Update on Baseball’s Most Over and Underrated Players

Back in February, USA Today’s 2011 MLB Preview Magazine published a lengthy piece by yours truly, whereupon I rendered my thoughts on who the most over and underrated players in the game were as we approached the new campaign.

I figured I might as well do occasional updates on these “predictions,” so as to capriciously praise or condemn myself.

Underrated

Miguel Cabrera

This machine keeps hitting. Top 10 in every meaningful offensive category. He’s underrated simply because he doesn’t get the attention that Albert Pujols, Alex Rodriguez and other superstars get. And this year, because of his offseason DUI, it seems the media is even more apathetic to his on-field exploits.

Grade so far on my prediction: PASS

Shin Soo-Choo:

How is it that two of my underrated guys got DUIs?

Anyway, despite Cleveland’s success, Choo is having a down season. No other way to rationalize it. He needs to step up if the Tribe want to maintain their April/May success.

Grade: FAIL

Paul Konerko:

Mashing as usual, especially lately. Top 5 in the big offensive categories. Rapidly closing in on 400 homers and 2000 hits. How many media guys would say he’s a better player than Ryan Howard? 10%? I don’t even think it’s a comparison, and the stats back ME up. Howard will never get 2000 hits and 400 HRs is questionable. Konerko somehow gets better with age.

Grade: PASS

Adam Dunn:

I often compare the media love for Ryan Howard to Adam Dunn, as I feel they’re equal players (same age, same style, Howard higher average, Dunn better power numbers, etc), but if I’m to call out Ryan, Adam needs the same treatment.

You can’t spin this anymore here in the second week of June: he’s been a disaster!

Hitting well under .200; just five homers and 23 RBIs in 54 games; leads the league in strikeouts, and a startling 1 for 42 versus left-handed pitching. When I was in Chicago over the weekend, callers on 670 The Score were not pleased with The Big Donkey’s performance.

Grade: FAIL

Ryan Zimmerman:

Has been out for two months.

Grade: N/A

Overrated

ryan-howard-overratedRyan Howard:

The “centerpiece” of my article was the Phillies’ big first baseman, who’s been at the top of my list (and emails, texts and tweets) of overhyped ballplayers for years. I don’t see anything in 2011 to change my mind; in fact, I’m more confident in my views than ever.

After a decent April, he was awful in May (.208, 36 Ks), and not much better in June (.208 again so far). Though his RBIs remain relatively high (3rd in NL at 47), his homerun numbers (and overall power categories like slugging, OPS and OBP) continue to fall, while his strikeouts remain 2nd in the National League (72, on pace for nearly 200).  He has yet to homer off a lefty in 60 games this season. Howard’s OPS — the most relevant category for a power guy — is barely top 30. He walks as infrequently as any power hitter: just 59 times in 2010 and 26 times so far in 2011.

If you’re looking for a player on the back-end of his career, who doesn’t get on base much, whiffs a lot, is slow, suspect with the glove, but will get you 25-30 HRs with 100 RBIs and maybe a .260 average, he’s your man. I’m just stating obvious facts. His backers are getting desperate.

To reiterate, I’m hard-pressed to find a player in the league for whom there is a greater disconnect between perceived value and actual value.

Grade so far on my prediction that Howard is overrated: PASS

Carlos Pena:

The Cubs first baseman hit .258 with seven homeruns in May. I can’t really criticize that after a .159 April, but he’s still a putrid 3 for 43 off lefties (.070), and carrying a .217 overall average; yet this overpaid 33-year old is a lifetime .240 hitter, so what do we expect? He doesn’t strikeout quite as much as Howard or Dunn, but that proves little. He’s still overrated.

Grade: PASS

BJ Upton: Upton rightly doesn’t get the love he once received, but still, when you think of the Rays, after Longoria, BJ’s name comes up. Why?  You like .220 hitters with limited power and bad attitudes?

Grade: PASS

Jeff Francoeur:

Has expectedly cooled considerably after a surprisingly hot start. Jeff’s still at .272/9/38, but he’s around .240 since April ended. I don’t expect him to get hotter as the summer approaches either.

Grade: MIXED

Mark Reynolds:

Under .200 still. “Only” 61 whiffs in 58 games, but still, just nine homeruns, which is below his standards. In Arizona, he mashed 121 dingers over four seasons, so now I’m really not sure what he brings to Baltimore, but I could say the same about Pena, Dunn and many others right now.

Grade: PASS

So I’m looking at decent grades (80% or so) outside of two guys.

Agree/disagree? Bring facts, not conjecture nor ad hominem attacks. Thanks.

About the Author

AJ Kaufman

A former schoolteacher and military historian, A.J. now works in public relations. As an MSF columnist since 2009, he supports anything baseball-related. Raised in San Diego, A.J. has since resided in numerous parts of America, including Colorado, Florida, Indiana, Maryland, Minnesota, Nebraska, New York, Ohio and Washington State. After departing the coasts in 2005, he's traveled the back roads of all 50 states and prefers the Heartland. Married to Maria, A.J. is the author of three books and enjoys reading presidential biographies.