Every year I like to take some time and come up with my versions of interesting baseball teams. One of my favorite teams to think about is one filled with players whom I feel are underrated 1 for some reason or another (often non-baseball reasons). In order to constrain the exercise, I like to limit my team to players who saw some time during the previous season, and who are not considered rookies for the current. An additional rule is that my underrated team cannot have any members of the Baltimore Orioles, as I tend toward always viewing them as underrated.

That being said, here is my team for the 2008 baseball season:

C - Greg Zaun (stats)

Greg Zaun has spent a long career as the backup for 7 different teams. The reason for this are most likely due to his smallish size (5’10” 170lbs) and the fact that in 1998, he managed to hit below the Mendoza line (.198) in close to 300 at bats. In addition, his performance for the Astros did little to motivate teams to view him as anything but a no-hit, nice glove player. However, since leaving Houston Zaun has found a second life at the plate. While not hitting for much power (≈ .409 SLG), he has managed to get on base at a nice clip (≈ .355 OBP). This is probably the final year on my underrated team as his age and declining defensive skills will likely simply make him one of those guys like Todd Pratt (who was on my 1997-2002 UR teams) who sticks around 2-3 years too long simply because some teams think that old catchers have an extra level of veteranicity above other players.

1B - Nick Johnson (stats)

At one time Johnson was too highly touted to be on this list. However, once he moved out of the limelight in New York he dropped into a pit of 1B obscurity. Of course, this obscurity is understood, if not justified, given the company kept at his position. In addition, the fact that he missed the entire 2007 season does little to thrust him into the forfront of the greatest at firstbase debate. Johnson is the perfect player for an all-underrated team as everything about him screams to be ignored – unless you happen to like a guy who gets on base 40% of the time and hits doubles like each one saved a baby seal’s precious life. I happen to like these types of players very much.

2B - Tadahito Iguchi (stats)

If it wasn’t for my anti-Orioles rule above, then my choice would have been our beloved Brian Roberts, but I think that Iguchi fits this team even better. That is, this unassuming second baseman rarely gets mentioned when discussing the best at his position. This fact is probably due to the fact that he really does not do anything exceptionally, but instead does everything well. Putting Iguchi in your starting lineup is not going put butts in the seats, but it will give you: * .275 AVG * .350 OBP * .420 SLG * 10-15 HR * great baserunning (also with 10-15 SB) * nice fielding

3B - Wes Helms (stats)

I thought for sure that last year was my final chance to put Helms on my list. That is, I was sure that the Phillies would let him be their starting third-baseman which would let the cat out of the bag and lift him from relative obscurity. However, he hit for very little power and was out of the starting lineup for good after the all-star break. However, I am still convinced that a smart team will one day snatch him up and ride him to an .800 OPS over the course of an entire season. Not spectacular, but not too shabby either considering what he would cost.

SS - Michael Young (stats)

How does a guy with 1039 hits over the past 5 seasons (200+ in each) get onto the most underrated team?
* He plays for Texas * He’s small * He plays at the same time as Jeter, Ramirez, Furcal, Rollins, Tejada, and Reyes * Has started zero all-star games (although has been chosen for 4 with only 5 AB total) * Is not particularly stellar with the glove

There are two negatives to Young that I think are worth mentioning: 1) He does not walk much and 2) he hits into a lot of double plays. Still, 1000+ hits in 5 years people!

LF - Matt Diaz (stats)

What would you say if I said that Matt Diaz could put up Kirby Puckett-esque numbers if given the chance? You would say I was crazy…. just like all of those baseball officials. I can hear them laughing at me when I sleep. Laughing and lying!

CF - Corey Patterson (stats)

I realize that Patterson was an Oriole during the 2007 season, but he is no longer and therefore does not break my anti-Orioles rule above. Patterson has some huge holes in his bat, and he appears to be allergic to walks, but there are two things that he does exceptionally that more than make up for this fact: 1. He can field like nobody’s business. I’m talking crazy good 2. He is very good on the basepaths. I’m talking… well, just very good… but still

RF - Bobby Abreu (stats)

I remember watching the 1997 expansion draft and thinking, “Bobby Who?” when the Devil Rays chose him 6th overall. Until he won the homerun hitting contest a couple years ago, the entire country thought the same thing year in and year out. Now that he is on New York, he not only has to live in the shadow of A-Rod, Jeter, Posada, and even Matsui, but he has also stopped hitting homeruns. Regardless, the guy can hit, and the guy can take a walk or a hundred. This is most likely the last time he will make it to this list, but will most likely go into the underrated hall of fame.

