MLB’s Most Over and Underrated Players
Discussing the most over and underrated players in baseball is an annual exercise that creates a lot of spirited debate and reaction. There’s no scientific formula to determine or verify who falls where; just opinion, eye-tests and carefully manipulated stats to prove points. That being said, the best reason to do it is because it’s fun.
Here are some players I believe are among the most over and underrated in the game today.
Pitcher Adam Wainwright, Underrated: Other than missing the entire 2011 season because of Tommy John surgery, the big 31-year-old right-hander has been one of the most consistent pitchers in baseball for the St. Louis Cardinals.
He won 78 games with a combined 3.14 ERA over his last five full seasons, and is 9-3 with a 2.34 ERA this year; leading the league in wins, complete games and shutouts. He has already logged two top-three Cy Young ballot finishes in his career, and is well on his way to a third, if not winning the whole damned thing this year. Despite the numbers, he has made just one All-Star team and is rarely mentioned as a candidate as one of the best pitchers in the National League, which is exactly what he is.
Shortstop Starlin Castro, Overrated: There is no denying that the Chicago Cubs’ 23 year-old shortstop is talented but his accolades heavily outweigh his actual performance. Although he is a career .289 hitter, he has never drawn more than 36 walks in a season and has occasionally had problems with hustling on plays. His poor decisions are also seen on the base paths, as he has 60 career stolen bases, but has also been thrown out 31 times.
In the field, Castro often looks disinterested, lackadaisical, or both. He could be a star one day, but shouldn’t have the title handed to him on a silver platter before he has actually earned it.
Outfielder/First Baseman Mark Trumbo, Underrated: He stinks defensively, but Trumbo keeps getting better and better as a hitter. The right-hander has always been able to hit for power, with 61 home runs in his first two full major league seasons with the Los Angeles Angels. However, he was impatient at the plate and had way too many poor at-bats.
Something has clicked with the 27-year-old this year. He has maintained the power (15 home runs) while honing a much better batting eye. The 30 walks he has already drawn are closing in on his career high of 36. If this is a trend he can continue, he should be an offensive force for years to come. However, the team will hopefully put him out of his leather-induced misery and settle him into the designated hitter role.
Pitcher Jeff Samardzija, Underrated: The Chicago Cubs’ floppy-haired right-handed pitcher passed on a football career out of Notre Dame to concentrate on baseball. After struggling for several years in Chicago’s bullpen, he finally found his groove in 2011, before becoming a starter last year.
Since the start of the 2011 season, he is just 20-24, but has a combined 3.44 ERA while striking out 9.45 batters per nine innings. His numbers would likely be even better if he were playing anywhere else but for the hapless Cubs.
Pitcher Phil Hughes, Overrated: The right-hander was once a highly-regarded prospect but has really never been anything more than mediocre at the major league level. Although he won 18 games in 2010 and 16 last season, his win totals have always been inflated by playing on the consistently contending New York Yankees.
Hughes has a career record of 55-41, but his 4.44 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 1.3 home runs allowed per nine innings show he is nothing special. He will be a free agent after the season, and if he ends up leaving New York, his numbers could take a real dip once he is pitching for a team with a lesser pedigree.
Third Baseman Aramis Ramirez, Underrated: Now in his 16th major league season, and his second with the Milwaukee Brewers, the 35-year-old Ramirez is one of the criminally unsung players in the game. He owns a career .286 batting average with 345 home runs and 1,245 RBI. He is also at 1,994 hits and has had at least an .871 OPS in eight of his past nine seasons. Never a great fielder, he has become below average in the waning years of his career.
Despite his consistency, Ramirez has made only two All-Star games and won just one Silver Slugger award. When it’s all said and done, his numbers should compare favorably with the best third basemen of all-time. Unfortunately, hardly anyone will have noticed how he got there.
Pitcher Brett Anderson, Overrated: It may not be nice to pick on an injured player (Anderson is currently on the DL with a fractured foot) but I am going to anyways. Despite a relative lack of production, it seems that the left-handed starter is annually on the list of up-and-comers.
Granted, Anderson is still just 25, but his numbers don’t lend to his reputation as a top young pitcher. Now in his fifth major league season, he is just a combined 26-29 with a 3.74 ERA. More importantly, he has dealt with a rash of injuries that have prevented him from pitching in more than 19 games in any one season since his rookie year in 2009. If he could stay on the field, he might live up to all the hype. Unfortunately, he hasn’t done so yet, and he is already well on his way to missing a major portion of the 2013 season.
Pitcher Hisashi Iwakuma, Underrated: Following a seven-year career in Japan, the right-handed starter made few headlines when he signed with the Seattle Mariners prior to last season. He wound of having an excellent rookie campaign, going 9-5 with a 3.16 ERA in 30 games.
Perhaps having last year chalked up to luck, he entered this season with equally little fanfare but has been even better. He has gone 7-1 with a sparkling 1.79 ERA and league-leading 0.82 WHIP in 14 starts. Batters are hitting a measly .190 with a .545 OPS against him. Since he is already 32, Iwakuma won’t get the same attention as young studs like Matt Harvey, but he has been every bit as good, if not better this year.
Third Baseman Brett Lawrie, Overrated: Toronto’s young third baseman is the hitter’s equivalent of Anderson. He arrived in the major leagues in 2011 as one of the best prospects in baseball but has seen his production fluctuate wildly since then. He has also been a magnet for injuries, and currently sits on the DL with a sprained ankle.
Lawrie is supposed to be a five-tool player, but has yet to have a break-out season. On the plus side, he has become an outstanding defender after switching from second base in the minors. To date, his glove isn’t enough to save his dwindling reputation. If he is going to live up to his lofty expectations, he will need to be able to stay on the field and start doing some damage with his bat.
Andrew Martin is the founder of “The Baseball Historian” blog where he posts his thoughts about baseball on a regular basis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also reach him on Twitter at@historianandrew.