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?