Throughout Major League Baseball, there are players who, for some reason, fly under the radar. These players are characterized by their success, but also by the lack of attention that they receive from the sports’ media. By the nature of their ability, underrated players tend not to stay unnoticed for a lengthy period of time. This list is an ode to players at each position who, to this point in the season, have not received the attention that they deserve.
Pitcher- Hisashi Iwakuma, Seattle Mariners
Last year, as a 31-year-old rookie, Iwakuma put up solid numbers in Seattle. In 125.1 innings, he pitched to a 3.16 ERA and a 1.28 WHIP. These statistics are nothing to write home about, but his playing for the perennial bottom-feeding Mariners made him a virtual unknown. This season, Iwakuma has been nothing short of remarkable. His 0.89 WHIP is the lowest of any starter in baseball and his 2.06 ERA is good enough for second in the American League. The key to his success has been undoubtedly his pinpoint control. On average, Iwakuma is walking only 1.52 batters per 9 innings, allowing him to get away with less than stellar stuff. It’s all about location, location, location with this virtually unheard of pitcher.
C-Jason Castro-Houston Astros
Castro may be the most obscure player on this list. He is not an all-star caliber backstop just yet, but he has certainly proved himself to be a top-tier American League catcher. Aside from Minnesota catcher Joe Mauer and Cleveland’s Carlos Santana (if you consider him a full-time catcher) Castro has been the most productive catcher in the league. His .269/.327//475 line is not spectacular, but for a catcher it certainly ranks in the upper-echelon of productivity. Even many staunch baseball fans don’t know much about Castro due to the level of utter inefficaciousness at which the Astros play baseball. With few exceptions, a majority of Houston’s players are viewed as glorified Triple-A players; however, Jason Castro has proven to be a solid major league catcher and should not be looked upon with the same patronizing manner.
1B- James Loney, Tampa Bay Rays
Loney has certainly not made this list due to consistent play throughout his career. In fact, he turned about to be a bit of bust in Los Angeles. He was always an above-average fielder, but it seems as if Loney has really found his stroke in the Sunshine State. Loney’s .299 batting average is 2nd among AL first baseman, his .357 OBP is good for 3rd as is his 3.5 Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR), making him possibly the most well-rounded first baseman in the Junior Circuit thus far.
2B- Matt Carpenter, St. Louis Cardinals
Matt Carpenter’s lack of notoriety may be the most egregious. His .397 OBP, 144 wRC+, and .376 wOBA are all Major League bests among second baseman. Though not overly flashy, Carpenter is no slouch in the field, either. In fact, his 5.2 UZR also leads all second baseman. He’s been overshadowed by the other great hitters in the Cardinals’ lineup (Molina, Beltran, Holliday), but he has been an integral part of St. Louis’ success this season.
3B- Josh Donaldson, Oakland Athletics
The A’s have made a habit over the years of keeping their stars under the radar; Josh Donaldson is no exception. Unlike Carpenter, Donaldson isn’t being overshadowed by members of his own team, but by the myriad of talent at this position. Even so, Donaldson ranks in the top-3 among AL third baseman in batting average (.309), OBP (.374), wOBA (.376), wRC+ (144), and UZR (3.2). A player with these merits should be nothing short of a household name, but unless you’ve watched an A’s game, you probably haven’t even heard of him.
SS- Everth Cabrera, San Diego Padres
This was one of the tougher choices I had to make when compiling this list. The reason I chose Cabrera over Brewers’ shortstop Jean Segura is that I believe Segura is finally beginning to gain recognition while Cabrera remains largely unknown. Similar to Donaldson, Cabrera is top-3 in batting average (.305), OBP (.382), wOBa (.354), wRC+ (134), and UZR (3.1) at his position in the NL. Also, Cabrera leads the National League in stolen bases with 31, yet Pete Kozma and Andrelton Simmons, who have been abysmal at the plate, have received more All-Star votes than Cabrera. Cabrera’s only mistake is that he plays for the Padres, which is a guarantee that one will receive little attention.
LF- Nate McLouth, Baltimore Orioles
Just two years ago, McLouth’s career seemed all but dead; however, he saw a bit of a revival in Baltimore last year. His .372 OBP at the top of the lineup has allowed Baltimore’s offense to flourish and keep them in contention despite subpar pitching. McLouth has also become an all-pro base-stealer, having stolen 24 bases (a career high) in only 27 tries. He doesn’t have a great glove, but he certainly isn’t a liability in the field either, making him a valuable veteran member on this young Baltimore squad.
CF- Carlos Gomez, Milwaukee Brewers
If you count Mike Trout as a left fielder, Gomez has been far and away the best center fielder in baseball this year, yet many “experts” are leaving him off of their All-Star teams. I understand that there are many qualified outfielders in the National League, but the numbers that Gomez has put up as a center fielder make him a no-brainer in my opinion. He leads all National League center fielders with a .318 batting average, 12 home runs, .583 slugging percentage, .397 wOBA, 157 wRC+, and an unbelievable 10.2 UZR. Though it is a far from perfect talent indicator, the fact that Gomez leads the National League with a 4.2 WAR has to count for something, right?
RF- Gerardo Parra, Arizona Diamondbacks
Parra may not be as unknown as someone like Everth Cabrera, but he still hasn’t received the attention that he deserves. Parra is one of the game’s premier corner outfielders. His 7.7 UZR and 8 outfield assists are both Major League bests for right fielders. His line of .311/.373/.458 demonstrates his unheralded talent at the plate. Since breaking into the league in 2009, Parra has always been a solid defender, but as his bat continues to improve as he truly becomes a force to be reckoned with.
There are a multitude of explanations as to why many of these players are not as appreciated as they should be. For one, many of them play on small market teams that by nature garner less recognition. Also, some of these players don’t have the big personality that other stars may have and finally, some cases (i.e., Carlos Gomez) are down right inexplicable. However, if these players continue to perform at a high level, expect to hear their names much more often as the season trudges along.
Look out for next week’s article as I enumerate the league’s most overrated players.