Stars hiding in plain sight: The best of the underrated
Some of the game's top players don't get attention they deserve
Forty years ago, a writer came up with the idea to call A's outfielder Joe Rudi the most underrated player in baseball. It caught on. Pretty soon, every time Rudi's name was mentioned, it seemed obligatory to refer to him that way. At which point, of course, he clearly no longer was.
For our purposes here, there's only one definition. To be considered underrated, a player must have had at least three years of big league service time entering the 2013 season. This eliminates talented young players whose reputations haven't yet caught up with their accomplishments.
So, sorry about that, Indians catcher Carlos Santana. And Padres shortstop Everth Cabrera. And Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager. And Red Sox outfielder Daniel Nava. And Cardinals second baseman Matt Carpenter. And Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma. We'll check back in on you, and a bunch of others, in a year or two.
Meanwhile, here's a list of players deemed underrated by a random survey of baseball people and MLB.com beat reporters.
CF Gerardo Parra, D-backs
He won a Gold Glove while batting .292 in 2011. The D-backs then signed Jason Kubel to start in his place. He had another decent season in 2012 ... and the front office signed Cody Ross. He got another chance this season because of injuries and is the one everyday starting outfielder in the lineup as manager Kirk Gibson rotates the other outfielders around him.
"He just keeps getting better," Gibson said earlier this season. "He's got a very quick bat. He's unreal, the enthusiasm he brings. He's just really coming into his own. He's certainly ready for it. He's certainly earned his opportunity."
2B Howie Kendrick, Angels
Maybe it's not surprising that Kendrick is overlooked on a roster that includes Albert Pujols, Josh Hamilton and unanimous 2012 American League Rookie of the Year Award winner Mike Trout. Still, hard to believe he wasn't even in the Top 5 of the latest AL All-Star balloting.
"I think he's definitely deserving [of being an All-Star]," teammate Mark Trumbo told the Orange County Register. "I don't know anyone who's put in a better campaign than he has at that position."
1B Paul Konerko, White Sox
Baseball is a sport that prizes consistency, and Konerko has been really good for a really long time. He's been team captain for years in a sport that rarely designates a player for that role. He has more than 400 home runs. But a case could be made that he's been hiding in plain sight.
In 2011, White Sox manager Ozzie Guillen said flatly: "He will be in the Hall of Fame." That may or may not happen. But the wave of reaction that followed made it clear that not that many people had even stopped to consider how exceptional he's been.
RHP Edward Mujica, Cardinals
He's 29 years old. He's with his fourth organization after being traded from the Marlins at the Trade Deadline last year in a move that largely flew under the radar. He had four career saves coming into this season. And, by the way, he's been one of baseball's best closers this year.
"When that need is there, the light bulb goes on," said Cardinals special assistant Mike Jorgensen. "He's one of those guys in the small circle of scouts and ballclubs that we know is a valuable guy."
If Mujica keeps pitching the way he has, the word will start getting out soon.
RHP Kyle Kendrick, Phillies
Reputations can be hard to shake, and Kendrick, after making an early splash when called up in 2007, found himself back in the Minors. By 2009, he was back at Triple-A Lehigh Valley and spent most of the season there. The next year, he was back in the Majors, but had a 4.73 ERA. But since the middle of last August, Kendrick has 13 wins. Only Detroit's Max Scherzer (15) and St. Louis' Adam Wainwright and Lance Lynn (14) have more.
Said Phillies assistant director of player development Steve Noworyta: "I know how hard he's worked. You're just so proud of him because of his work ethic and what he's done to this point. He's just continued to keep moving forward. His mound presence. His offseason conditioning. His conditioning during the season. Everything just keeps paying off for him."
RHP Jordan Zimmermann, Nationals
Stephen Strasburg and Gio Gonzalez have gotten most of the attention. But check out Zimmermann's numbers. This year, he's 9-3 with a 2.44 ERA and an 0.93 WHIP in 99 2/3 innings.
RF Nick Markakis, Orioles
He's been a classic example of an underrated player for awhile now, but that could be beginning to change as he's joined the leaders in the latest AL All-Star voting.
RHP Koji Uehara, Red Sox
He doesn't make much money, doesn't pitch in a glamorous bullpen role. All he does is get hitters out. And his strikeout-to-walk ratio is terrific. He's whiffed 41 and walked just seven.
RHP Hiroki Kuroda, Yankees
It would seem almost impossible to be an underrated player for the most scrutinized franchise in baseball. Kuroda has quietly managed it.
RHP Casey Janssen, Blue Jays
Since the start of the 2011 season, the Toronto reliever has a WHIP under 1.00.
LF Alex Gordon, Royals
Gold Gloves each of the last two seasons and dangerous at the plate, too.
Of course, everybody has his own definition of what an underrated player looks like. So let the debate begin.