Friday, January 21, 2011

Stark, Underrated Response

Jayson Stark unveiled his All-Underrated team of active players today on ESPN.com. Stark is a modern-day BBWAA icon for his baseball musings on ESPN's website, magazine, and TV networks. He's into nuances of the game that can sometimes be kind of cool, but often become mindnumbing if they get a little too ESPNized, or the hosts, like Trey Wingo, blurt out "and-oh-by-the-way" every 5 minutes.

About four years ago, Stark wrote a book on the most overrated and underrated players of all time, which I'm sure is harmless. I'd be curious if he has any sort of consistent method to evaluate someone's, um, ratedness. Maybe, I'll see if I can pick up a copy of The Stark Truth at my local library.  In the meantime, I thought I could choose to take advantage of the the laziest writing gimmick of all time and piggyback right off his post to add to the discussion.

First Base: Adam Dunn
Our selection: Daric Barton
Stark sort of makes a good point, although I'd prefer it not in the form a trivia question, to say that Adam Dunn is the only player to hit 20 HR's before the All Star Game in each of the past 8 years, yet he's made zero All Star teams. Daric Barton, on the other hand, could very well be one of the worst first basemen in the AL by the average fan, when he actually is in the top 4 or 5. At least that's the kind of season he had last year. There's Miguel Cabrera, Morneau, and then Barton and Teixeira. Maybe Dunn and Konerko will flourish in that offense and ballpark on the South Side together to put up much better 2011 numbers than the line drive spraying and walk taking Barton.
Honorable mention: Ike Davis, Gaby Sanchez

Second Base: Ian Kinsler
Our selection: Neil Walker
That looks like 3-unassisted
I don't think Kinsler is underrated. He's great, or at least very good, and I think a vast majority of people believe that. Neil Walker, on the other hand, had a better Batting Average, Slugging Percentage, and OPS than Kinsler. Kinsler had a better On Base Percentage, but their wRC+ scores for the 2010 season were 122 for Kinsler and 121 for Walker. So, I think it's safe to say that they are relatively comparable. Now, let's see who's more popular or higher rated. C'mon, it's Kinsler by a mile. Check any fantasy cheat sheet for the 2011 season and see how the two names compare. Here's one respected reference from last month, via The Hardball Times, it has Kinsler ranked 2nd and Walker ranked 15th. I'm not saying those rankings are way off or anything. Fantasy baseball is different, and Kinsler is a monster. But, I think if you look at All-Star balloting for 2nd basemen next year, Kinsler will have hundreds of thousands more votes than Neil Walker.
Honorable mention: Orlando Hudson, Jeff Keppinger

Shortstop: Starlin Castro
Our selection: Stephen Drew
We're going against our own boy, and maybe it's because we're exposed to more Chicago media than average. Stephen Drew may fall under the same gray cloud that follows his brother J.D. to Major League ballparks from coast to coast. If we average the 2010 Wins Above Replacement from Fangraphs and Baseball-Reference (avWAR), we find Stephen Drew with 4.2 and Hanley Ramirez at 4.0. It's only one season, but still I hadn't heard about Drew having a more valuable season than Hanley from anyone all off season.
Honorable mention: Edgar Renteria, Rafael Furcal

Third Base: Ryan Zimmerman
Our selection: Ryan Zimmerman
We had to agree with Stark, when he referenced Fangraphs in his reasoning for selecting Zimmerman. In fact, we've been thinking of Zimmerman in this light since before last season. So, it's nice to see him produce better than we, and even fewer others, expected. Here is what Stark wrote: "FanGraphs' top four players in the major leagues last year in Wins Above Replacement: Josh Hamilton (8.0), Joey Votto (7.4), Pujols (7.3) and (drumroll, please) Zimmerman (7.2)."
Honorable mention: Aramis Ramirez, Scott Rolen

