Ari and I exchanged some entertaining baseball emails over the past 24 hours, as we are wont to do through the spring and summer, and one of the chains centered on the topic of underrated players in baseball.
It’s a deliciously fun debate even if it is nebulous by its very nature. So let’s delve into it.
The Underrated Billy Butler
It began with this email by Ari:
Subj: Bruce Chen and Billy Butler
Chen’s gone 17 IP this season, 2 ER. Dude’s a warrior. He’s 35. Tons of teams, though Royals the past few: 24-15 with ERA around 3.8 during that time. Figured to be 5th starter. Best pitcher this season, 2nd best last two years prior.
And Billy Butler continues to be the most underrated player in baseball—mostly since he plays in KC. More doubles than any player in baseball since 2009.
Hitting .364 this season, and oh yeah, leads the AL in doubles.
Turns 26 today, already nearly 200 career doubles. I wonder where that ranks.
First things first: you never have to argue with a White Sox fan about Bruce Chen or Billy Butler being underrated nationally. Both are probably vastly overrated by us Sox fans because of how much they’ve owned our South Side boys over the last few years, Chen especially.
In general, I agree with Ari on both players being underrated. Naturally, strong performances are going to go unnoticed and under appreciated in small markets for teams that do not compete for the playoffs. Such has been the curse for the Chen Revival in KC and Butler’s steady rise into becoming one of the best all-around hitters in the game.
But here is the line of Ari’s I took a bit of issue with: Billy Butler continues to be the most underrated player in baseball.
Here, I had to disagree, and for two reasons:
- Butler is a full-time DH, so he only contributes to winning during his 4-5 at bats each game.
- Because the Royals have never competed for a division title during Butler’s tenure, we have never seen him perform during a pennant race or in the bright lights of the playoffs.
Again, let me restate: Butler is very underrated. I do believe, without question, that he is the most underrated hitter in baseball (stats here), and he is just 26. He’ll only get better.
It’s that word player I have a problem with.
So Who Is The Most Underrated Player In Baseball?
I find it tough to name him the most underrated player in baseball when there are terrific hitters who are also terrific in the field who we under appreciate, as well as consistently good pitchers out there who are still relatively unknown even though they always seem to step up in the biggest moments.
I replied to Ari that off the top of my head, I consider these three guys to be the most underrated players in baseball:
- Adrian Beltre
- Andrew McCutchen
- Colby Lewis
Full disclosure: I’ve lived in Dallas for the last four years, so I’ve watched the Rangers’ ascent to MLB royalty from up close. It’s quite possible that I overrate their players simply based on a proximity and information overload bias.
But I do think that even with the Rangers’ long playoff runs the last two years, and the national exposure that has come with them, two of their most important contributors have gotten lost in the deserved attention showered upon the likes of Josh Hamilton, Nelson Cruz, Neftali Feliz and others.
The impact of Adrian Beltre on the Rangers has not gotten enough attention. He plays a terrific third base that has shored up the left side of their infield, and his presence allows Michael Young to roam around the infield giving guys days off and keeping them fresh.
Oh, and Beltre (stats here) went .296/32/105 last year, so he’s a pretty solid presence in the middle of a sick lineup too…and not just in contract years, apparently.
As for Lewis (stats here), he’s a guy who came back from Japan a few years back at age 30 and completely reinvented himself. He’s won 26 games over the last two years, pitching over 200 innings in both, and amassing a regular season ERA right around 4.00 while pitching in the Texas heat in one of baseball’s true bandboxes.
Where Lewis truly stands out is in the playoffs. Forget C.J. Wilson and his gaudy regular season numbers; Lewis was this team’s ace the last two years when it mattered most. In 50 postseason innings the last two years, Lewis is 4-1 with a 2.34 ERA and 1.08 WHIP.
McCutchen is simply the most talented and exciting young player that nobody pays attention to by virtue of the Pirates’ continue irrelevancy in baseball.
He is still just 25 years old, made his first All Star team last year, and is hitting .381 on this young season, though without a whole lot of power yet (stats here). He’s fast, he plays good defense, and he provides about as much value for $452,000 as anyone in the game.
Update: Oops…I forgot about McCutchen’s new contract. He’s doing quite well for himself now, and deservedly so.
I’m sure I could come up with other guys I consider on par with these three in the underrated category, but what would be the fun in that? I’d rather keep my choices to the top-of-the-head guys and turn it over to you to get your thoughts on who is most underrated player in baseball.
The comment section awaits your choices and defense of them.
There are really no right or wrong answers because the the underrated/overrated debate is so nebulous anyway. It depends on some kind of general acceptance of a guy’s current “rating” on a national scale, which is impossible to settle on.
Still, I’m curious if you think the five guys mentioned in this post are truly underrated as I do, and I want to see what other guys baseball fans think deserve more national attention.
For the record, here is Ari’s reply to my email, which came right after I published this:
Yeah, should’ve said hitter.
McCutchen has been getting huge hype since day one. No longer underrated. I watched him for two full years in Indy, even met him twice. Nice kid. Good player. No longer underrated.
Just because you play in Pitt (or KC) does not make you underrated.
Yes, Beltre, for a veteran, is a good example — as is Lewis.
He brings up a good point with McCutchen. Perhaps “forgotten” is a better word to use for him than underrated, at least for non-fantasy players.
No, playing in PIT or KC does not necessarily make you underrated, but it does often make you forgotten in the maelstrom of Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, etc., hype.