It’s the moment you’ve been waiting and rating for. It’s time to unveil the 2022 MLB All-Underrated Team.
We take the notion of “rated” seriously around here. To qualify for the All-Underrated Team, a player must have:
• Zero All-Star selections
• Zero All-MLB selections in any of the three seasons that honor has been awarded
• Zero major awards (MVP, Cy Young, Rookie of the Year, Silver Slugger, Gold Glove)
• Zero recognition on the 2022 “Top 10 Right Now” at his position by MLB Network
OK, so at some positions, that doesn’t leave us with a heck of a lot to work with. But that’s why we’re here, to uncover the diamonds in the rough.
Catcher: Christian Vázquez, Red Sox
This is the third straight year Vázquez has made the All-Underrated Team, which, yes, is a new (and completely worthless) record. His 293 games caught over the past three years are the most in the Majors, and the importance of posting up is underrated!
Though Vázquez had a down year offensively in 2021, with a .258/.308/.352 slash line, he did author one of the great moments of the postseason, with his walk-off homer in Game 3 of the ALDS against the Rays. Take a wider view, and Vázquez had a 94 wRC+ over the past three seasons, ranking ahead of Mike Zunino (92) and Jacob Stallings (91) (both of whom made the MLB Network Top 10). More importantly, Vázquez has the trust of his pitchers. His 11 defensive runs saved in the past three seasons are tied with J.T. Realmuto and Sean Murphy for eighth among those with at least 500 innings caught in that span.
First base: Ty France, Mariners
France has only played two full seasons, and one of them was shortened by the pandemic. So the sample size is not gigantic here. Still, it’s notable that, in those two seasons, he has compiled the eighth-best FanGraphs WAR (4.4) and wRC+ (130) of any qualified first baseman in that span.
Acquired by Seattle from the Padres at the 2020 Trade Deadline, France came up as a third baseman. He only settled in at first due to an injury to Evan White, who had signed a six-year contract with the club before even setting foot in the big leagues. While France wasn’t envisioned as Seattle’s everyday first baseman, he maintains that role entering 2022 after slashing .291/.368/.445 with 18 homers and 32 doubles while proving himself a capable defender last year.
Second base: Nicky Lopez, Royals
After posting a .586 OPS in his first 594 plate appearances in the big leagues and struggling in Spring Training last year, Lopez did not crack the Royals’ 2021 Opening Day roster. But an injury to Adalberto Mondesi allowed him to seize the shortstop job, and he responded by looking like a much different offensive player (.300 average and .365 on-base percentage in 565 plate appearances). He was actually the Royals’ first qualified shortstop to hit .300 in a season.
Lopez, who is expected to play primarily at second this season (hence his listing here), does not hit the ball with authority. But in embracing that limitation, he’s become a better contact hitter. His 13.1% strikeout rate was in the 96th percentile last season, and getting on base allows him to utilize his speed, which is in the 79th percentile. Defensively, his 25 Outs Above Average were the best of any player at any position last year.
Shortstop: Willy Adames, Brewers
If you’re the starting shortstop on a really good team and get dealt -- in May -- for a couple of relievers, how highly rated can you be?
After he was traded by the Rays last year, Adames slashed .285/.366/.521 in 99 games for the Brewers to change the tone of their season dramatically. Though he didn’t grade out well in Outs Above Average last year, Adames has generally rated as a sound defender with good instincts. He has speed, and he makes hard contact (72nd percentile in hard-hit percentage in 2021). He’s only 26, and a full season like what we saw in Milwaukee last year would elevate him in the star-studded shortstop scene.
Third base: Jeimer Candelario, Tigers
Candelario’s career has been under the radar on some out-of-contention Tigers teams. But he’s been solidly above average at the plate the past two seasons, with a 123 wRC+ that ranks sixth among qualified third basemen (behind only José Ramírez, Manny Machado, Justin Turner, Rafael Devers and Austin Riley). His 42 doubles led the Majors last season.
And since becoming the Tigers’ regular at the hot corner in 2018, Candelario’s seven Outs Above Average are tied for fifth at the position, with only Nolan Arenado, Matt Chapman, Ramírez and Josh Donaldson ranking ahead of him.
