By the Numbers: Eight best players you might have missed

By Greg Jayne, Columbian opinion editor

Published:

 

The term “underrated” is one of the most overrated phrases in the sports lexicon.

Nobody really knows what it means, although it apparently has something to do with a player not receiving as much attention as he deserves. On the other hand, when enough people say a guy is “underrated,” he inevitably becomes overrated for being underrated.

Not that we’ll let that stop us. Looking at production and using All-Star berths — or lack thereof — as a barometer, here is a lineup of the most underrated players in baseball. Whatever that means.

C — Ramon Hernandez, Reds

Now with his fourth team and in his 13th season, Hernandez always has been a solid hitter, especially for a catcher. He’s the perfect definition of underrated — the kind of guy who could be picked up at little expense and will quietly put together a productive season.

He made his only All-Star team in 2003.

1B — Kevin Youkilis, Red Sox

OK, we’re cheating here. It’s silly to call somebody underrated when he has made two All-Star teams, including one as a starter, and twice has finished in the top six in MVP voting. But Youkilis’ skills are the type that don’t receive enough attention.

He’s one of the 10 best offensive players in baseball, batting for a high average with a bunch of walks and excellent power, but he doesn’t have any one particular skill that makes him stand out.

It’s no coincidence that when injuries limited Youkilis to 102 games in 2010, the Red Sox missed the playoffs.

2B — Rickie Weeks, Brewers

A poor fielder, Weeks had 76 walks, 29 homers and 112 runs last year. That makes up for a lot of deficiencies. He also led the league by getting hit with a pitch 25 times.

He’s never been an All-Star, but Weeks’ Offensive Winning Percentage of .657 last year was higher than Ryan Howard or Mark Teixeira or Alex Rodriguez.

3B — Adrian Beltre, Rangers

Regarded as perpetually disappointing — not bad, just disappointing — during five years in Seattle, Beltre left the Mariners after the 2009 season. He proceeded to bat .321 with 28 homers and a league-high 49 doubles while making the All-Star Game for the first time. It’s like he was unburdened by getting out of Seattle.

Beltre’s batting/on-base/slugging numbers while with the Mariners: .266/.317/.442. With everybody else: .280/.334/.476.

SS — Alexei Ramirez, White Sox

A decent enough fielder, Ramirez batted .282 with 18 homers and 83 runs a year ago. His 27 walks (along with 82 strikeouts) in 156 games were shameful, but he has a much-improved ratio this year.

LF — Adam Dunn, White Sox

Dunn, in his first year in the AL, is now a DH. We’ll put him at left field and pretend this year never happened, seeing as how he’s batting .180 with 84 strikeouts.

Over the past seven seasons, Dunn averaged 40 homers, 101 RBI, and 107 walks. But his walk total dropped from 116 to 77 last year, and that indicates that this year’s struggles might be something other than bad luck; they might reflect a serious decline in his skills.

But we’ll give Dunn a Lifetime Achievement of Underratedness Award for what he has done over the past decade, which earned him all of one All-Star selection.

CF — Curtis Granderson, Yankees

Because it’s impossible for anybody on the Yankees to be truly underrated (Granderson is a one-time All-Star), we’ll focus on the impressive crop of young center fielders in the major leagues.

Cincinnati’s Drew Stubbs, Colorado’s Carlos Gonzalez (OK, so he’s primarily a left fielder), and Tampa Bay’s B.J. Upton likely will have long and productive careers. But the best of the bunch is Pittsburgh’s Andrew McCutchen, who looks like he might be the best player in baseball in a couple years.

RF — Shin-Soo Choo, Indians

Choo is struggling this year, and says it’s because of the shame he feels over being charged with a DUI earlier this season. But each of the past two years he has been among the 10 best hitters in the American League, with nary an All-Star selection to show for it.

• • •

There you have it: A lineup of eight players who have combined for six All-Star berths in their careers — or eight fewer than Ivan Rodriguez.

According to the Runs Created formula, this lineup last year would have averaged 6.5 runs per game, and the players’ salaries would have added up to a bargain at $44.2 million.

Not that anybody would have noticed.

Question or comment for By the Numbers? You can reach Greg Jayne, Sports editor of The Columbian, at 360-735-4531, or by email at greg.jayne@columbian.com. Find his Facebook page by searching for “Greg Jayne - The Columbian”