More Name than Game
All over the world and in all lines of work superior performers are passed up for inferior ones. Despite best efforts to establish meritocratic workplaces - be they companies, restaurants or sports teams - employers often fail in this endeavor for any number of reasons. Chief among them is the employee who time and again is recognized for his or her efforts based on name recognition and reputation alone. After a productive stretch, that employee's reputation is cemented and therefore becomes bullet proof.
The list that follows seeks to compile those players in Major League Baseball whose names far outstrip their games. Bear in mind it is not necessarily a "most over-rated" list but rather an assemblage of those players at each position who seem to have attained perpetual kid glove treatment and permanent employment.
Catcher: Ivan Rodriguez
Pudge hit .300/.332/.437 last season, good for a 98 OPS+. Amazingly, this was a bounceback season for the backstop. In 2005, he put up a .276/.290/.444 line and over the last two seasons, Rodriguez has walked a total of just 37 times. For some context, Manny Ramirez had notched his 37th walk of just the 2006 season alone before Memorial Day last year. Still in good shape and a solid defensive catcher at the age of 35, I expect Pudge to have a gig for years to come despite his offensive woes.
First Base: Nomar Garciaparra
The same guy, who, as a shortstop, one season hit .357/.418/.603 and seemed a lock to be a future Hall-of-Famer now struggles to put up a mid .800's OPS as a first baseman. Still, anyone capable of showing the promise Nomar did at the end of the 20th century will be afforded opportunity that others will not. So I see Nomar playing 1st Base well into his 30s, his numbers declining steadily as he just tries to stay healthy. In his current form, Nomar is an average first baseman. There is value in that, but not the kind of value Nomar figures to extract from teams on the basis of his name alone.
Second Base: Marcus Giles
Although he is only 29, Giles still made his way onto my list by virtue of the notion that he not only seems to be living off of his performance levels from 2003, but with his acquisition by the San Diego Padres, one gets the sense he is also living off of his brother's name. Giles's 262/.341/.387 line, a 90 OPS+ in 2006, suggests he is not the player many think him to be.
Shortstop: Cesar Izturis
I know there really aren't many informed fans out there that still believe Cesar Izturis is any sort of decent player but the fact that he has a full-time Big League job alone merits his inclusion on this list. The guy with the 68 OPS+ still manages to swindle his way into lineups with alarming regularity, all because of the good name he established for himself early on in his career when he hit at an acceptable enough level to justify regular playing time. At this point, is it not evident that he is a drain on any team?
Third Base: Hank Blalock
It's hard to believe that the once promising third baseman could have fallen so hard but Blalock's .266/.325/.401 season in 2006 made him one of the very worst regulars in all of baseball. Blalock is only 26, but his declining output is real cause for concern. Consider the following trend:
Season OPS+ 2003 118 2004 111 2005 94 2006 84
Blalock still seems to have job security, however, because he showed so much promise at a young age. Still, it's hard to see how Blalock merits such treatment.
Left Field: Luis Gonzalez:
Gonzalez will be 40 by the time the 2007 season ends and he is coming off of a .271/.352/.444 season, good enough for merely a 97 OPS+ playing home games at the hitter friendly Chase Field. Well not only was Gonzalez handed a job by Grady Little and the Los Angeles Dodgers, but it was at the expense of younger, better, cheaper talent. Put differently, with one signing the Dodgers got older, worse and more expensive. Not a good combo.
Center Field: Torii Hunter
There is a lot to like about Torii Hunter. He plays a very good center field and seems like a great teammate. He goes all out after every ball. That said, his offensive contributions are badly over blown. Hunter is just OK as a hitter, as evidenced by his career 102 OPS+. Still, the way you hear many talk about him, you would think he is some sort of supreme talent. Hunter is a good player, probably one of his position's 10 best but just you wait until this off-season. Hunter is about to get paid like a superstar, something he is not.
Right Field: Gary Sheffield
The case on Sheff is pretty straightforward. He is 38 years old and two full seasons removed from being anything resembling a superstar contributor. He has endured shoulder problems to boot. Still, the defending American League champs saw fit to acquire Sheffield. Far be it from me to criticize the great Dave Dombroski, but Sheffield is going to disappoint badly in 2007.
Left Handed Pitcher: Jarrod Washburn
Still living off of his reputation forged as a member of the World Series winning Angels, Washburn hasn't been very good at all for some years now. Still, the Mariners saw fit to award Washburn a lucrative deal and subsequently paid for it dearly as Jarrod struggled through his first season in Seattle. Having struck out just 4.96 batters every nine innings in 2006, I don't see much reason to believe the 32 year-old will improve significantly.
Right Handed Pitcher: Jaret Wright
In many ways, Jaret Wright is still living off of his post-season performance from 1997. Save a renaissance of sorts in 2004 with Atlanta, and when he has even been able to make it on the field, Wright has labored anywhere in between mediocre and downright awful. The New York Yankees awarded Wright a lucrative deal after his 2004 season, one of their worst signings of the Cashman era. Now it is on to Baltimore for Wright, where he hopes to recapture some of his 2004 magic with Leo Mazzone. In ten mediocre, injury-plagued seasons, Wright has earned over $23 million.
A big name can earn a player a nice payday. But a big game can earn a team a playoff spot. You can have the names, I'll take the games.