The most overlooked player on each team
This year, perhaps more than any in recent memory, has a gaggle of tightly contested races for individual awards. Who will win the National League MVP Award? The American League MVP Award? The AL Cy Young Award? The NL Rookie of the Year Award? Those discussions will rightfully take up a considerable amount of oxygen over the next month of the season.
But what about the Most Overlooked Player? This (theoretical and, as of this moment, entirely fictional) award would honor the player having a terrific season that, because of all the focus on the big names, hardly anyone has noticed. Thus, this week at The Thirty, we take a look at the player having a positive season on every MLB team that only the most hardcore of hardcore fans have noticed. Here are the standouts who have snuck under the radar.
Justin Smoak, 1B
Besides Kendrys Morales' recent homer streak, we know there hasn't been much reason to pay attention to the Blue Jays, but here's Smoak, having a year just as good as his 2017 All-Star season. What team couldn't use Smoak?
Key stat: Smoak has a career-high .357 OBP.
Alex Cobb, SP
All right, so the beginning of the season was a disaster, and he's still tied for the league lead in losses. But, he has quietly pulled it together in the second half, with a 2.15 ERA since the All-Star break. Not that it's helping the Orioles much, but still.
Key stat: Cobb has a 3.13 K/BB in August, more than two times what it was in April.
Mallex Smith, OF
Smith was thought to be solely a stolen-base guy, but while he's delivering there -- he's racked up 27 -- his average has been hovering around .300 all year. He's handy defensively, too.
Key stat: Smith is hitting .379/.449/.529 at Tropicana Field this year.
Matt Barnes, RP
It's tough for anyone on Boston to be low profile, particularly with the year the team's having, but how about Barnes, who has the best strikeout rate on the team, up nearly four K/9 from last season?
Key stat: He has given up fewer than one home run per 18 innings this year, by far the lowest of his career.
Aaron Hicks, OF
Nobody's low profile in the Bronx either, but remember when Hicks was just known for his throwing arm? He has the second-highest OBP on the team.
Key stat: He already has career highs in hits, homers and RBIs, and it's still not September.
Oliver Perez, RP
Mets fans might not want to hear this, but Perez is having the best year of his career, having just turned 37. He has given up just one homer all year -- and three runs.
Key stat: His walk rate is 1.57 BB/9. In 2010, for the Mets, it was 8.16 BB/9.
Brad Keller, P
Obviously not a lot to choose from here, but having a 23-year-old swingman who can keep the ball in the park has many virtues.
Key stat: Among pitchers with at least 100 innings, Keller has given up the second-fewest home runs (six).
Nicholas Castellanos, 3B
There isn't anything much more anonymous than being consistently solid in Detroit this year.
Key stat: Castellanos is quietly already 39th on the Tigers' all-time home run leaderboard.
Kyle Gibson, SP
Everybody who had "Kyle Gibson might be having the best season by an AL Central starting pitcher outside of Cleveland" in the pool, please collect your prize at the front desk.
Key stat: Gibson is one of only four pitchers in the AL who has thrown more than 147 innings in each of the past five seasons.
Omar Narvaez, C
Welington Castillo's 80-game suspension opened the door for Narvaez, and, out of nowhere, he has the highest OBP on the team.
Key stat: Narvaez never hit more than two homers during any of his eight Minor League seasons. This year, in less than half of a season's worth of games, he has six.
Jaime Barria, SP
Say what you will about the Angels' farm system, but 22-year-old starters who can put up a sub-3.70 ERA do not grow on trees.
Key stat: Barria is currently the youngest pitcher in the American League.
Collin McHugh, SP
It's not like McHugh was a terrible starter, but boy, does he make a ton more sense in the bullpen.
Key stat: McHugh has the highest strikeout rate and the lowest hit rate of his entire career.
Edwin Jackson, SP
Seriously: Jackson has been the A's best starter since he signed with them. Edwin Jackson. Edwin Jackson is the best.
Key stat: Jackson's 1.15 WHIP is the lowest of his 16-year career.
Marco Gonzales, SP
Yes, yes, we know: Wins. But still: Gonzales has more wins than Jacob deGrom, Dallas Keuchel, Patrick Corbin and Gerrit Cole.
