On Underrated and Overrated Players

There’s been some recent discussion in comments on these pages, particularly those involving the Circle of Greats, about underrated and overrated players.  I don’t consider myself any more qualified to determine how individual players are “rated” than anyone else, but a few years ago on my personal blog, I tried to take an objective approach to this question.  I concluded that, from 2009 through early 2011, Michael Bourn was the game’s most underrated player and Carlos Lee was its most overrated.

This study comes with many caveats, and I’d rather send you to the original post than rehash them all here, but the basic premise is this: the average fan views a player’s value in terms of batting average, home runs, and RBI, the three stats most often available in newspapers and on TV.  The best all-encompassing value metric we have available is WAR (I’m using fangraphs’ version for this study), so a player who accumulates a lot of WAR without a high batting average and a lot of dingers and ribbies is likely to be underrated.

With 2013 in the books, it’s time to take a look at the same study for the last three years.  The chart below was assembled by pulling batting average, home run, RBI, and WAR totals for every player with at least 1,000 plate appearances between 2011 and 2013, then calculating the number of standard deviations each player is from the mean in each area.  FANdev is the total of the positive or negative STDEVs in batting average, HR, and RBI, while WARdev is three times the STDEV from the mean three-year fWAR total.  U(O) is the difference- a higher number representing a more “underrated” player- one whose WAR is better than his newspaper stats.

Player NameAvgHRRBIWARFANdevWARdevO(U)
Mike Trout.3146219621.13.044.4910.43
Ben Zobrist.2715223617.51.553.729.63
Jacoby Ellsbury.3034518416.31.653.478.75
Andrew McCutchen.3017526920.44.314.348.71
Shane Victorino.2754317714.1.3163.008.69
Dustin Pedroia.3004524017.42.483.708.63
Michael Bourn.2781715711.9-1.032.538.63
Carlos Gomez.2645114812.6-0.272.688.32
Brett Gardner.26815918.5-2.641.818.07
Denard Span.277101049.0-2.271.928.02
Eric Hosmer.277502172.11.380.45-0.04
Michael Young.299272191.71.310.36-0.22
Nelson Cruz.263802533.92.720.83-0.23
Billy Butler.298632845.63.931.19-0.35
Michael Morse.277621841.51.340.32-0.38
Mark Reynolds.221812220.20.540.04-0.42
Adam Dunn.19786224-1.3-0.18-0.28-0.66
Paul Konerko.283692342.82.730.60-0.95
Delmon Young.26641176-1.8-0.15-0.38-1.00
Raul Ibanez.24368211-0.80.68-0.17-1.20


So… that guy.  I don’t think anyone here underrates Trout, though MVP voters certainly have for the last two seasons.   It’s no surprise that Zobrist, a versatile defensive player with plate discipline and some speed, shows up near the top.  Speed seems to be the common attribute among the top ten, as it factors into baserunning, non-home-run extra base hits, and defense, but doesn’t show up in homers or RBI and has a very minor impact on batting average.

At the bottom of the list, we’ve got bat-first guys with little speed or defensive value.  It seems that the positional adjustment impacts O(U) more than walks, doubles/triples, avoiding double plays, or stealing bases.  This list may represent under- and overrated players to a certain type of fan with no appreciation for the defensive spectrum, but the initiated fan probably appreciates these guys at the top of the list, as does the average non-Ruben-Amaro GM.

Here’s another chart using fangraphs’ Offensive Runs Above Average, rather than WAR.  Rather than underrated players, these are underrated hitters.

*For full disclosure, I only multiplied the STDEV of Oruns by two, not for any scientific reason, but because multiplying by three gave me results heavily influenced by Oruns- basically, the best hitters at the game at the top and the worst at the bottom. Multiplying STDEV Oruns by one put all the emphasis on the newspaper stats, yielding a list of the game’s worst hitters at the top and the best at the bottom.  Had I done the same for the chart above, Brendan Ryan and Andres Torres would have jumped to the top, with Trout dropping to sixth.  Billy Butler and Paul Konerko would have been the most overrated, with Miguel Cabrera in the seventh spot.

Player NameAvgHRRBIOrunsFANdevORdevU(O)
Mike Trout.31462196131.
Nate McLouth.24623727.5-3.51-0.292.93
Andres Torres.232975-13.1-4.63-0.862.91
Eric Young.2616570.2-3.89-0.492.91
Sean Rodriguez.2241991-11.4-4.24-0.812.63
Cameron Maybin.24918905.5-3.29-0.342.61
Brett Gardner.268159117-2.64-0.032.59
Desmond Jennings.2513712632.1-1.780.392.56
Shin-Soo Choo.2784515767.30.181.362.53
Joey Votto.31467232129.73.863.072.82
A.J. Pierzynski.27952195-91.17-0.74-2.66
Billy Butler.2986328439.73.930.60-2.74
Nelson Cruz.2638025317.12.72-0.02-2.77
Jay Bruce.2579630540.94.060.63-2.80
Paul Konerko.2836923415.62.73-0.07-2.87
Mark Trumbo.25195282263.380.22-2.94
Adrian Beltre.3129829977.96.261.65-2.97
Adrian Gonzalez.3116732556.35.321.05-3.22
J.J. Hardy.25677224-141.82-0.88-3.56
Alfonso Soriano.2549229713.33.63-0.13-3.89


