Change-UpMarch 07, 2007
More Name than Game
By Patrick Sullivan

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.


Hank Blalock is still living off of the home run he hit off Eric Gagne in the 2003 All Star Game.
I think he is also the beneficiary of the "Look," which was described in "Moneyball" in reference to Billy Beane, during his playing days.

Too bad Gary Matthews, Jr. never had a name or he'd be on this list, too. I'm taking the unders on his release by the Angels as two years.

Sully, a "solid defensive catcher" is an understatement for Pudge. Throwing out over 1/2 of prospective basestealers each of the last two seasons, and still moving well at age 35, he is simply the greatest defensive catcher ever and still exceptionally valuable in this aspect. This more than outweighed his failure to take a walk.

He has now caught 1934 games in his career. That is a lot. Whether he will be able to perform at the same level defensively over the next couple of years is a legitimate question.

I don't know if the heat wears Blalock down in the summer but his first half stats have consistently been vastly superior to his second half numbers:

           First Half       |       Second Half
      AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS    AVG   OBP   SLG   OPS
2003 .323  .375  .524  .899   .272  .319  .520  .839 
2004 .303  .369  .572  .941   .240  .338  .406  .744 
2005 .285  .346  .479  .825   .236  .283  .375  .658 
2006 .287  .352  .443  .795   .237  .289  .346  .635

Blalock has been a huge beneficiary of playing home games in a hitter friendly ballpark. His road stats are well-below average. I can't even imagine what his second half rate stats on the road look like.

I like the theme of this article a lot, but I have to question a number of the selections when compared to what you said you were looking for. While guys like Garciaparra *sigh* and Izturis make perfect sense, some of them don't seem to:

Rodriguez- Considering how difficult it is to find a decent hitting catcher who can also defend, I don't see why he's here. True, his production and what people expect from his bat is overrated, but you said this wasn't an "most overrated" list. Unlike, say, Garciaparra at first base (where any solid prospect could be plugged in a potentially give you good numbers), catch is much more difficult to fill in. Take a look at some of the retreads who have starting jobs at the position this year, and I'd say I'll take Pudge over that any day.

Giles- While he has been in decline, the question still remains whether the decline is due to constant injuries or falling skill; the Padres thought it was worth another few seasons to get the answer. Given his age, his position, his fielding skill, and his stats even just 2 years ago, why not?

Blalock- He could become the captain of this team, but I think you jumped the gun on him. Another still young player who has experienced injuries recently, there's nothing to indicate that Blalock can't bounce back to what people thought he would be. Of course, in two or three years, Blalock could still be stuck in the same me back then.

Gonzalez- Don't mistake one person's questionable decision for the public's general opinion. I think everyone sees Gonzalez for what he is: on his last legs, declining skill in all facets, a good former star who can still do something. Just about everyone agrees that it made no sense for the Dodgers to sign him...doesn't mean Gonzalez is set for permament employment. It wasn't long ago that he was still very productive, and given health he could still put up a better OBP than most the right situation, he's worth a shot, and it's not his fault that he landed in the wrong one.

Sheffield- I just don't get this one. He's always hurt, and yet still hits, his physical skills are still there and there...what's to question. True, the wheels could fall off completely, but last year was an injury wash, and he's produced otherwise (why did you say two full seasons removed?). The Tigers are in a situation where he fits and they can pay some to win now...looks sensible to me, whether it works out or not, sometimes you have to take a risk.

I think this theme is much better for players who produced early in their careers and then hung around for far too long. Giles and Blalock could absolutely be going down that road, but I think it's still too early for them. Meanwhile, Rodriguez, Gonzalez, and Sheffield are all what they are *channeling Coach Green*...veterans whose best days are likely behind them, but who can still contribute more this year than the average replacement player. If I have a hole at one of their positions, and I want to win now...why not take that chance?

Nomar, Blalock and Wright are the dregs of this bunch, and Sheffield might be right on their heels. Great article, Sully.

I totally disagree with Sheffield being on this list. If healthy, Sheff is going to hit... there's just no questioning that. Being the full-time D.H. should help stay healthy. The Tigers will be estatic if he puts together a season like 2005 (291/379/512) because he hit (364/449/722) with RISP. That's what he's there for. Plus, the injury he had last season was a total fluke.

I think Garrett Anderson would be a good choice as the left fielder. (And if anyone still thinks Darrin Erstad has value, he would certainly fit in on the list as well.)

At third, I would consider Melvin Mora.

Yanks fan here... Sheff's a bit of a stretch for this list, yeah. He produced as a Yank. Not as much as Vlad has in the same time (sigh), but he was good. He sucked in the playoffs for the Yanks, but that hardly distinguishes him from his teamates during the same time. He will hit in Detroit, though he moved from one tough stadium for RH power hitters to another. The question is whether he hits enough to be worth what they gave to get him. As of this writing, of course, Humberto Sanchez is shut down due to elbow soreness. Again. So maybe the Tiggers knew what they were doing.

Does Tony Woe-mack still have a job, btw? If so, he's GOTTA make this list. How about Christian Guzman?

I don't know about Izturis. Yes, he's mediocre enough, but is he guaranteed a starting job the rest of his career? After getting shown the door in LA to make room for a true talent in Furcal, I think we're seeing Izturis enter a journeyman phase in his career, where he will keep the dirt left of second base warm until an organization's prospect can vault out of AAA. (Not that the Cubs have anybody knocking on the door, but who knows what the Cubs are thinking at any given time?)

A better candidate might be David Eckstein, whose ordinary batting stats and barely-there fielding skills will be forever glossed over because of his little-engine-that-could mentality and shiny WSMVP trophy. As soon as his skills decline, he'll get the "veteran leadership" pass because he's just so darn cute, and I think that fits your criteria better than Izturis's streak of luck at playing on teams without other options.

There is something questionable about putting a guy who is still productive and in the middle of a multi-year contract on this list. Torri Hunter I understand since he is blocking a prospect who is likely better than him already. But, Pudge deserves better than to be lumped in with this group. He's still likely to be a 3-4 win player this year which leaves him fairly compensated. If he signs a several year $10+ million dollar contract this offseason, he'd definitely belong here next year, but when the catcher position is stocked with players like Brad Ausmus, Mike Lieberthal, and Jason Kendall, I find it hard to believe that Rodriguez, who's production is still quite good, is the guy who is living exclusively off his name.

Great idea for an article. But I agree that Sheffield and Rodriguez do not belong on this list. Before his injury, Sheff was a true offensive force, and as a DH he should be that again.
A 98 OPS+ from the catcher's spot is outstanding. The average line for ML catchers last year was .269/.329/.416. Pudge's numbers look a lot better in that light, and when you factor in his defense, he is still one of the best in the game. Jason Kendall, on the other hand, had an OPS of .709 in what was a "bounce-back" year for him. Pudge, though, still has "game."

Agree with many of the above comments re: Ivan Rodriguez. An OPS+ of 98 is above average for a catcher. What else do you want the guy to do?

Just to pile on, nothing Ivan Rodriguez has done in the past 14 years can be confused with "offensie woes." He had the 7th-most offensive Win Shares of any catcher in baseball last year.