Calling anything "underrated" or "overrated" is always tough. The terms are 100 percent subjective and also somewhat nebulous. How are we defining how the item in question is "rated" (RE: Viewed by the masses) and how do we decide that the entity is either better or worse than the widespread view? Again, it's difficult.
It's also fun for me and then you, my dear readers, get to yell at me for how much I suck. It's a win-win, so I'm trudging forward with the All-Underrated MLB Team (already done,) and going with the All-Overrated MLB Team right now.
Some important things to remember before we dive in:
- Again, this is subjective. These are players I believe get too much credit in the present from large groups of baseball fans and media. The most important thing to remember -- which many will ignore and still yell at me -- is that "overrated" doesn't mean "suck." Most overrated players are good, otherwise people wouldn't think they were great.
- An underrated player can still be a worse player than an overrated player. If we ranked players on a 1-100 video-game-like scale and a player was widely viewed as a 90 and I feel like he's an 80, I think he's overrated. A player can be widely viewed as a 70 and I have him as a 75ish, then he's underrated but also worse than the overrated player. See? It's not difficult.
- These are for right now. There are players on this list with unbelievable career bodies of work, but that doesn't mean they are still awesome. We are looking at 2017 performance with our eyes on 2018.
- Going back to point one, not only is this subjective, but it's only me. Matt Snyder. This isn't "CBS Sports" ranking these guys. Please don't blame my excellent colleagues for my poor taste. You can yell at me via email (firstname.lastname@example.org) or Twitter (@MattSnyderCBS). Bring it.
And now, onto the ever-polarizing All-Overrated Team!
Catcher - Yadier Molina, Cardinals
Might as well dive right into the deep end, huh?
I'm expecting the most backlash to this one, so I'll reiterate the point from the intro to Cardinals fans that this isn't saying Molina is a bad player. Far from it. In fact, he'll be a first-ballot Hall of Famer and I'm not going to put up an argument. He was once an elite player.
He's just not anymore, so his legions of supporters start avoiding the numbers and go to intangibles. It's stuff I certainly won't dismiss -- at least not in his prime -- such as being a leader and working with his pitching staff.
The bottom line, though, is we're talking about a player heading into his age-35 season after posting a 96 OPS+, 2.0 WAR, playing on an 83-win team and working with a pitching staff that was mediocre. He's still a great defender behind the plate and his career acumen likely points to one of the best ever, but we've got a player with marginal numbers and his intangibles don't really seem to be doing much for his team these days.
I'm sure it's his teammates' fault now, but back in his prime, how was Molina making all his teammates better and now he's not? What happened?
Maybe he just used to be really good and now he's overrated based upon all those fond memories?
Regardless, I look forward to the many overly polite emails and tweets misunderstanding the exercise. Moving on!
First baseman - Eric Hosmer, free agent
Like most every player on this list, Hosmer is good. He's coming off the most productive individual season of his career, too, and it just happened to be in a walk year. After having watched Jim Leyland start Hosmer over a clearly-superior Paul Goldschmidt through the World Baseball Classic last March, I thought I'd seen peak overrated, but then this happened ...
Come again? There's a manager who thinks Hosmer is a top three player ... gulp ... in all of baseball? I could name 50 players without even taking a breath.
Even if you believed last season was how Hosmer would play every single year, he's not even close to top 20, but his track record says he won't do that. Just to use one metric, here are Hosmer's OPS+ figures by season: 118, 81, 118, 99, 122, 102, 132. He's a first baseman with a career high of 25 home runs, despite home run totals exploding at an unprecedented rate.
This isn't even close.
Second baseman - Rougned Odor, Rangers
Hey, the slugging of Jose Bautista was the integral part of one of baseball's top fights ever and he can definitely hit home runs. Maybe last season was just a huge step backward that will show a correction moving forward, too.
It's just that, man, Odor was dreadful last season. On the good side, he hit 30 home runs and stole 15 bases. He plays good defense at an up-the-middle spot.
On the down side is everything else. Odor hit .204. His OBP was .252. He struck out 162 times compared to 32 walks. With power up across the league, his 30 home runs weren't nearly as important and his sub-.400 slugging percentage (.397) illustrates just how little those 30 homers meant against everything else he did. To top it off, Odor was this bad while playing in all 162 games.
Add it all together and you get a negative WAR. Big-time punch (which wasn't even last season), decent (but not great) past track record and home runs aside, the Rangers would have been better off with pretty much any other MLB regular.
Shortstop - Troy Tulowitzki, Blue Jays
It happens. He's 33 years old now and far removed from being one of the best shortstops in baseball. There's a crop of young shortstops that blow him away. He should be overshadowed. Among die-hard baseball fans, we're well aware he's not close to the top. Sometimes, though, name recognition carries a guy far past his prime among casual fans. We could still find tons of fans who would off-the-top of their head answer "yes" to "is Troy Tulowitzki a top-10 shortstop?" He's not.
