Every team, whether it’s a good one or a bad one or whatever comes in between, has an unsung hero. Call them a glue guy, a secret weapon, the X-factor: He’s the player who is key to everything his team is doing -- and is generally underpublicized at doing so.
Here's a look at every team’s most underappreciated player, the guy who’s having an excellent year that many people probably haven’t noticed. Your team’s fans have seen it and know what he means, but the rest of the baseball world might not have caught on yet. Maybe this will help.
AMERICAN LEAGUE EAST
Blue Jays: Steven Matz, LHP
You know how pundits spent the offseason saying that Toronto didn’t have enough pitching, that Matz wasn’t nearly a big enough addition? Well, he has put up the best year of his career and has been an absolutely vital piece of a rotation that needs every inning it can get.
Orioles: Ramón Urías, 2B/3B
He had bounced around the Minor Leagues for a decade, but right now, the utility infielder quietly has the second-highest on-base percentage among all players on the team.
Rays: Collin McHugh, RHP
In a way, everyone on the Rays is sort of underappreciated, but have you noticed what they have done with McHugh? The former Astro elected not to play in the 2020 season and signed with Tampa Bay in February … and has done nothing but give up only nine earned runs in nearly 60 innings this season.
Red Sox: Garrett Whitlock, RHP
Should Whitlock get more Rookie of the Year consideration than he’s getting? He has been a key bullpen arm for a team that, in case you forgot, couldn’t get anybody out last year.
Yankees: Néstor Cortes Jr., LHP
It’s tough for any Yankee to do anything quietly, but Cortes Jr. -- who had a 15.26 ERA with Seattle last year -- has more than earned his “Nasty Néstor” nickname this season. And what a mustache!
Cleveland: Amed Rosario, SS
They may have initially acquired him to be an outfielder, but Rosario hasn’t just settled in with the best offensive season of his career: He’s (sorry, Mets fans) actually having a better season at shortstop than Francisco Lindor is.
Royals: Nicky Lopez, SS
He finally hit his first homer of the year a couple of weeks ago, but don’t let that fool you: He’s got a (where-did-that-come-from?) .366 on-base percentage and has been absolute nails defensively.
Tigers: Eric Haase, C
The well-traveled catcher had one home run in his career heading into this season. Right now, he has 21, and he may well end up with the team lead by the end of the year.
Twins: Luis Arraez, 2B/3B
Is it possible to have a quieter .300 batting average season than Arraez is having?
White Sox: Garrett Crochet, LHP
Aaron Bummer hasn’t quite been the shutdown lefty the White Sox have gotten used to, but the young Crochet has more than filled the gap: You can expect to see a lot of him come October.
Angels: Jared Walsh, 1B
He deserves to be known for more than being the first baseman so good the Halos had to push out Albert Pujols for him. He’ll be a key cog for this team when it gets everybody back healthy next year.
A’s: Tony Kemp, 2B
A’s fans have been enjoying the Tony Kemp experience all year. It’s time for the rest of us to join in before it’s too late.
Astros: Aledmys Díaz, 2B/3B
The former All-Star -- yep, he was an All-Star, back in 2016, for the Cardinals -- has been a key bench bat and utility guy for a team that’s thinner than it has been in the past.
Mariners: Ty France, 1B/2B
There’s no question Seattle’s entire club flies under the radar, and France -- who has been its best hitter -- is the leader of that pack.
Rangers: Isiah Kiner-Falefa, SS
Texas has had a lost year in every possible way, but Kiner-Falefa has been out there every game, taking every at-bat, and this year, that’s strangely (maybe even depressingly) valuable.
NATIONAL LEAGUE EAST
Braves: Luke Jackson, RHP
Jackson has had an up-and-down career with the Braves, but they are getting the best possible version of him at the best possible time.
Marlins: Sandy Alcantara, RHP
Trevor Rogers has, reasonably, attracted all the headlines, but Alcantara, once again, is one of the most durable and effective pitchers in baseball: He’s likely going to end up with more than 200 innings of sub-3.50 ERA pitching.
Mets: Aaron Loup, LHP
If the entire Mets season had been as quietly effective and drama-free as Loup’s has been, they’d still be in first place in the division.
Nationals: Josh Bell, 1B
After a nightmare 2020 season, Bell doesn’t quite look like his 2019 All-Star self … but he looks like a guy who might have made himself some money this offseason.
Phillies: Ranger Suárez, LHP
Philadelphia will take every bit of bullpen help it can get, but Suárez has been on lockdown mode all season: How is it even possible that a Phillie relief arm could have a 1.38 ERA?
Brewers: Hunter Strickland, RHP
Omar Narváez would be another option, but for all the talk of Josh Hader and Devin Williams … Strickland has been better than both of them?
Cardinals: Luis García, RHP
Yes, the reliever. The only reason St. Louis is hanging around the Wild Card chase at all has been the bullpen work of Garcia and T.J. McFarland, both midseason free-agent additions.
Cubs: Frank Schwindel, 1B
Pirates: David Bednar, RHP
If you’ve seen Bednar pitch, he looks like a tank on the mound, like the Marvel villain Juggernaut. He brings legitimate intimidation to Pirates games.
Reds: Tyler Mahle, RHP
His name screams “fifth starter, inning eater,” but he has been as good as any Reds starter over the last month of a Wild Card push.
D-backs: Carson Kelly, C
Whatever else is going wrong in Phoenix, they still have an All-Star-caliber catcher. (When healthy.)
Dodgers: Chris Taylor, CF
We should probably just call this The Chris Taylor Award at this point.
Giants: LaMonte Wade Jr., LF
There’s no better example of what the Giants are doing right -- that the rest of baseball isn’t -- than the fact that they could find a key cog, out of nowhere, like Wade Jr.
Padres: Tommy Pham, LF
No one ever notices or appreciates Pham, but he has been as solid as ever this year -- and healthy, for once, too.
Rockies: C.J. Cron, 1B
He’s not just a Coors Field creation: He’s in the top 10 of the NL in OBP too.