More Game than Name
A few weeks back I listed out the players whose name recognition and reputation, in my view, outstrip their actual value on the field. I thought I would follow it up by flipping things around. The following players, while not without flaws of their own, have more game than name.
Catcher: Josh Bard
I know. It was only 263 plate appearances with the Padres but he was just so good. Bard hit .333/.404/.522...as a catcher...in one of the most challenging hitting environments in all of baseball. Bard's utter inability to catch Tim Wakefield's knuckler proved to be the best thing that could have happened to his career. After acquiring Bard along with Coco Crisp and David Riske for Andy Marte, Guillermo Mota and Kelly Shoppach, Boston quickly flipped Bard and reliever Cla Meredith for Doug Mirabelli in one of the most lopsided deals in recent memory. The Pads pantsed Boston. Now the Padres have decided to part ways with future Hall of Famer Mike Piazza so that they can hand the full time reins over to Bard. This season will prove a real test for the backstop.
First Base: - Nick Johnson
I struggle with this one just as I do with a few of my other choices because health is in fact a contributor to one's overall ability to contribute to a winning team's efforts. That said, a guy that is able to get it done when he is on the field is deserving of recognition. Nick Johnson falls into this category. Johnson blossomed in 2003 with the Yanks, posting a 141 OPS+, but only appeared in 96 games due to a hand injury. Since, he has continued to battle injuries and post tremendous numbers, only he has done so toiling in relative obscurity with the Expos/Nationals. But in 2005 Johnson posted a .289/.408/.479 line and followed it up with an impressive .290/.428/.520. When healthy, there are few other first basemen you would want on your club more than Johnson.
Second Base - Ray Durham
Durham did have something of a career year last season so I am reluctant to focus too much on it but it warrants mentioning that he hit .293/.360/.538 while playing 2nd Base in another one of baseball's most challenging parks for offensive production. But go back over Durham's resume. For nine seasons now he has consistently ranked in the upper third-to-quartile of MLB 2nd Basemen. Over the course of his career he has amassed a WARP3 total of 81.1, precisely 8.1 wins shy of everyone's favorite misguided Hall snub, Jim Rice. Durham is still very good, has been for a long time and I don't get the sense fans realize it.
Third Base - Chipper Jones
I understand that many realize Chipper Jones has been an excellent player over the course of his career. But sheesh, take a look at his career numbers. He currrently ranks 14th on the active list with a 142 OPS+ and those ahead of him are largely outfielders, 1st Basemen and designated hitters. Only Mike Piazza and Alex Rodriguez have a more impressive OPS+ number amongst those who did not play those positions. Chipper has struggled to stay on the field consistently over the last few seasons but when he is out there he continues to produce at superstar levels. Barring a late career free-fall, Chipper will be heading to the Hall of Fame.
Shortstop - Carlos Guillen
Since Guillen was dealt for..wait for it...wait for it...Ramon Santiago after the 2003 season, he has had two MVP caliber seasons and an injury-plagued solid one.
AVG OBP SLG
2004: .318 .379 .542
2005: .320 .368 .434 (just 87 games)
2006: .320 .400 .519
Like Bard and Durham, Guillen is another playing a traditionally defensive-oriented position posting impressive figures in a pitcher's park. At 31, Guillen may be headed for the backside of his career but he is still one of the ten best position players in the American League and should be a key component to a hopeful 2007 Tigers bunch.
Outfield - Jason Bay
Since the second he stepped out into the bright lights of the Big League stage, Jason Bay has performed like nothing short of a superstar. It seems almost scary that he is just 28-years old. Here are his numbers since he came onto the scene in 2003:
PA AVG OBP SLG OPS+
2003: 107 .287 .421 .529 148
2004: 472 .282 .358 .550 135
2005: 707 .306 .402 .559 148
2006: 689 .286 .396 .532 136
There is no reason to believe that Bay will slow down. He is a bona fide star and should continue to produce accordingly.
Outfield - Grady Sizemore
You can take Andruw Jones and Carlos Beltran. Take Vernon Wells, Torii Hunter and Johnny Damon too. Sizemore is my guy, the best center fielder in baseball and well on his way to a career of superstardom. I know readers of this site are most likely fully aware of just how good he has been now for two seasons but being only 24-years old and having never appeared in the post-season, Sizemore still has not received his due from the mainstream press. A Division championship and another MVP'ish season should change that this year.
Outfield - Moises Alou
After the 2001 season, Alou signed a three-year deal with the Cubs that looked like it would pay off nicely for Chicago. Alou was a major bust in his first two seasons with the Cubbies, however.
Games AVG OBP SLG OPS+
2002 132 .275 .337 .419 100
2003 151 .280 .357 .462 113
He came through in his contract year at the age of 37, however, posting a .293/.361/.557 line for a 128 OPS+. Obviously, the Giants were there with open arms to snatch up the aging Alou and equally obviously, the statheads were out in force to pan the deal. Although Alou battled injury with the Giants, look at these rate stats he put up. Maybe the Giants had the last laugh.
Games AVG OBP SLG OPS+
2005 123 .321 .400 .518 141
2006 98 .301 .352 .571 132
If the Mets can keep Alou on the field, they will have a nice addition to an already potent lineup. And if not, in Shawn Green and Lastings Milledge, they have decent enough depth so as not to have to rely to heavily on the 40-year old.
Right Handed Pitcher - Aaron Harang
The numbers were tremendous for Harang in 2006. 234.3 innings of 128 ERA+ pitching is really getting it done. Lest you think he was a one year wonder, the peripherals portend more success for Harang going forward. His Batting Average on Balls in Play (BABIP) was a very high .326 and his K/BB ratio of 3.86 was 4th in the National League. This guy misses bats and doesn't put too many men on base via the free pass. With any luck at all on balls in play in 2007, Harang could find himself competing for a Cy Young Award.
Left Handed Pitcher - Erik Bedard
Bedard has frustrated some by not quite fulfilling his tantalizing potential. Whether battling injury problems or shaky control, Bedard has been unable (to date) to mature into the pitcher the O's hoped they might have. I think that changes this year. Bedard has steadily been cutting back on his walks and tossed a career high 196.3 innings last season. His strikeout numbers have always been impressive. Look for Bedard to be one of the better pitchers in the American League in 2007.
So this is my list of faves based on little more than my perception that these guys are better than most think. I would love to know who readers think are the players that do not quite get their due.