Key stat: Gonzales has already thrown more innings this season than he had in his entire career up to this point.
Rougned Odor, 2B
He has rebounded from last year's bottoming out by increasing his OBP by nearly 100 points.
Key stat: Odor has nearly tripled his walk rate of 2016.
Charlie Culberson, INF
He plays everywhere you need him on the diamond, and he's finally figured out how to hit.
Key stat: Culberson has more homers, doubles and runs this year than he did in his entire career coming into this season.
Derek Dietrich, OF
Dietrich has never quite been appreciated in Miami, or even noticed, but this is the fourth straight above-average offensive season he has put together in a row by OPS+.
Key stat: Dietrich is racing J.T. Realmuto to become the first Marlin to lead his team in home runs not named Giancarlo Stanton since Dan Uggla in 2010.
Michael Conforto, OF
That nightmare start is long in the past: His slugging percentage is nearly 120 points higher in the second half than it was in the first half.
Key stat: Conforto has a .933 OPS in Mets wins this year.
Tanner Roark, SP
In a nightmare season, Roark has gone out and given the Nationals a chance to win in almost every one of his 26 starts.
Key stat: Roark has the most innings pitched in the NL of any pitcher who was not named to the All-Star Game.
Zach Eflin, SP
Even if he keeps getting sent down for roster manipulation reasons, Eflin has clearly established himself as the Phillies' third starter.
Key stat: Eflin has a better K/BB ratio than either Aaron Nola or Jacob Arrieta -- but he's actually behind Nick Pivetta.
Travis Shaw, 3B
The Brewers spent the Trade Deadline bringing in guys who play his position, but Shaw has done nothing but hit since he got to town.
Key stat: If he can pass Jesus Aguilar -- he's three behind him and has outhomered him since the All-Star break -- he'll have led the Brewers in homers in two consecutive seasons.
Jedd Gyorko, 3B
Remember when the Padres couldn't wait to get rid of him? Gyorko has had his best seasons as a Cardinal, and his ability to hold down third base has solidified a once-shaky infield defense.
Key stat: Gyorko put up a 2.3 WAR season his rookie year in San Diego, signed a big contract extension and then notched -0.1 combined WAR in his next two seasons. Since being traded to St. Louis, he has been a 3 WAR player in every full season.
Benjamin Zobrist, IF/OF
Has anybody else noticed that Zobrist is having his best year with the bat since 2012?
Key stat: Zobrist's .390 OBP is his highest since 2009 and the second highest of his career.
Francisco Cervelli, C
An on-base machine from the catching position, Cervelli is perpetually underrated every year.
Key stat: Cervelli's .389 OBP is the best in baseball among catchers with at least 300 plate appearances.
Jared Hughes, RP
Hughes has been the linchpin of a surprisingly effective Reds bullpen.
Key stat: Hughes has given up only three homers in 57 appearances.
Daniel Descalso, IF
The former Cardinals utility infielder/postseason hero has hit more homers this year than he did in his entire career with the Cardinals.
Key stat: For that matter, Descalso has 44 career homers -- 21 of which have been hit in the past two years with the D-backs.
Joc Pederson, OF
Pederson didn't even make the NL Division Series roster last year, if you can believe that.
Key stat: Pederson's strikeout rate is 16.4 percent, down from 29 percent his rookie season.
Belt finally found himself right as the rest of the Giants all got old.
Key stat: Belt has played with the Giants since 2011, but this is the first season in which he leads the team's position players in WAR (currently ahead of Buster Posey).
Yates had never had an ERA under 3.75 during his entire career coming into this year. Yates is hovering around 2.00 this year and has been a solid replacement for Brad Hand since the Padres traded him.
Key stat: This is the third consecutive season Yates has had a K/9 ratio over 10.
Nobody ever appreciates those Rockies pitchers enough, but if Colorado makes the playoffs, he'll match up with any starting pitcher in the NL.
Key stat: According to ERA+, Freeland has had the third-best season by a qualified Rockies starter in team history, behind Marvin Freeman in 1994 and Ubaldo Jimenez in 2010.