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 here on Tuesday and going with the All-Overrated MLB Team on Wednesday.
Some important things to remember before we dive in:
- Again, this is subjective. These are players I believe don't get as much credit as they should from the general group of baseball fans and media. The most important thing to remember these next two days -- 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. An underrated player can also be one of the very best players in baseball, if he still isn't getting as much credit as he should. See? It's not difficult.
- These are for right now. There will likely be players on the All-Overrated 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 far-less-polarizing All-Underrated Team!
Catcher - J.T. Realmuto, Marlins
The only catchers ahead of Realmuto in WAR last season were elite-level Buster Posey and Gary Sanchez. Willson Contreras would have topped Realmuto, too, had he not lost six weeks to a hamstring injury. Past those three studs, there's a reasonable argument that Realmuto is the next-best all-around catcher heading to 2018. And yet, such a statement would be met with laughter among many different groups of fans and media.
First baseman - Matt Carpenter, Cardinals
Carpenter battled injuries to something like five different areas of his body in 2017. He mightily battled a shoulder injury. He still managed to play 145 games, coming through with 31 doubles, 23 homers and 109 walks. A perpetual pest at the plate, he was third in pitches per plate appearance. His average dropped 30 points to .241, though, so he's become far too much of an afterthought nationally. He'll bounce back with a very good 2018, assuming that shoulder is back to near 100 percent.
Second baseman - Cesar Hernandez, Phillies
He broke out in 2016 and then got a little better last year. Hernandez hit .294 with a .373 on-base percentage. He had six triples, 15 stolen bases and scored 85 runs despite only playing in 128 games. He's a damn good leadoff man in an era where there are increasingly fewer prototypical leadoff types.
Shortstop - Andrelton Simmons, Angels
We've long known about Simmons' prowess with the glove, but I'm not sure he gets nearly enough credit for it among the great masses. In a sea of incredibly talented defenders at shortstop, he's head and shoulders above everyone else. Given that it's shortstop, his teams gain incredible value from this alone. Simmons being an above-average hitter last season (103 wRC+ for example) while stealing 19 bases just made him that much more valuable.
I know many don't like using it -- and, by the way, no one with a brain uses only one stat -- but only Jose Altuve, Aaron Judge, Giancarlo Stanton, Joey Votto and Nolan Arenado racked up more WAR (baseball-reference.com version) than Simmons last season among position players. From this view, Simmons is the most underrated player in all of baseball.
Third baseman - Alex Bregman, Astros
Seeing the Champs get an entry on the All-Underrated Team is a bit of a surprise, but I feel like Bregman is overshadowed by the Astros "big three" superstars (Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer) and is going places all on his own. He also got off to a rough start in his first full big-league season and didn't really turn it on until July. From July 4 to the end of the season, Bregman hit .321/.378/.548. On the season, he showed a nice power-speed combo with 39 doubles, five triples, 19 homers and 17 steals. He had some huge postseason hits, too, as we all know by now. Don't count him out from joining the aforementioned trio of superstars on the defending champions.
Outfielders - Mike Trout, Angels; Byron Buxton, Twins; Domingo Santana, Brewers
Oh boy. Here it comes.
How can Mike Trout be underrated when everyone says he's the best player in baseball?!?!?!
Easy. He's historically underrated right now.. He's been improving himself for years, too. Remember when strikeouts became a problem in 2014? He walked more than he struck out last season, continuing a trend of improving himself at plate discipline while also not losing any power (he had a career-best .629 slugging percentage last season).
We're in the midst of watching an inner-circle all-time great and he still has several years of prime left. Many are missing out for whatever reason. Let them, but this is also what makes him underrated.
Buxton likely won't be underrated for long. For now, though, the masses of casual fans might see the .253 batting average last season along with the 150 strikeouts against 38 walks and scoff at his relatively-gaudy WAR figure. We've got to pay attention to everything, though. Remember the defensive discussion on Simmons above? Buxton led all center fielders with 24 defensive runs saved last season. Kevin Pillar was second at 15 and no one else had more than 10. If you don't like defensive numbers, just watch him and use the eye test. I promise he'll pass with flying colors. He also adds more value on the bases than anyone in baseball. He stole 29 bases in 30 chances. He also led the majors in taking the extra base 71 percent of the time and was not picked off all season. He only made one out on the bases while attempting to take a base, and that was the one caught stealing. He's an amazing baserunner.
Once he starts hitting for average and cutting down on the strikeouts, we're talking upper-tier superstar. For now, though, he is a good-to-great player who gets overlooked.
Among non-die-hard fans who don't cheer for an NL Central team, I'm guessing Domingo Santana gets a "who?" if his name is mentioned. He also hit .278/.371/.505 last season while being one of eight players in the bigs with at least 30 home runs and 15 stolen bases. Santana was only in his age-24 season, too. The Brewers have a good one here.
Designated hitter - Corey Dickerson, Rays
By nature of this exercise and the position itself, it's tough to find guys who qualify as underrated DHs. Dickerson is coming off a very good year, hitting .282 with a 120 OPS+ and 27 homers. We'll take him.
Starting pitchers - LHP Robbie Ray, Diamondbacks; RHP Jimmy Nelson, Brewers
Look, chances are that if you're reading this, you are a pretty big baseball fan. I have no delusions otherwise. It's the middle of December and this is an MLB page. As such, it's entirely possible you also play fantasy baseball and therefore don't understand how Ray -- or even Nelson -- could be here.
Let's do this. Picture walking into a sports bar in a random city (can't be anywhere close to Phoenix or Milwaukee, either) and carrying on a discussion of the top 20-or-so pitchers in baseball. Mention Ray and Nelson. See what response you get.
My guess is this would prove they are both underrated.
Ray is coming off a season where he would have finished top five in Cy Young voting if he hadn't taken a line drive off the head. He still went 15-5 with a 2.89 ERA and led the NL with 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings (218 in 162).
Jimmy Nelson hurt himself sliding into a base at Wrigley Field late in the season and will miss a chunk of 2018. This is a huge deal for the Brewers, even if many outside the "NL Central" region don't know it. He made huge strides forward in 2017, namely increasing his strikeout rate, improving his command and cutting down on walks. He became a frontline starting pitcher.
Relief pitcher - Raisel Iglesias, Reds
The closer on a bad team isn't really going to turn many heads outside fantasy baseball circles, but Iglesias is pure filth on the mound. He's getting better as he continues to gain comfort as a late-inning reliever (he initially came over from Cuba as a starter and skipped the minors). I think my favorite stat on Iglesias is that he worked 18 outings of more than one inning last season, converting all 12 of his save chances in such situations. The Reds were 17-1 in those 18 games. Just think how much of a rock star he'd be in the playoffs!