5 most underrated players in the MLB

5. Brendan Ryan, SS, Seattle Mariners

Now I realize that putting Ryan on this list will probably rub some people the wrong way because of the horrific offensive statistics he has put up the past few years but his defense is truly one of the most undervalued assets in the big leagues. FanGraphs shows that his defense was worth $12.4 million in 2011 and $7.7 million in 2012 (not saying that’s what he’d get on the open market) while posting a combined 4.5 WAR in those two years. He made a combined 5 million dollars in 2011-12 meaning that theoretically the Mariners saved about $15 Million dollars on his defense during those two years. He also lead the AL in defensive WAR in 2012 at 3.6 according to Baseball-Reference while also leading in UZR at 14.7. Also keep in mind that he put up a couple decent offensive campaigns in the past posting (.752 OPS) for St. Louis in 2007 as well as a (.740 OPS) in 2009. You might also want to consider the fact that he plays a defense first position and that because the Mariners play in such a spacious ball park runs come at a premium so every bit of defense counts.

4. Paul Goldschmidt, 1B, Arizona Diamondbacks

Coming into the big leagues Goldschmidt was viewed as a guy who, in the eyes of many talent evaluators, had decent pop but whose swing was too long to adjust to big league pitching and that he would become nothing more than a part-time player despite his minor league slash line of (.318/.409/.623). Thus far he has proved them wrong putting up a (.286/.359/.490) slash line in 2012 while hitting 20 dingers as well as stealing 18 bases. While the stolen bases may be a fluke you can certainly look for him to improve upon his power numbers as his career goes on.

3. Yadier Molina, C, St. Louis Cardinals

While he is widely recognized as the best defensive catcher in the game, his hitting, until recently has been quite overlooked. Considering how far he has come since his 2006 season (.216/.274/.321) as compared to his 2012 campaign (.315/.373/.501) it has been truly remarkable to watch him grow into one of the games best all around catchers. According to Fangraphs since 2008 (age 26-30) he has been worth a total of 21.3 WAR as compared to Johnny Bench‘s age 26-30 season in which he put up a 26.4 WAR. That is a pretty impressive comparable if you ask me. Yadier has quietly been one of the best on field as well as off the field leaders in the game and knows how to manage a game as well as handle a pitching staff which are invaluable. If he keeps up his current pace I believe he will go down as one of the best if not the best catcher to wear a Cardinals uniform.

2. Billy Butler, 1B, Kansas City Royals

Butler has quietly turned himself into one of the better First Basemen in the game over the past three seasons posting on base – plus slugging percentages of (.857), (.822), (.882) over the past three years at a time when teams like the Rays are relying on players such as James Loney as their everyday starter at a position where power comes first. Butler also provides a strong veteran presence in the Royals clubhouse for young position players such as Mike Moustakas and Eric Hosmer at time that is pivotal for the Royals franchise after their off-season acquisitions of James Shields and Wade Davis. If the Royals are to be competitive this year Butler will have to once more step up in his contributions and solidify himself as one of the best first basemen in the game.

1. Matt Holliday, LF, St. Louis Cardinals

Since 2009, Player A has posted a war of 24.7 while Matt Holliday has posted a war of 22.3. Since 2009, Player A has averaged an OPS of .946 while Matt Holliday has averaged an OPS of .905. Over the course of those four years, FanGraphs has pegged Holliday’s dollar value at an average of $24.5 million a year while he has been making $17 million, so in a sense his deal has been somewhat of a bargain for the Cardinals thus far and he has more than lived up to his contract but that is not to say that he could start to decline or spiral downhill during these next 4 years of his contract. Most of his criticism comes from the St. Louis fan base because he has not put up the same ludicrous numbers as Pujols during his time as the 3 hitter in St. Louis, but holding anyone to those Ruthian standards would be unfair and unreasonable. Holliday has put up all-star numbers during his time in St. Louis but is at a disadvantage because he had the fortune of replacing one of the best hitters of the last 50 years. Oh and if you are still wondering who Player A is your answer is Ryan Braun.

