Under the Radar

As the season rounds the corner and heads for the home stretch, it’s pretty easy to separate the haves from the have-nots. Whether discussing players like Dustin Pedroia and Jose Bautista leading the charge on the WAR leaderboards, or Adam Dunn and Tsuyoshi Nishioka facing the opposite direction, it’s certainly not difficult to skim the top or bottom of the lists. With today’s entry however, we’ll focus on a few players who have flown under the radar, perhaps outperforming expectations or simply shining despite relative obscurity.

As I’m fully aware, it’s hard to fathom a scenario in which a Yankee could fly under the radar, but for a second straight season, outfielder Brett Gardner has done just that. Gardner’s triple-slash of .285/.366/.404 is plenty nice for a leadoff hitter in front of the second-highest scoring team in the American League, but it’s his defense that sets him apart. At 19.0 runs above average for left fielders, Gardner is far and away the best defensive player this season, with the next closest checking in at 15.8 (Pedroia). It’s the second straight season that the swift lefty has paced the majors defensively, as Gardner checked in at 24.9 runs above average on his way to a 6.2 WAR mark in 2010. With limited power, there’s a very good chance that this is Gardner’s ceiling, but as a left fielder that can fill in capably in center (and has swiped bags at an 82.4% career rate), there’s little doubt the Yankees are thrilled with his development.

Just over one year ago, Yunel Escobar couldn’t get out of Atlanta fast enough. Media members couldn’t stand him, his effort and production were under fire, and his potential looked as though it had passed him by. Now in 2011, Escobar has taken very well to his new digs north of the border, as he’s triple-slashed .297/.378/.428 and has quietly turned himself into the player he was destined to become after his exciting 2007 debut with the Braves. Checking in at a WAR of 4.3, Escobar ranks as the finest shortstop in the American League and only trails stalwarts Troy Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes league-wide. Since the deal, Escobar is hitting .289/.364/.402, while Alex Gonzalez checks in at .237/.273/.360. Thus, as a result it’s probably safe to say that Alex Anthopoulos got the better end of that deal, though that seems to be a recurring theme.

Much like teammate Chase Headley in 2010, Padres centerfielder Cameron Maybin has quietly put together a solid season in cavernous Petco Park. Headley only hit .264/.327/.375, but was propelled by his 16.5 defensive runs above replacement level to post a very comely 4.9 WAR. Similarly, Maybin, dealt from the Marlins for a pair of relievers in the offseason, has been propelled by his defensive numbers (5.8 runs above replacement) to be listed among the 35 most valuable players across the league. For a little context, Maybin has been more valuable than Brian McCann, Mike Stanton, Carlos Beltran, and Jay Bruce. If nothing else, that certainly proves the old adage that useful everyday players should not be traded for relief help, even if Edward Mujica had one of the finest (and strangest) relief lines in baseball last year. Are you listening, Bill Smith?

We hoped you liked reading Under the Radar by Brandon Warne!

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In addition to Rotographs, Warne writes about the Minnesota Twins for The Athletic and is a sportswriter for Sportradar U.S. in downtown Minneapolis. Follow him on Twitter @Brandon_Warne, or feel free to email him to do podcasts or for any old reason at brandon.r.warne@gmail-dot-com

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jaywrong
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jaywrong

quick hoyer, frieri for lomo.