A Half-Dozen Underrated Baseball Players, 2015
Now that another baseball season has come and gone, (the regular season anyway), it’s time to take a look back. But instead of forecasting who will win the annual award hardware, let’s instead review those players who had fine seasons that may have gone somewhat under-appreciated. The players I’ve chosen might not make your list. To refer to a player as “underrated” or “under-appreciated” is to make a subjective judgment call. Still, I’m guessing that unless you are a total baseball junkie, at least a couple of these names may have gotten by you this year.
- 3B Nolan Arenado: Colorado Rockies – Arenado, a right-handed batter, was drafted by the Rockies in the 2nd round of the 2009 amateur draft. All Arenado did in this third season in the Majors in 2015 was lead the N.L. in home runs (42), RBI (130) and total bases (354.) A triple slash line of .287 / .323 /.575 indicates that while Arenado could stand to be a bit more selective at the plate, he certainly does crush his pitch when he gets it. Not just a slugger, however, Arenado is also a Gold Glove caliber third baseman who led all N.L. third basemen in putouts (105), assists (385), double-plays turned (42) and range factor. This 24-year old played in his first All-Star Game in 2015, and should have many more in his future.
- SP Gerrit Cole: Pittsburgh Pirates – Cole, a right-handed pitcher, was the very first pick of the 2011 amateur draft. In his third season in the Majors, he nearly won 20 games (19-8 in 32 starts.) In 208 innings, he struck out 202 batters while walking just 44. He posted a tidy 2.60 ERA (2.66 FIP), with an ERA+ of 148 and a WHIP of 1.09. Cole surrendered just eleven home runs all year. Also a fine fielding pitcher, he did not make an error all season. Like Arenado, Cole made his first All-Star team in 2015. In many seasons, Cole would be the odds-on favorite to win the N.L. Cy Young award. But with the dynamic duo of Kershaw and Greinke out in L.A., and the remarkable season enjoyed by Cubs pitcher Jake Arrieta (who could also make this list, perhaps), Cole may find himself finishing no higher than 4th or 5th in the Cy Young voting. Still just 25-years old, however, Cole should have many chances in the future to win that particular award.
- CF Kevin Kermaier: Tampa Bay Rays – Kermaier was not drafted until the 31st round in 2010. A left-handed batting center-fielder, let me make it clear at the outset that Kermaier did not make this list due to his bat. As a hitter, he’s about league-average, sporting an OPS+ of 98, though he did finish second in the A.L. in triples with 12. But a .263 batting average and an on-base average of just under .300, with little power, isn’t going to win him any MVP awards in the near future. Kermaier is on this list, instead, for his remarkable fielding ability. I don’t think I’ve ever seen an outfielder finish a season with a 5.0 dWAR before, but Kermaier reached that lofty summit in 2015. His overall WAR of 7.4 makes Kermaier a very valuable player, even despite the average bat. Kermaier led A.L. center-fielders in Total Zone Runs (24) while recording 410 putouts and 15 assists. If his bat improves during the coming seasons, the 25-year old Kermaier could become an All-Star caliber player.
- RP Zach Britton: Baltimore Orioles – Drafted by the Orioles in the third round of the 2008 amateur draft, this 27-year old lefty began his career as a starter, but converted to relief-pitching before the 2014 season. Since then, he has been one of the best closers in the A.L. This past season, Britton finished more games (58) than any other pitcher in the A.L., while recording 36 saves. He recorded an ERA of 1.92, an ERA+ of 217 and a FIP of 2.01. His WHIP was a fantastic 0.990, and he struck out 79 batters in 65 innings, while walking just 14. He gave up just three homers all year. Britton was a first-time All Star in 2015, and while not a household name outside of Baltimore, Britton seems poised to enjoy many very productive seasons to come.
- 3B Josh Donaldson: Toronto Blue Jays – Though drafted by the Cubs in the first round of the 2007 draft, Donaldson made his MLB debut with the Oakland A’s in 2010, but didn’t play as many as 75 games in the Majors until he was already 26-years old in 2012. Since then, this right-handed batting third baseman has been a one-man wrecking crew. Similar (though older) than Colorado’s Nolan Arenado, Donaldson has a better batting eye, and is nearly as good a defensive third baseman as Arenado. Also, like his third base counterpart in the Senior Circuit, Donaldson led his league in total bases in 2015 with 352, just two fewer than Arenado. Of the two, however, Donaldson probably has the better shot at league MVP this year. Donaldson led the A.L. in both runs scored (122) and RBI (123) while slamming 41 homers and 41 doubles. Though Donaldson will turn 30-years old this December, his obvious talent should continue to shine on in Rogers Centre, Toronto for the foreseeable future.
- CF / 2B Mookie Betts: Boston Red Sox – Drafted in the fifth round in 2011, this second baseman / center-fielder has brought life and energy to the Red Sox (despite their losing record.) Mookie turns 23-years old this Wednesday, October 7th, so Happy Birthday in advance, Mookie. Primarily an outfielder these days, Mookie batted .291 in 2015, with a perhaps surprising .479 slugging percentage. He has plenty of pop in his bat, as evidenced by his 68 extra base hits this season, including 18 home runs. Mookie scored 92 runs in 145 games and stole 21 bases while accumulating a 6.0 WAR in his first full year. This athletic and deceptively powerful young man may already be the most valuable player on the Red Sox, and figures to man center-field for them for years to come.
Obviously, there are many more players who I could add to this list. But let me put the question to you, oh wise readers. Which players would you include on this list, based on their 2015 stats?