Right Field: Michael Cuddyer
Our selection: Shin-Soo Choo
Choo's worth a lot of robster craws.
We think Choo is a venerable MVP candidate going into the season. Sabermetricians noticed his steady upward climb and fantastic season in 2010. Very few casual fans outside of Cleveland think of Choo at all. If an average fan runs across his name, they conjure ideas of him as nothing more than a poor man's Ichiro on another lousy team.
Honorable mention: Jay Bruce, J.D. Drew

Center Field: Andrew McCutchen
Our selection: Andres Torres
Maybe defensive metrics aren't where they need to be, and Torres is the recipient of undue credit for his fabulous defensive play. Fangraphs gives him a 6.0 WAR for last year, which is traditionally MVP-level production. Carlos Gonzalez, who received some MVP consideration, also had a 6.0 WAR in the National League last season. Torres did more than just produce a 21.2 UZR. He also on-based at a .343 clip, while hitting 16 homers and swiping 26 bases. McCuthen is very good, but he hasn't been that good, and more people think he's a future star than Torres.
Honorable mention: Angel Pagan, Colby Rasmus

Left Field: Ryan Braun
Our selection: Logan Morrison
We could be here all weekend, but there is no way anyoneRyan Braun is underrated. Where I come from, he's already been compared to guys like Foxx and Kiner. We wrote about our beliefs in the bright future of Logan Morrison on October 3rd in our post entitled The Bright Future of Logan Morrison.
Honorable mention: Jonny Gomes, Aubrey Huff

Catcher: Carlos Ruiz
Our selection: Carlos Ruiz
It's probable that well educated fans recognize that Ruiz is on a good team, presumably leads the team in some capacity, and has been credited as a good receiver and caller of pitches. However, that can be said about many catchers: Mauer, McCann, Posey, Molina, Suzuki, Pudge, and on and on... I think one of the reasons Ruiz hasn't been recognized is because of the dramatic improvement he's shown in his production. Two years ago, he was kind of useless offensively, while being very good last year. Here are his OBP's for the past three years: .320 in 2008, followed by .355, and an even .400 last season. I guess with Stark's column, people will start to take notice of the Panamanian Chooch from Chiriqui.
Honorable mention: Henry Blanco, David Ross

Starting Pitcher: Josh Johnson
Our selection: Josh Johnson
With only 18,953 at each game,
it's possible to be this good
and this underrated. 
Absolutely, this is the one selection we think Stark nailed. We alluded to it in our last post, Johnson quietly is putting up numbers comparable to the bests in the game.
Honorable mention: Jered Weaver, Anibal Sanchez, Tom Gorzelanny

Closer: Joakim Soria
Our selection: Carlos Marmol
We're actually in the middle of evaluating and ranking all 30 Major League bullpens by such factors as FIP, K/BB, and HR/9. Therefore, I feel pretty good about our opinions on the final two positions. It's our feeling that most fans view Carlos Marmol as a Dominican and right-handed Mitch Williams. He's too wild to be so good, right? Well, he's the epitome of Effectively Wild. His BB/9 statistic alone could get pitching coaches fired, which in turn makes it so unbelievable that he just doesn't give up many hits or home runs. Oh yeah, and he gets out of jams with the K/9 number of 15.99. Marmol has the lowest FIP of all pitchers with at least 13 Saves last season, at 2.01. We love Soria, but the Yankee rumors and next-Mariano talk leads us to believe that he is not terribly underrated.
Honorable mention: Matt Thornton, Leo Nunez

Set-Up Man: Mike Adams
Our selection: Mike Adams
Not long ago, there was no such thing as a "set-up man", but here we are with a set-up man on the prestigious All-Underrated team. We love set-up men. We've praised Jose Arredondo, Sammy Gervacio, and others here perhaps too often. Even though there are dozens of worthy players to consider, Jayson Stark actually probably nailed this one. We were going to vote for Ernesto Frieri, but when looking closer at the numbers, Adams had slightly better success, aside from strikeout numbers. We're foreshadowing the Relief Pitching Rankings, but it's safe to say the Padres finish with a very impressive ranking.
Honorable mention: Frieri, Kyle McClellan, Sammy Gervacio

Have a great weekend!  Go Bears!

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