Left field: Robbie Grossman, Tigers
The 32-year-old Grossman is a switch-hitter with elite walk and chase rates and above-average speed. In the last two seasons, his 117 wRC+ mark (17% better than league average) ranked 19th among all qualified outfielders. Going back to 2016, the only qualifiers who spent the bulk of their time in left field during that span who had better on-base percentages than Grossman’s .359 mark were Juan Soto (.432) and Michael Brantley (.363).
Want another fun stat? The only player other than Grossman with at least 90 walks and 20 steals last year was none other than Shohei Ohtani.
Center field: Kiké Hernández, Red Sox
Hernández is the most nationally known of any player on this list, simply because he’s been a part of some great teams that have gone on deep postseason runs. And to be sure, he’s been a huge part of those runs, with a three-homer game the night the Dodgers clinched the 2017 NL pennant and his 20-for-49 (.408) performance last October for the Red Sox, among other exploits.
So maybe Kiké isn’t all that underrated. But as a utility guy with no accolades, he fits our criteria, and he’s always been surrounded by much bigger stars. Boston’s Trevor Story signing should finally allow Hernández to focus on center field, where his eight Outs Above Average ranked seventh last season (even though he spent roughly one-third of his time in the middle infield).
Right field: Hunter Renfroe, Brewers
As with shortstop, we’re in a golden age in right field, and it should go without saying that Renfroe is not at or near the same class as the likes of Ronald Acuña Jr., Juan Soto, Bryce Harper, Mookie Betts and Aaron Judge. Regardless, prior to getting dealt to Milwaukee in a surprising winter swap, he was a big contributor to Boston’s surge up the standings last season.
Toss aside his miserable performance with the Rays in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season (and you really should), and Renfroe has generally been a solid everyday player. In the last four full seasons, he’s averaged 29 homers and 25 doubles. For his career, he’s mashed lefties to the tune of a .263/.347/.557 slash. Defensively, his arm strength is a major assist, as evidenced by his league-high-tying 16 outfield assists last season.
Designated hitter: Franmil Reyes, Guardians
Reyes was dealt to the American League midway through the 2019 season and has settled in nicely to life as a DH the past two seasons. The “Franimal” can be streaky, and his 32% strikeout rate last season was among the worst in MLB. But over the last two seasons, Reyes has produced a .261/.331/.498 slash with a 122 wRC+. You can compare that to J.D. Martinez’s .266/.333/.483 slash and 114 wRC+ in that same span.
Last season, Reyes ranked in the 89th percentile in average exit velocity and 86th percentile in expected slugging percentage. And with a 6-foot-5, 265-pound frame, he looks the part of a slugging DH, which is half the battle.
Starting pitcher: Joe Musgrove, Padres
The right-handed Musgrove should have an instant spot in the Padres’ Hall of Fame as the first pitcher in team history to throw a no-hitter. But aside from that magic moment last April and some noise when he was traded from the Pirates to San Diego the previous offseason, Musgrove has rather quietly compiled some of the best numbers of any starter over the last three seasons. His FanGraphs WAR of 7.6 from 2019-21 ranks 16th among all qualifiers, and his 3.79 ERA in that span ranks 19th.
In 2021, Musgrove rated above-average in hard-hit percentage (38.5), strikeout percentage (27.1) and walk percentage (7.2), and the spin rates on his fastball and curve were in the 99th and 88th percentiles, respectively. The .253 expected slugging percentage against his curveball ranked sixth among those who faced at least 100 batters.
Well, OK, you could probably guess it’s Gallegos, only because his name is highlighted here. But there’s no way you would have guessed it before reading this piece!
It’s true, though. Gallegos’ 0.85 WHIP in that span is bested only by Hendriks’ 0.81 and Hader’s 0.83. With a 2.76 ERA in 169 1/3 innings over those three seasons, the right-handed Gallegos has been an integral piece of the Cards’ bullpen. He took over the closing duties in the second half last season and saved 14 games, and his expected opponent average (.206), strikeout rate (30.7%) and walk rate (6.5%) were all well above average.