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    Friday, July 1, 2011

    MLB's All-Overlooked Team

    With the All-Star game just around the corner, we will be seeing some of the most brilliant and visible stars of the game today. I would like to take a moment to recognize something else, though-players who are almost exactly the opposite. These are the players who play just as well as those who will be attending Arizona on July 12th, but are much less likely to be attending themselves. For whatever reason, these players are overshadowed relative to their performance, an All-Dark Matter team, if you will (since dark matter is invisible? Actually, this metaphor works better than I expected).

    In any case, even if you didn’t fill out a ballot with these player’s names, you can at least give them some attention now.

    Catcher-Brian McCann
    The first position is a little weird. I had McCann in mind awhile ago when I first thought of the article, but than he went and took over the lead in All-Star voting. I thought it might violate my rules, but I finally realized something: Brian McCann is, indeed, still underrated. I’m not sure if enough people have noticed just how good he has been. Besides, he couldn’t even take over the spot of lead vote-getter at his position until Buster Posey got injured.

    In any case, much has been made of Joe Mauer’s specialness, in that he contributes significantly on offense while playing catcher. What many people don’t realize is that the NL has had a near-equivalent in Brian McCann. In the last three years, he’s put up slash lines (batting average/on-base percentage/slugging percentage) of .281/.349/.486, .269/.375/.453, and .314/.388/.527. That is insanely good for a catcher. For 2009-2011, he’s had OPS+ of 119 (meaning his OPS was 19% better than league-average), 123, and 152. And his Wins Above Replacement (WAR) for the last three seasons, according to Fangraphs, is 12.0, one less than Joe Mauer (WAR accounts for a player’s offense, defense, playing time, and position, and evaluates how many wins that player is worth. Right now, he’s in Fisk-Berra-Carter territory, as far as start of a career goes. And, at age 27, he’s on pace to have his best season yet, with 3.2 WAR to date.

    First Base-Ben Zobrist
    This might seem like cheating, but Zobrist has played games a first, and could easily fill a utility role. Also, second base is filled, and the outfield will become a little crowded (you’ll see what I mean in a second).

    First basemen, as it is, don’t typically become under-valued. That’s the power position, the one that gets all of the attention for hitting homers and driving in runs. If anything, this leads to first basemen being overvalued, as the position is (relatively) easy to play and can be filled somewhat easily. Besides, first base seems to be really stacked at the moment, between Albert Pujols, Adrian Gonzalez, Joey Votto, Miguel Cabrera, Prince Fielder, Mark Teixeira, etc. So, I went with someone else who doesn’t get noticed enough.

    Zobrist gained some attention in 2009, when the utility man came to Spring Training with a reworked swing and proceeded to dominate the league. He posted a .297/.405/.543 line, good for a 149 OPS+, all while spending time at second base (his main position), right field, shortstop, left field, center field, first base, third base, and designated hitter. Last year, he shifted his main position to right field (although still playing second, first, center, third, and left) while posting a still-respectable .238/.346/.353. However, his 96 OPS+ seemed a little weak after 2009.

    Well, this year, he’s back to MVP candidate, hitting .266/.349/.473 from second base (although he still spells the surprising Matt Joyce in right on occasion), good for a 134 OPS+. By Fangraphs, he leads all second basemen AND right fielders in WAR since 2009, with 16.3, including 4.0 already this year. Only Jose Bautista, Adrian Gonzalez, and Curtis Granderson are better in the AL thus far.

    Second Base-Rickie Weeks 
    I kind of pushed Zobrist out of position to make room for Weeks. For the last three seasons, he’s posted OPS+ of 125, 122, and 130. He leads all NL second basemen in WAR so far for 2011, with 3.5. His 10.1 WAR since 2010 leads ALL second basemen, and is third only behind Bautista and Votto overall. And since 2009, he only trails Chase Utley for NL WAR leader among second basemen. However, Utley’s substantial 15.2 to 11.4 WAR lead is somewhat mitigated by his much greater notoriety.

    Third Base-Ryan Zimmerman
    Zimmerman was quite possibly the biggest All-Star snub last year (and he easily won the title after Votto won a spot). He finished 2010 sixth in the majors in WAR, with 7.2; only Pujols (7.5) and Votto (7.3) did better in the NL, and even then, not by much. Even though he’s missed much of this season with an abdominal strain, he still leads all third basemen other than Evan Longoria in WAR since 2009, with 14.9, so he has been successful for a while. For the last three years, he’s had OPS+ of 133, 142, and 100 (and the last one is this year, while he’s been injured). At the same time, he’s been playing stellar defense. Yet despite nearly being Evan Longoria’s equal, he has failed to gain the attention that his AL counterpart has.

