he may have looked like in 2009, but he is still underrated. Almost any second baseman is going to be underrated (see they lack of attention Chase Utley received during his prime as one of the best players in baseball). Players like Zobrist, who do not hit for a high average, smack monster home runs, or steal tons of bases (although he gets his share) are going to get passed over. But he is rarely mentioned as one of the key parts of the Rays contenders the last few seasons, and he has been essential.

8. Alex Gordon. Despite being one of the most valuable players in the American League in 2011, Alex Gordon could not even get one of his hometown writers to place him higher on the 2011 AL MVP ballot than… wait for it… Michael Young. Gordon easily out hit Young straight up (141 wRC+ to 127 wRC+) and played very good defense in left field while Young, uh did not. Gordon started slow this year, and while his 2012 “Brett Gardner without steals but with an arm” impersonation this year is somewhat strange, he has been a very valuable player. Nice job by the players, again, to look beyond simply the present season.

9. Ian Kinsler. Good choice. The only potential problems here: a) Can any Ranger still qualify as underrated? b) So many people (myself included) have written about him being underrated that he may not not qualify any more.

10. Miguel Montero. Maybe it is because he hits in Arizona, or that he hits so well that people do not realize that he is quite good defensively, but Montero does not get enough credit in my book, either.

11. Martin Prado. This surprised me at first, but that was because I myself underrated Prado. Prado is pulling a bit of a “reverse Kendrick.” By that I mean that Prado is probably underrated because of his terrible year at the plate in 2011, but he is killing the ball again this season. Like Gordon, spending most of his time in left field probably hurts Prado a bit, too, since the tendency is to think that a left fielder has to hit 25 home runs or more to be valuable.

12. Cliff Pennington. Another strange “at least he is not actually overrated” choice. The players must see something we don’t (or they asked a bunch of current and former Athletics who are Pennington’s buddies). Maybe they love his fielding or hustle or something. He was great in 2010, but has been mostly bad since then.

13. Jamey Carroll. Not a terrible choice. “Underrated” does not necessarily have to mean “hidden superstar.” Carroll’s bat is sort of falling apart this year, but he provided good, steady value for the Dodgers for a few seasons.

14. Robinson Cano. Hilarious. Look, Cano a wonderful player having an awesome year. Maybe the idea is that “sure, he gets tons of attention, but he deserves even more!” Yeah… I just do not see how he is really fits on this sort of list. Would you put Josh Hamilton on this list?

15. Asdrubal Cabrera. I should go easy on these last few spots. Who knows how many votes these players actually got? You know the score on Cabrera — he is not making anyone forget Ozzie Smith in the field, but he hits well for a shortstop. I can see him as underrated.

Not bad. Again, it is not the list I would make, and #1 is maybe the funniest thing you’ll see this summer. But Young (and perhaps Cano, although for very different reasons) is really the only howler here. Some of the other choices are a bit strange, but who knows what the players were thinking of when asked this question? Numbers 3,4, and 7-11, in particular, are really good choices in my opinion. It could have been much worse.