One of the big reasons I think the Pirates have a chance to beat the Cubs is because of Cole. I have to admit I knew very little about him prior to this season, but after watching him pitch a couple of times this season, I think he gives Pittsburgh a legit shot. With Arrieta on the hill, he’s gonna have to be nearly flawless and have his team win a 1-0, 2-1 type of game. He was very good against the Cubs this season (of course Arrieta was ridiculous against the Pirates) and can certainly deliver that kind of performance.
That Pirates-Cubs match-up should be a good one. It’s too bad either of them has to lose. What impresses me about each of those two pitchers is not only how many strikeouts they get, but how few batters they walk as well. True aces, the both of them.
I appreciate the comment,
First off: Edmonds definitely belongs in the HOF.
Second: Arendado is a complete stud and a GREAT defensive 3rd baseman.
Third: You forgot about Billy Burns. 🙂
I have to admit that I had no idea at all who Billy Burns was until you mentioned him. His stats look pretty respectable. Nice defense, and he can hit a little bit as well.
Thanks for the addition, and it’ll be interesting to see how Edmonds does when his turn comes around for HOF voting.
Can I give a little shout out to the entire underrated Baltimore Orioles bullpen, in addition to Zach “Great” Britton?
They shored up a bunch of starting pitchers who underachieved all season. The O’s were the only starting rotation in baseball not to pitch a complete game. (We called 3.2 innings a “quality start” some nights.) That the Orioles finished at .500 was a testament to the entire bullpen who held down the fort and ate up innings when the starting rotation fell apart and the bats went cold.
While other mlb bullpens were lounging around, the O’s bullpen were “up and warming” early — the 4th or 5th inning was pretty common. This season: Darren O’Day (1.52 ERA, .934 WHIP), Brian Matusz (2.94 ERA, 1.184 WHIP), Brad Brach (2.72 ERA, 1.197 WHIP), and late-season callup Mychal Givens (1.80 ERA, .867 WHIP), along with T.J. McFarland and Chaz Roe who pitched many more innings than they thought they would … or could, held the Orioles together.
Congratulations to your Mets … and good luck in the playoffs. I have loved watching them this season.
Hello, and thanks for making me aware of the quality of the entire Orioles bullpen. I didn’t realize their starting pitching didn’t have one complete game all season! And thanks for the kind words about the Mets. If they can get by the Dodgers, they are truly leading a charmed existence this year.
Thanks for the comment,
He isn’t much like the players you listed, but it seemed Miguel Cabrera didn’t get much attention, especially in the latter part of the season. Just another Hall of Fame season from a great hitter, with fewer homers than typical for him, and it was done for a subpar team.
You know, Arne, that’s a great point. Cabrera’s hitting is so taken for granted (as Pujols was before him) that no one seems to get very excited that he’s been one of the great hitters of all time during his career. If Cabrera never played another game (and he’s just 32), he’d already be a HOF’er.
Thanks for reading, and for the comment,
This was well-written and entertaining as always. I have to confess that most of these players (except Cole and perhaps Arendado), these guys were all off my radar.
Kershaw has indeed had a fine season (I was at the game on Sept 2 where he struck out 15 in a 1-2 win over SF), but that performance won’t mean very much if he chokes in the NLDS again.
Between all the great arms in the N.L., the Cy Young voting will be interesting. If the Mets get by Kershaw…they get Greinke! Yikes.
Thanks once again for the kind words, Smak
Full Disclosure: I am a Twins fan…
My pick for being an underrated player, at least among fans, would be Brian Dozier, 2B, Minnesota Twins. I know he has been selected for a few All Star games, but he has had to scrap and scrape for every ounce of what he gets.
The biggest (and really only) knocks against Dozier is his batting average, which was a paltry .236 this season (and a career average of .240), and high strikeout rate. His slugging percentage and OPS also firmly place him in the middle of the pack among qualifying 2B in the league. These numbers don’t tell the whole story though…
Dozier ranks first in HR’s, second in RBI’s, and first among runs scored among MLB second basemen. His RBI total would most likely be higher if the Twins had anyone on the team that hit better than .270. Despite having the second highest strikeout total among the position, he also draws the second most walks. His 71 extra base hits also lead MLB second basemen, and he is a threat on the base paths with a 75% success rate on steals this season (73% lifetime).
Dozier is also a more than capable fielder. A regular on Sports Center “Top Plays”, Dozier routinely makes outstanding defensive plays. Some will cite his 8 errors (9th most among the position), and his fielding percentage of .990 (8th of 20 qualifying 2B) as a sign of him being an average fielder… but those numbers once again, are only part of the story. Dozier played in the most games, the most innings, and had the most “total chances” (TC) of MLB second basemen. He also ranked second in putouts, first in assists, and second in double plays.
Around the All-Star break, many sports pundits were saying that Dozier was one of the best second basemen in the league, and over the past few seasons may have been the best. It’s a shame that the fans can’t look past the batting average and see everything else.
Brad, Thanks for this excellent write-up on Dozier. I heartily agree with you that Dozier is far more valuable than his batting average suggests. A second baseman who slugs 39 doubles and 28 homers, scores over a hundred runs, can steal a base, and annually leads the league in assists at his position is a player worth having. A right-handed batter with pop in his bat, take him out of his current home park and move him to the South-Side of Chicago (a better park for right-handed sluggers), and he might be considered a near superstar.
Great choice, and thanks,
I’d never heard of Kermaier until this year. The next Jim Edmonds? (without the bat)
I was unaware of Kermaier myself until I wrote this blog-post. He’s already at least the equal of Edmonds defensively, but I doubt he’ll ever be the offensive threat Edmonds was in his prime. Personally, I think Edmonds has an excellent case for the HOF.
Thanks, as always, for reading,