For the player poll that will appear in the July 19th edition of Sports Illustrated and is now online here, 187 players responded to the question of who is the most overrated player in the Major Leagues. To me, it’s always interesting to see how players evaluate other players, and how they perceive how those of us outside the game evaluate them. This question sort of kills these two birds with one stone, although the question is also very vague. Are these players overrated by other players? By GMs? By fans? By writers? Let’s dive in and take a look at what the players answered.
#5: J.D. Drew, 3%
J.D. Drew has been a point of contention between the sabermetric analysts and much of the mainstream media for a good bit now. Typically, we don’t side with the players here. Dave Cameron says that Drew has been worth the money, and I defended the contract here. The fact is, Drew is a fantastic player when he’s on the field, and despite the time that he misses, he remains one of the best right fielders in the league. Drew put up 4.0 WAR in 2008 and 4.8 in 2009 and is on pace to go over 4.0 once again in 2010 (and he might even reach 600 PAs this time!).
Why would the players think he’s overrated? Honestly, that’s a good question. I have a feeling that it is because he misses time, and the machismo aspect of sports would lead the players to believe that anyone that is injured as often as Drew can’t possibly be worth that much. However, I have a hard time placing Drew as “overrated” because he seems to be almost universally panned by the mainstream media, who complain about his contract, work ethic, and injuries multiple times every year.
#4: Nick Swisher, 4%
Another interesting choice, this one comes on the heels of Swisher’s first All-Star selection. I would think that Swisher is underrated, if anything, as he was traded for Wilson Betemit, the player equivalent of a bag of balls. Swisher has been consistently solid and has really turned it up this season, with a career high .391 wOBA and 2.7 WAR through only 360 plate appearances this year. That’s certainly All-Star caliber production.
Why would the players find him overrated? Swisher doesn’t exactly have the most fantastic body, and he doesn’t (usually) hit for a great average. There also seems, as you might notice as we continue, to be a bit of an anti-Yankees feel to this list. There also could be some hard feelings from the .219 batting average he put up with the White Sox in 2008. Swisher certainly isn’t your typical All-Star or even your good player, but his production for the last few years is hard to ignore.
#3: Gary Matthews Jr., 5%
This one is spot on. Matthews basically parlayed one decent year and one fantastic catch into a $50 million contract and whined when he couldn’t get playing time with the Angels. Why would he be considered overrated, after the Mets finally dumped him last month? Possibly because he managed to make the opening day lineup for the Mets in center field, despite the fact that he’s just plain not good: GMJ has posted a total of -1.1 WAR since 2007.
The players find him overrated for the same reasons we do: he’s bad, overpaid, and somehow manages to keep finding roster spots. The Reds signed him to a minor league deal recently, so there’s still a chance that Matthews’ MLB career isn’t over.
#2: Alex Rodriguez, 5%
Is Alex Rodriguez actually overrated? Over his career, no chance. If we look at the last few seasons, possibly. At age 35, Rodriguez has posted a staggering 106.0 WAR in his career. That has him in the top 25 position players of all time and he should have at least a few good seasons left in him. Even recently, Rodriguez has been excellent, even though a 4.7 WAR season in 2009 doesn’t live up to his contract. Still, he posted 6.0 WAR in 2008 and a staggering 9.2 WAR in 2007. He has the ability to remain a premiere player, even though his 2.2 WAR so far this season doesn’t live up to that.
The reason for Rodriguez’s spot on this vote seems simple to me: the contract and the steroid use. Rodriguez easily makes the most of any player in the game right now and is quite clearly not the best player in the game: that would be Albert Pujols, and there are certainly arguments to be made on a number of other players too, including Chase Utley and Hanley Ramirez. Throw in the steroids and I’m actually surprised that Rodriguez wasn’t number one. There’s three easy ways to be a hated baseball player: get a huge contract, use steroids, and play for the Yankees, and Rodriguez has all of those down.
#1: Joba Chamberlain, 12%
Joba “wins” — and in a landslide. Given the hype surrounding his ascent to the Major Leagues, the fact that Chamberlain isn’t the dominant pitcher that we expected is certainly disappointing. His ERAs the last two years of 4.75 and 5.79 certainly fuel that fire, but Chamberlain has actually pitched pretty well this year according to his peripherals. His FIP is below 3.00 and his tERA and xFIP are both below 3.40. Given the hype, it’s disappointing that Joba is settling in as a pretty good middle reliever, but it would be hard for me to say “most overated in baseball.”
But the players almost certainly see the hype and the media frenzy surrounding Chamberlain’s arrival, combined with the fact that some of them have hit him around this year, and the decision for them is simple. Not only that, but much has been made of Joba’s emotions on the mound, which could certainly irk some players on opposing teams. Given that perfect storm, I’m not terribly surprised to see Chamberlain on this list, although I am surprised that he is first by such a wide margin.