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Saturday, June 21, 2014

The MLB All-Underrated Team

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Baseball is a game of stars. The likes of Derek Jeter and David Ortiz, who make their mark in the flashiest of ways have a knack of sticking around the limelight throughout their careers. While they may get the bulk of the attention, there are certainly many underrated players who can be just as valuable, yet toil away in relative obscurity.

Although there are many worthy candidates, here are my picks for the 2014 MLB all-underrated team.

Catcher- Jonathan Lucroy, Milwaukee Brewers (.338, 8 Home Runs, 38 RBIs): The 28-year-old can flat out hit, and is quite possibly the best hitting catcher in the game today. Since the start of the 2012 season, he has hit a combined .306 and seen a spike in his power numbers. He doesn’t have the strongest arm (25 percent career caught stealing) behind the plate but is overall a solid defensive receiver.

First Base- Brandon Moss, Oakland A’s (.259, 17 Home Runs, 55 RBIs): A classic pick-up from the scrap heap, he was a prospect of moderate expectations who showed little in stints with three teams prior to arriving in Oakland in 2012. His calling card is his power, which has resulted in 51 home runs his previous two seasons combined. His ability to play the outfield and first base, and more than hold his own against southpaw pitchers (.847 OPS in 2014) as a left-handed batter only adds to his value.

Second Base- Daniel Murphy, New York Mets (.300, 5 Home Runs, 26 RBIs): The 29-year-old left-handed hitter is a jack of many trades and a master of none. He can hit a little (.291 career), has a little pop (.758 career OPS but never more than 13 home runs in any one season) and can swipe a bag when needed (double digits in steals the past three seasons). Not the strongest defensive player, his 110 career OPS+ on a generally weak Mets’ lineup during his six year career is what makes him particularly underrated.

Shortstop- Alexei Ramirez, Chicago White Sox (.304, 7 Home Runs, 36 RBIs): Perhaps overrated during the first six years of his major league career, he is now well under the radar despite being in the midst of a career season. He remains an effective and flashy defender, and his 12 stolen bases to date indicate he still has game-changing speed even as he enters his mid-30s.

Third Base- Adrian Beltre, Texas Rangers (.307, 8 Home Runs, 35 RBIs): Now in his 17th MLB season, and looking like a strong candidate for the Hall of Fame, it’s funny to think he is underrated. However, it is an unfortunate truth. He is still a plus defender at the age of 35, and as long as he stays healthy should surpass big career milestones like 2,500 hits and 400 home runs this year. He already went past the 500 double mark, and his career WAR of 72.4 is the best of any third baseman of all-time who is not in the Hall of Fame (except for Chipper Jones who is a mortal lock for enshrinement as soon as he is eligible in 2017).

Outfield- Alex Gordon, Kansas City Royals (.290, 8 Home Runs, 39 RBIs): A converted third baseman, the 30-year-old is now one of the strongest defensive outfielders in the game, with 73 assists in five seasons. With a career .784 OPS and 111 OPS+, he can also hit a little. Although he was the second overall pick in the 2005 draft and has never become a superstar, he is far from being a bust.

Outfield- Michael Brantley, Cleveland Indians (.326, 11 Home Runs, 46 RBIs): The 27-year-old has already surpassed the career of his father, former outfielder Mickey Brantley. Now in his sixth season in the majors, he has gotten better with each passing year and has been at his best in 2014, already surpassing his previous best in home runs. The left-handed hitter has just a .664 OPS against lefties in his career but has seen that figure skyrocket to .872 this season.

Outfield- Angel Pagan, San Francisco Giants (.307, 3 Home Runs, 19 RBIs): He has made a career on doing the little things, as evidenced by his .283 batting average, 144 stolen bases and strong defense over nine major league seasons. The 32-year-old switch hitter hasn’t lost a step and is having a prototypical year for the National League West front-running Giants. Pagan may not get a lot of attention but he is often in the thick of the action for his team.

Starting Pitcher- Dallas Keuchel, Houston Astros (8-4, 2.63 ERA): After posting an ERA of over 5.00 his first two major league seasons, the southpaw has made a huge leap in 2014. He has significantly cut his walks while allowing fewer hits and home runs, and posting the  best strikeout rate of his career. Just 24, he was never a major prospect but appears to have made himself into a frontline starting pitcher. He doesn’t throw especially hard but has a varied arsenal that allows him to keep hitters off balance. His steady results on a rebuilding team have been invaluable, as he has pitched at least five innings in every one of his starts this year.

Relief Pitcher- Wade Davis, Kansas City Royals (5-1, 1.11 ERA in 29 Games): Once a highly regarded prospect, the big right-hander had several decent seasons in Tampa Bay before coming over to the Royals in the James Shields/Wil Myers trade in 2012. A miserable 8-11 record and 5.32 ERA last year pitching primarily as a starter was erased by his triumphant move to the bullpen this year. Now used exclusively in relief, he has become a shutdown option, striking out 54 while permitting just 13 hits in 32.1 innings. Now that he is pitching in shorter stints, his velocity is up (averaging a career-high 95.2 MPH on his fastball). If the team ever decided to trade All-Star closer Greg Holland, Davis would be the logical choice as successor.

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