The MLB All-Underrated Team: Joey Votto and others who deserve more love
No matter how well some players perform, they always seem to get lost in the mix. Maybe they play for a bad team, maybe they get outshined by a better teammate or maybe their skill set isn’t something that can be easily quantified.
Whatever the reason, baseball is rife with players who deserve more credit. And the Yahoo Sports baseball crew is out to make sure they get it.
We asked our crew — the Big League Stew bloggers plus our experts, Jeff Passan and Tim Brown — to vote on the most underrated players in the game. We added up those votes, and created a complete team with them. We have an entire infield, DH, three outfielders, three starting pitchers and three relievers. You’ll also see an “also receiving votes” area under each position to let you know what other players came close to making the cut.
C: J.T. Realmuto, Miami Marlins
Realmuto has turned in strong numbers the past two years, but seems to get lost because he plays in Miami. A trade might be the best thing for him, not just because he wants one, but because it would lead to more people recognizing his performance. Over the past two years, only Buster Posey and Gary Sanchez have been better according to fWAR. There’s a strong case he should have made the All-Star over Yadier Molina — who made our overrated list — last season.
Also receiving votes: Welington Castillo, Austin Barnes, Willson Contreras, Christian Vazquez, Yasmani Grandal, Jonathan Lucroy, Chris Iannetta, Martin Maldonado, Francisco Cervelli.
1B: Joey Votto, Cincinnati Reds
Wait a minute … five-time All-Star, perennial MVP candidate and Gold Glove winner Joey Votto is underrated? Yup, that’s what we’re telling you. Maybe it’s the fact that local broadcasters have found ways to hate him in the past. We’re not sure. We are sure, however, that Votto deserves to win more awards. He had a legitimate case for MVP last year and just came up short. It’s also worth noting how much he changed as a player last season. Votto simply stopped striking out. That’s pretty unheard of, especially from a guy who can mash 30+ home runs every year. He’s as rare as they come. Don’t wait until his career is over to appreciate him as a player. By then, it will be too late.
Also receiving votes: Freddie Freeman, Matt Carpenter, Greg Bird, Carlos Santana, Justin Bour, Joe Mauer, Brandon Belt, Miguel Cabrera, Paul Goldschmidt.
2B: Jonathan Schoop, Baltimore Orioles
Schoop has always displayed solid power, but he finally supplemented that with a strong batting average last season. His .293/.338/.503 represented career highs, as did his 32 home runs. While his walk rate is nothing to get excited over, he did make minor improvements there in 2017. He’s never going to be dependent on his batting average, but when it’s all clicking, he’s a really valuable player.
Also receiving votes: Neil Walker, Cesar Hernandez, Whit Merrifield, Kolten Wong, Scooter Gennett, Josh Harrison, D.J. LeMahieu, Brian Dozier, Starlin Castro.
SS: Andrelton Simmons, Los Angeles Angels
Defense matters … but offense doesn’t hurt. Since he came into the league, Simmons has been the best defensive shortstop in the game. The fact that he’s doing it at the most difficult defensive position in the majors — depending on how you feel about catchers — is huge. But it wasn’t until last year that Simmons finally started getting some recognition, and that’s because his bat finally started coming around. Simmons’ OPS+ jumped above league-average for just the second time ever in his career. He also saw his home runs spike and started walking more. He became at least somewhat of a threat with the bat. When you combine that with his unreal skills at short, you get one of the best players in baseball.
Also receiving votes: Tim Beckham, Jean Segura, Miguel Rojas, Elvis Andrus, Asdrubal Cabrera, Orlando Arcia, Xander Bogaerts, Corey Seager, Ketel Marte, Didi Gregorius, Brandon Crawford, Paul DeJong.
3B: Eugenio Suarez, Cincinnati Reds
Eugenio Suarez might have taken some advice from Joey Votto since his debut. After looking like a free-swinging hacker with pop in 2015, Suarez has upped his walk rate quite a bit the past two seasons. That’s a big development for a guy like him. Initially, he looked like a player whose value would depend heavily on his batting average. Now, he’s a guy who can offset some of his strikeouts with both power and patience.
Also receiving votes: Anthony Rendon, Josh Harrison, Jose Ramirez, Justin Turner, Nick Castellanos, Nolan Arenado, Adrian Beltre, Johan Camargo, Jake Lamb, Travis Shaw.
OF: Marwin Gonzalez, Houston Astros
Gonzalez did it all for the Astros in 2017. He saw time at three infield positions and played the outfield, allowing the team to effectively balance playing time and utilize platoons all the way to the World Series. He was also no slouch at the plate. Gonzalez doubled his walk rate while cutting a few points off his strikeout rate. Like many, he also added some pop, hitting 20+ home runs for the first time in his career.