Ryan Kiernan

Top 5 NL spring training battles

5. Washington Nationals, Catcher

The Nationals have two plus defensive catchers in Wilson Ramos and Kurt Suzuki. Kurt Suzuki is the incumbent starter since being acquired from the A’s at the deadline last year after Wilson Ramos tore his ACL last May. Just because Suzuki is making $6.45 million this year does not mean he will get the bulk of playing time behind the plate as the Nationals view Ramos as their catcher of the future and he was playing well before his injury, posting a (.265/.354/.398, 3 HR, 10 RBI, 11 R) batting line before his injury. Ramos is clearly the more talented player and also has a higher ceiling. It would not be surprising to see Suzuki traded sometime this year as $6.45 million is a lot to pay a back up catcher as the Nationals have other viable options at backup.

4. Atlanta Braves, Third Base

After trading Martin Prado as one of the pieces in the Justin Upton deal, the Braves have a vacancy at third base that they will try to fill by using newly acquired Chris Johnson and former power prospect Juan Francisco. Rather than have one player win the position outright it seems that the Braves will use the two as a platoon. This could turn out to be a very cost-effective strategy because when you combine their 2012 stats they would have posted a (.258/.302/.442, 24 HR, 108 RBI, 65 R) slash line while making a combined $975,000 good for a 2.5 WAR (FanGraphs). This year they will make a combined $3,355,000. It is looking like it will be a 60-40 time share with Johnson getting the majority of the playing time and Juan Francisco getting a good chunk of at bats against righties.

3. Philadelphia Phillies, Right Field

The Phillies brought in former MVP candidate and top prospect Delmon Young to see if he could return to his former self this year while also providing power off the bench and pushing Domonic Brown. The Phillies need for Brown to live up to his former top prospect status as they must inject youth and speed into their lineup after losing Shane Victorino at the trade deadline this past season. Not to mention a duo of Domonic Brown and Ben Revere would be a pair of formidable table setters for a lineup, that when healthy, has the potential to score a lot of runs.

2. Arizona Diamondbacks, Center Field

Even after trading Center Fielder Chris Young and former MVP candidate Justin Upton this off-season, the Diamondbacks still have a surplus of depth with the signing of Cody Ross. Despite already being a three year MLB veteran Gerardo Parra appears to be the one who will start the year as the fourth outfielder as his defense and arm would play up at every outfield position. The club likes what they have in young prospect Adam Eaton who posted .259/.382/.412 slash line and scored 19 runs in a 22-game audition last September. He has worked hard to get his defense to the point where he would be an above average center fielder and has the kind of plate discipline and speed teams want in a lead off hitter as evident by his .445 OBP and 106 stolen bases over the course of 3 minor league seasons. Just because Parra is slated to be the fourth outfielder as of now doesn’t mean he won’t get playing time; he racked up 430 plate appearances last year while appearing in 133 games and posting a (.273/.335/.392) slash line.

1. St. Louis Cardinals, 5th starter

The Cardinals are the envy of many organizations throughout baseball as they have 3 young fire ballers ready to come in and compete for the 5th rotation spot. The returning starter, Joe Kelly, posted a 3.51 ERA and a 6.31 K/9 through 107 innings pitched last year and is also one of the most athletic players on the Cardinals roster who is often used as a pinch runner for what it is worth. The second candidate is top pitching prospect Shelby Miller, who after a rough first half in AAA in 2012, turned it around and ended up being called up during September and pitching out of the bullpen to the tune of a 1.32 ERA and a 10.54 K/9 through 13.2 innings while also making the playoff roster. As of right now Shelby seems to be the favorite to win the spot as he came into camp with a little extra weight to help him stay durable through the hot St. Louis summer. The third candidate is Trevor Rosenthal who spent the majority of 2012 at AA as a starter pitching to a 2.79 ERA and a 7.98 K/9. He was then called up in late August and impressed many while pitching out of the bullpen as he regularly topped 100 mph in his late inning appearances. He also pitched well enough at the end of the year to make the play off roster and gave up no runs and only allowed two hits through 8.2 innings off post season action.

Big Tony will be publishing the top 5 AL position battles later tonight.

Ryan Kiernan