Which major-league players don't get their due, nationally, among casual fans or national media? We're fielding a team full of those guys: The Underrated.
This is a subjective exercise because when it comes to "overrated" or "underrated," we don't really have much substantive evidence. During the baseball season, I watch baseball every single day. I also witness fan and media discussions in person, on Twitter, on Facebook and in comments sections. All-Star voting is one avenue we could use, but there's plenty of season after that. There's also the postseason.
Given the latter, don't expect to see any Cubs or Indians -- and it feels like Dodgers and Blue Jays won't make it, either. Deep postseason runs have a way of shaking possibly underrated players free of being nondescript, after all.
We're only considering the 2016 season.
A final thing to consider: When discussing casual fans, I'm not talking about you. You're brilliant. We're talking those who aren't quite as astute as we are. Who do they underrate? That's the guiding principle.
Onto the underrateds!
Catcher: J.T. Realmuto, Marlins
One of three qualifying catchers to hit .300 or better (.303), Realmuto also had 11 homers and 12 steals. That good all-around play meant only Jonathan Lucroy and Buster Posey bested Realmuto in WAR. Yeah, yeah, I know ... made-up stat, doesn't mean anything! blah blah blah ... but if I had you guess who was third in WAR at catcher, how many guesses would it take before Realmuto's name came up?
First baseman: Freddie Freeman, Braves
Yes, you've heard of Freeman, but we've already established your brilliance. How many fans noticed Freeman led all MLB first basemen in WAR last season? Or let's take this path: How many people think Freeman had a better season than Anthony Rizzo? Freeman topped Rizzo in average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, triples, home runs, runs and tied him in doubles. Yet Freeman got fewer All-Star votes than Brandon Moss.
Second baseman: Jean Segura,
After two bad years, Segura was filthy at the plate this past season, slashing .319/.368/.499 with 20 homers. He also stole 33 bases. He led the NL with 203 hits. Again, how many guesses would it take the casual fan before Segura if you asked who led the NL in hits? Dozens.
Shortstop: Jonathan Villar, Brewers
In sticking with our theme. How many casual fans could easily answer, "Who led the majors in steals?" It's Mr. Villar, who swiped 62. He also had a .369 OBP, making him one of the best table-setters in the league. He even has good power, as showcased by 38 doubles and 19 homers. The Brewers got him the previous offseason for a minor-league pitcher named Cy Sneed. So far, it's a home run deal for the the Brew Crew.
Third baseman: Kyle Seager, Mariners
Last offseason, I referred to Seager as "perpetually underrated" and that remains the case. It's probably even worse now because his brother finished in the top three in NL MVP voting and plays for the Dodgers. This Seager is exponentially better than an also-ran. He has increased his homer total five straight years (20, 22, 25, 26, 30) and is coming off a 133 OPS-plus season. Combine that with smooth defense at third base and you get the guy who finished sixth in WAR among AL position players, behind Mike Trout, Mookie Betts, Jose Altuve, Josh Donaldson and Robinson Cano.
Underrated? You bet.
Left fielder: Starling Marte, Pirates
Marte finally made the All-Star team for the first time. He has been an all-around great player for the contending Pirates for years, but he finally is starting to get his due. It would seem that is at least in part because Andrew McCutchen had been overshadowing him before having a down season. This past season, Marte hit .311/.362/.456 with 47 stolen bases.
He also can do this with his arm:
Marte's 17 outfield assists were second in baseball to the guy listed here at right field.
Center fielder: Odubel Herrera, Phillies
You can find good players in the Rule 5 draft. Let Herrera be the latest example, as he was rescued from obscurity as a Rangers utility infield farmhand via the 2014 Rule 5 draft. Two seasons into his Phillies tenure as a converted center fielder, he's a career .291/.353/.419 hitter. This past season, he hit 15 homers while stealing 25 bases.
Right fielder: Adam Eaton,
White Sox Nationals
The Nationals have been pretty well dismantled in some circles for how much they gave up to acquire Eaton, but he's a very good player. He got on base at a .362 clip last season with 29 doubles, nine triples, 14 homers and 14 steals. He led the majors with 18 outfield assists. In Fangraphs' version of WAR, Eaton was eighth among AL position players, topping players like Dustin Pedroia, Carlos Correa and Miguel Cabrera.
Designated hitter: Khris Davis, Athletics
It's tough to find a guy here, but Davis did hit 42 homers with half his games coming in homer-suppressing Oakland Coliseum.
Left-handed starting pitcher: Jose Quintana, White Sox
Thanks to a 46-46 overall record -- thanks mostly to terrible run support -- Quintana isn't thought of as a front-line pitcher by many. But in the AL last season, Quintana was seventh in ERA, eighth in WHIP and sixth in innings pitched. He has worked at least 200 innings in each of the past four seasons with a 118 ERA-plus. He's a stud flying totally under the radar.
Right-handed starting pitcher: Masahiro Tanaka, Yankees
How is this even possible? A Yankee is underrated? What a world. But did you know that Tanaka was third in the AL in ERA and fifth in WHIP last season? The non-playoff Yankees went 23-8 when Tanaka started and 61-70 when he didn't. That's as big a difference-maker as can be found in baseball. Just to throw out an example, the White Sox were 18-14 when Chris Sale started and Sale had a worse ERA than Tanaka. This doesn't necessarily mean Tanaka is better than Sale, but it feels like most people don't even consider Tanaka close to Sale.
Reliever: Kyle Barraclough, Marlins
If you said "who?" we'll forgive you, but the only relievers who struck out more hitters than Barraclough in 2016 were Dellin Betances and Andrew Miller. Barraclough punched out 113 hitters in 72 2/3 innings. He walked too many, but his ground-ball and strikeout rates helped keep him at a 2.85 ERA.
There were actually a lot of good options here. Baseball is bursting at the seams with unheralded and great relievers these days.
That'll do it. We'll close with something that will surely fall on deaf ears: By no means is this an all-inclusive list. There are underrated players that weren't listed and just because they didn't make the cut doesn't mean I haven't heard of them. Your favorite team definitely has a few players I strongly considered.