DH - Jack Cust (stats)

Anyone that knows me could have seen this pick from a mile away. Cust has been my UR DH for the past 3 seasons, but if he is able to put up another year like 2007, then this may be the last. As it stands, Cust is viewed as an all-or-nothing type of player. While this is not necessarily false, it does not entirely explain his true worth. Cust has a phenomenal eye, but he strikes out a ton; which is exactly the reason why he is underrated. Extrapolating Cust’s 2007 over 162 games, his stats look like the following:


That is a ton of strikeouts, actually, it would set an all-time record for strikeouts. However, 213 strikeouts is not an unusual number given that the total number of them is increasing every year in the modern era. Strikeouts get a bad reputation because they are viewed as the additive inverse of a hit (or maybe even less if you subscribe to the idea that striking out hurts the hitter’s feelings and gives the pitcher a warm and fuzzy). However, if a hit is worth x points in some nebulous system of measurements, then a strikeout is worth much more than -x. Depending on the situation, including number and location of batters on base at the time, I would say that a strikeout could be worth as much as -x/2 simply due to the fact that the batter did not ground into a double play (caveat, these numbers are meant as illustrative only). For the projected numbers listed above, how many GDPs do you think Cust would have? How about 8? Double plays are the worse possible outcome (aside from triple plays, or maybe spontaneous human combustion) for an at bat. Being a fan of the Baltimore Orioles, perhaps I am a little more prejudiced to the double play than the normal fan. Not only does my team of choice have the player with the most career GDP, but in 2007 they accounted for the 3, 4, and 5 slots in the AL GDP leaders (Markakis, Mora, Tejada each had 22). It might be a nice study (if it has not been done already) to try to garner the value of grounding into a double play.

SP - John Lackey (stats)

Lackey is the Rodney Dangerfield of pitching. If the guy was a lefty then we would never hear the end of praise for him. Over the course of his career Lackey’s ERA, WHIP, and Opponent OPS has all gone down while his K/BB has gone up. Lackey could either be out of baseball in 3 years, or have 50+ wins in that same timeframe. I see Lackey as potentially being what Pat Hentgen should have been.

SP - Javier Vazquez (stats)

Vasquez is the very definition of consistency. It’s almost inconceivable that he makes only $12.5M per season and has pitched in only one all-star inning. The guy is essentially Brad Radke v2.0. I see Vasquez as what Sidney Ponson should have been.

SP - Kelvim Escobar (stats)

It seems like Escobar has been pitching for 27 years, but it turns out he’s only 32 years old (note: there was a time that I thought he and Amaury Telemaco were the same person… don’t ask me why). Escobar was used as a middle reliever, a spot starter, a long man, and a closer without true success in any of those roles. As it turns out, he discovered that if he walked less people his chances of success improved. Go figure. I see Escobar as what Daniel Cabrera could be.

SP - Gil Meche (stats)

Meche was viewed by the baseball media as the best of a weak free agent pitching class during the 2006 offseason. Everyone laughed when KC signed him to anchor their floundering rotation, but in reality the Royals pulled a major bargain in signing him. Even after a very nice 2007, the world seems to have forgotten about Mr. Meche, and this is unlikely to change unless the Royals pull a miracle and get into the playoffs. Sure, he will likely continue to be the lobe KC representative in the all-star game, but people will again forget about him after his one inning of work in those games. In the next 4 seasons, Meche will likely will 30-45 games with the royals, which is 15-25 wins less than what he should.

SP - Randy Wolf (stats)

One of these days Wolf is going to be healthy and win a Cy Young award.

CL - Joakim Soria (stats)

This will likely be his first, and last appearance on my UR teams. As far as fluctuations go, the closer is the most volitile of all positions when building a yearly UR team. I think this has to do with the fact that the truly great closers are universally lauded in the baseball world, while the others are simply guys who manage to convert the easy saves and tread water sufficiently in the other categories of save opportunities. Most likely, the way that I will approach the closer position in the future is to find a guy who is not currently closing, but should and/or could. Good examples of this are: Kerry Wood, Daniel Cabrera, Guillermo Mota, and Dennis Sarfate.

Honorable mention

Casey Kotchman, Edgar Renteria, Adam Everett, Mike Napoli, Jermaine Dye

  1. I do not wish to philosophize on the true meaning of underrated.