OF: Domingo Santana, Milwaukee Brewers
Strikeouts will always limit Santana’s average, but his power and patience make him a valuable player. Notice a trend here? That’s probably not a surprise. Players with that skill set — think Adam Dunn — typically get underrated by those who still think batting average is the most important thing. Even if last year’s .278 performance isn’t likely to repeat, Santana was still a valuable hitter with a .254 average in 2016.
OF: Michael A. Taylor, Washington Nationals
Taylor wasn’t supposed to see a ton of playing time last year after the Nationals acquired Adam Eaton. But injuries pushed him into a regular role, and he didn’t disappoint. He raised his average nearly .040 points from 2016, and added 19 home runs and 17 stolen bases. But perhaps his biggest contribution was in the field, where he earned plenty of praise for playing exceptional defense in center.
Also receiving votes: Brett Gardner, Eddie Rosario, Tommy Pham, Justin Upton, Odubel Herrera, Nomar Mazara, Dexter Fowler, Adam Eaton, Danny Santana, Mookie Betts, Mike Trout, Yasiel Puig, Jay Bruce, Christian Yelich, Michael Conforto.
DH: Nelson Cruz, Seattle Mariners
Cruz’s late-career turnaround has been something to behold. A new offseason workout plan has helped keep him on the field the past four seasons, in which he’s hit .287/.359/.549, with 166 home runs. He played half of 2017 at 37 years old and showed no signs of slowing down.
Also receiving votes: Corey Dickerson, Matt Davidson, Kennys Vargas, Kendrys Morales, Edwin Encarnacion, Matt Holliday, Hanley Ramirez, Albert Pujols, Ryon Healy.
SP: Aaron Nola, Philadelphia Phillies
Two things have held Nola back thus far in his young career. He’s played on bad teams and he’s had trouble staying healthy. The Phillies are considered to be on the upswing now, and Nola finished 2017 with his health intact. Armed with a vicious two-seamer, he’s in the running to be on of the most GIF-able pitchers once the Phillies jump back into prominence.
SP: Robbie Ray, Arizona Diamondbacks
It’s all about the strikeouts. Fantasy baseball players already know, but Ray gets a ton of them. In fact, over the past two seasons, he’s ranks sixth in total strikeouts. He’s sandwiched in-between Justin Verlander and Carlos Martinez on that list, which is not bad company. While the walk rate is high, Ray really limited hits in 2017. If he can keep that up, he’ll continue to post ERAs under 3.00 going forward.
SP: Carlos Carrasco, Cleveland Indians
Carrasco has always had excellent stuff, but he finally stayed healthy enough to cross the 200 inning threshold in 2017. As a result, his 5.5 fWAR was sixth-best among qualified starters. He was better than Zack Greinke, Chris Archer, Justin Verlander and Jacob deGrom last season. Carrasco may have been recognized sooner, but he missed the team’s World Series run in 2016 with an injury. That was his big chance to show a national audience what he could do. Carrasco also gets overshadowed by pitching on the same team as Corey Kluber. Sad, but true.
Also receiving votes: Marcus Stroman, Jose Quintana, Tanner Roark, Carlos Martinez, Jose Berrios, Max Scherzer, Andrew Cashner, Chase Anderson, Jimmy Nelson.
RP: Corey Knebel, Milwaukee Brewers
Knebel showed some ability in 2016, but a bloated ERA masked his potential. He came through in 2017, posting a 1.78 ERA while emerging as the Brewers’ closer. While control isn’t his specialtyy, he makes up for it with a ridiculous strikeout rate. In 76 innings, he racked up 126 strikeouts last season.
RP: Felipe Rivero, Pittsburgh Pirates
The Pirates noticed Rivero’s breakout in 2017, and decided to lock him up for four more years. After being acquired by the team in 2016, Rivero immediately began turning things around. He showed signs of improvement during the second half, but no one could have expected his 1.67 ERA in 2017.
RP: Alex Claudio, Texas Rangers
Claudio is a fun one. The lefty’s fastball registers around 86 mph, but that doesn’t stop him from fooling hitters. Despite that, he has a career 2.66 ERA over 162 1/3 innings in the majors. How is that possible? Claudio has a killer changeup and does a great job keeping the ball on the ground. That skill set has led to plenty of people doubting him throughout his career. He was a 27th round draft pick. Every step of the way, though, he’s exceeded expectations.
Also receiving votes: Tommy Kahnle, Pat Neshek, Archie Bradley, Steve Cishek, Raisel Iglesias, Joe Smith, Sean Doolittle, Edubray Ramos, Blake Parker, Brad Hand.
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