    Shortstop-Stephen Drew 
    Shortstop is a tough call, because most of the best, young shortstops have gained some amount of attention. The position also sees our first runner-up. Drew has managed to combine good but not great hitting, with OPS+ of 92, 113, and 107 since 2009, with good but not great fielding. Overall, he’s racked up 9.5 WAR in that time span, with 2010 proving a career year (5.1 WAR). Only Hanley Ramirez, Troy Tulowitzki, and Derek Jeter have done better since 2009. Since 2010, only Tulowitzki and Jose Reyes have been better. So far, he has a solid 2.2 WAR in 2011.

    J.J. Hardy wins an honorable mention. He’s only played 151 games since last season, but in that abbreviated time, he’s managed 4.4 WAR. Doubling that (since it’s just under one season worth of games) would put him second in the majors among shortstops for that time span. In only 50 games this year, he’s already at 1.9 WAR.

    Left Field-Brett Gardner 
    An underrated Yankee sounds almost like a mythical creature. However, Brett Gardner probably deserves the label, seeing as he’s ninth in All-Star voting for outfield, even trailing two teammates. In fact, Jorge Posada is the only Yankee behind Gardner in the voting. Gardner’s managed to combine great defense and base running with a good eye (OBPs of .383 and .359 the last two seasons) and increasing power (his slugging is up to .416 this year, from .379 the last two seasons). All of this combines for 9.2 WAR since 2010, behind only Josh Hamilton (10.0) and Matt Holliday (9.8) for that time frame. He has 2.9 WAR so far this year. This speed/defense/batting eye model will become reoccur among the outfielders.

    Jacoby Ellsbury deserves a mention as well. Excluding an injured 2010, he’s had OBPs of .355 and .357 his last two seasons, and his slugging is up to .450. His base running and defense aren’t quite on Gardner’s level, but he’s still got a 120 OPS+ for this season. His WAR for 2009 and 2011, respectively, are 2.6 and 3.4.

    Center Field-Michael Bourn 
    As someone who sees the Astros with some regularity, I must say, I am quite prone to bashing Bourn and his lack of power. But wow, is he fast. Through his eye (.349 OBP since 2009), outstanding fielding, and impressive speed, he’s managed to lead all center fielders in WAR since 2011, with 12.8. He essentially does all of the small things really well, like Gardner turned up to 11 (and playing a harder position). He has 3.1 WAR for 2011 so far.

    Right Field-Shin-Soo Choo
    Choo seems to dominate lists like this one. He has solid fielding and base running, though not as impressive as Gardner of Bourn. However, his batting eye is incredible. If you only looked at his .289 average since 2009, you might not realize just how good he is. However, since then, he also has a .385 OBP (96 points higher!) and a .461 slugging percentage. All of this 12.6 WAR since 2009, behind only Zobrist and Jose Bautista. However, he has been injured and underperforming this year, with only 1.5 WAR to show for his efforts.

    Justin Upton deserves some sort of mention, too. The former top prospect has quietly become a solid player, with 3.4 WAR already this year. He’s right behind Choo in WAR since 2009, with 11.2, and he’s done a little bit of everything to get there: his batting line for the time is .291/.367/.495 with above average fielding and base running.

    Starting Pitcher-Clayton Kershaw
    Many of the game’s best young pitchers have achieved loads of coverage. But Kershaw still seems to be rather under represented. Since 2010, Fangraphs has him ranked seventh in WAR, with 8.2, even though he’s only been 21-13 in that time. Why? Well, for starters (pun intended), he’s had and ERA of 3.31 since then. His ERA+ the last three seasons (like OPS+, but with ERA) have been 143, 130, and 122. He’s recorded 525 strikeouts in that time, against only 204 unintentional walks. And, what I consider the most promising thing, he’s only 23. I’m expecting big things as he matures.

    Gavin Floyd, Chad Billingsley, Yovani Gallardo, Tommy Hanson, C.J. Wilson, and Anibal Sanichez are all worth at least mentions.

    Relief Pitcher-Mike Adams 
    Adams manages to dominate from the set up role, something that will rarely get a person noticed. Indeed, he only has one save since 2010. However, during that time, he’s done everything a reliever can do to be successful. His Walks and Hits per Inning Pitched (WHIP) is .92, sixth in the majors, and his ERA is 1.57, fourth in the majors. Opponents are only hitting .180 off of him, and he has a strikeout to walk ratio of 4.04. On a similar, more advanced note, Fangraphs has been trying to develop a stat similar to the save that can be applied to non-closers. The end result is a Shut Down. Since 2010, only Brian Wilson has more Shut Downs (64) than Adams’ 55.

    1 comment:

    1. Okay, this is the article I had in mind the other day. I might do a All-Star Roster review over the weekend, and then after that, I totally swear, I will continue on to my big project-thing!