It should be noted, of course, that the "overrated" crop wasn't fruitful here. Hopefully this wasn't taken as too much a knock on Tulo.
Third baseman - Evan Longoria, Giants
An early-career darling -- and rightfully so for several reasons -- Longoria's name still carries lots of weight around many casual baseball fan circles. He had a power surge in 2016 that could have taken him off here, but last year, Longoria hit .261/.313/.424 (100 OPS+) with 20 homers in the most homer-crazy season of all-time. He's still a good defender, but there are plenty of those at third and in the past six seasons, he's topped four WAR just one time.
And, hey,. Seeing him in AT&T Park these next few years isn't going to help his offensive prowess. In fact, our SportsLine projections actually have the Giants performing slightly worse after the Longoria deal than before it.
Runner-up:Mike Moustakas, free agent
Outfielders - Jackie Bradley Jr., Red Sox; Jay Bruce, free agent; Jose Bautista, free agent
Much of Bradley's offensive value in his career came from a good 2016 season, but look even deeper there. He hit just .233/.315/.412 in the second half that season and the overwhelming majority of his success came in a ridiculous May (.381/.474/.701). It was a great first half and an absurdly great month, but through nearly 2,000 plate appearances, Bradley is overall hitting .239/.318/.407 in his career. Some might say he's young, but is he really? He'll be 28 next year. It's not a coincidence we keep seeing his name come up in trade rumors.
I realize I keep bringing up the home run surge, but it matters. Context behind numbers always matters. If Jay Bruce had hit 36 home runs back in the Dead Ball Era, he was freaking Babe Ruth. Last season, it was good. What else did he do, though? He hit .254 with a .324 OBP. He doesn't run the bases well and he's a poor defender. You've either gotta do more than hit home runs or hit about 50 to be good these days.
Bautista's a reluctant entry after hitting .203 last season and I could easily be wrong. Frankly, I didn't like many other choices due to either the players being not-that-bad or not having many people think they are better than bad. There's also probably plenty of Joey Bats, Superstar residue among casual fans, especially those who only watch the the playoffs and saw the most epic bat flip of all-time.
Also considered: Carlos Gonzalez, free agent; Billy Hamilton, Reds; Nick Markakis, Braves; Matt Kemp, Dodgers (it should be noted many fans know most of these guys aren't very good -- and I think Cargo bounces back next year)
As for the inevitable "where is Kyle Schwarber?" question: He was on this team last offseason. After his 2017 season, I'm pretty sure everyone outside Cubs Nation thinks he's raw sewage and even some of them do. He's not overrated anymore. In fact, he might start swinging the other way. It's just how these things work.
Designated hitter - Albert Pujols, Angels
We all know the drill by now, right? Name recognition, only 23 homers in a heightened power era, etc. How about this, though: Pujols had over 100 RBI and many people still go nuts over that. He was the beneficiary of 449 runners on base (234 in scoring position) and a player with his number of plate appearances averaged only 380 (186).
Also, among 144 qualified hitters last season, Pujols ranked 128th in average, 139th in on-base percentage and 132nd in slugging.
Starting pitchers - LHP Cole Hamels, Rangers; RHP Adam Wainwright, Cardinals
, let's go out of our way here to point out they are exemplary human beings and in no way does being fair here affect their overly generous gesture. The four-time All-Star has already put together an outstanding career, too, which includes winning the 2008 NLCS and World Series MVPs.
He's just not that Hamels anymore (4.20 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, career-low 6.4 K/9 last season), and that's OK! Being a good person is better anyway.
Wainwright was also great for a long time. He has four top-three finishes in Cy Young voting. The career pedigree is there, along with a good W-L record last season (12-5), so that always helps matters in terms of the casual fan overrating someone. Wainwright also led the NL in hits and earned runs in 2016 and then followed it up with a 5.11 ERA last year. He's 36 now, so he's probably done. It's nothing to be ashamed about. Father Time is undefeated. Dealing in the present compared to his name recognition, though, Wainwright is overrated.
Relief pitcher - Greg Holland, free agent
Once arguably the best reliever in baseball (in 2013, Holland had a 1.21 ERA, 0.87 WHIP and 103 strikeouts against 17 unintentional walks in 67 innings!), Holland was derailed by a major injury. It was Tommy John surgery and he was sitting 93-94 with his fastball last season, down from 97 in his prime. He led the NL in saves last season, but that's in some ways another tell-tale sign of how someone can become overrated. It's an overrated stat on its own. Holland also got off to an amazing start before major regression. He had a 1.62 ERA in the first half against a 6.38 ERA in the second half.
Now, Holland did throw the ball very well in September and next season is his second full year back from Tommy John surgery. He could well make me look like a fool in 2018 and that's fine. He was a great story last season, especially early. I'm not just confident in his work moving forward at all.
Man, this one really is tough. I can say all I want that "overrated" doesn't mean a player stinks and I still feel like I'm hating on these guys and that's no fun. I powered through, though. Time to brace myself for the replies.