Just about every way I tweaked the calculation, the same name came up at the top.  Trout’s combination of plate discipline and baserunning makes him so valuable that even with solid newspaper stats- almost 2 deviations above average in batting, 3/4 of a deviation about average in home runs (despite 13 fewer PA than the average player in the sample), and a few more RBI than average- makes him difficult to “rate” as highly as he deserves without advanced metrics.

The rest of the “underrated” list is populated with leadoff men who don’t get a lot of RBI opportunities and good base runners, since fangraphs recently added baserunning runs to the offensive runs figure on their dashboard.  It’s nice to see Joey Votto crack the top ten, not with speed, but with patience, as his .438 OBP since ’11 leads both leagues, far outpacing his .314 batting average.  Of course, this doesn’t settle the argument about the value of Votto’s walks when a hit would drive in a run, since WAR is context-neutral.

At the bottom, we’ve got middle-of-the-order sluggers who don’t walk much and don’t steal many bases.  And J.J. Hardy.

I won’t conclude by claiming that Mike Trout is the most underrated player in baseball.  Rather, I’ll ask readers how you might use empirical data to measure something as esoteric as “ratedness”.  WAR vs. salary or jersey sales?  Some combination of stats that aren’t used in a typical fantasy league?  Maybe something similar to the study above, but with tweaks to the calculations?

46 thoughts on “On Underrated and Overrated Players

  1. 1
    Dr. Doom says:

    Alright, Bryan. I accept your challenge.

    To mimic fantasy baseball, I took five categories: HR, R, RBI, SB, and H (I took H instead of BA, because I wanted them all to be cumulative). Then I set up a fake fantasy scoring system: 1 pt per hit, 2 pts per RBI or R, 5 pts per HR or SB. This way, everything is (sort of) scaled to H, such that 200 H=100 RBI=100 R=40 HR=40 SB, and a 200 H, 100 RBI, 100 R, 40 HR, 40 SB season is worth 1000 points (that’s a pretty awesome season, I think). Then, for one season, I would divide the number by 2500 – because 1000/2500=.400, which is a batting average representatively awesome enough that it goes with the stats I posted earlier.

    Then, I took WAR/25 (in other words, the above season would be seen as equal to a 10 WAR season). You can quibble with my number sense or not, but the goal was to come up with a system, right?

    Anyway, for a running three year total, I still just added everything together and divided, but by 7500 and 75, respectively, so the results were scaled to one another. Then I just subtracted the second column from the first (I tried dividing; that didn’t work very well because of negative numbers). I used all players with 1000 PAs in the last 3 years. This made for 226 hitters Fangraphs gave me in the Custom Report I generated for this project.

    The Most Overrated Players:
    Adam Dunn
    Mark Reynolds
    Eric Hosmer
    Raul Ibanez
    Alex Rios
    Michael Young
    Nelson Cruz
    Ichiro Suzuki
    Delmon Young
    Rajai Davis

    The Most Underrated Players
    Buster Posey
    Mike Trout
    Yadier Molina
    Joey Votto
    Carlos Ruiz
    AJ Ellis
    Joe Mauer
    Evan Longoria
    Matt Carpenter
    Ben Zobrist

    Now, if you ask me, that list looks pretty darn close to right, as far as who sabermetrically-minded folk see as the superstars of baseball, as opposed to what fantasy-focused folk see. This worked pretty well. I’m gonna try something with pitchers, and see what I can do. Be right back…

    • 13
      MikeD says:

      I actually think Ichiro is underrated for his career, or at the very least his value is not properly understood. An easy HOFer. (Note, I’m talking about his career, not the last few seasons.)

      • 15
        Dr. Doom says:

        I wouldn’t necessarily disagree with you on that; I don’t know that “underrated” is the right word, but “unique” and “difficult to understand” ARE definitely appropriate. He’s a little like the Nolan Ryan of hitters: a REALLY different skill set with some extreme strengths (batting average, speed, arm strength) and some huge weaknesses (hitting for power, taking a walk). Also, since Cooperstown is the “Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum” and not the “Major League Baseball Hall of Fame,” I don’t understand any logical reason that Ichiro could be excluded from the Hall.

        That being said, Bryan asked for 2011-13. In that time, Ichiro is an out-making machine who still never walks, still doesn’t hit for power, and no longer hits for average. Add in lost speed and diminished arm strength, but a still-recognizable name who boasted a pretty memorable late-season burst for the Pinstripes, and you have the recipe for overratedness, at least at this juncture.

        • 29
          MikeD says:

          Dr. Doom, thanks for the clarification. I didn’t quite realize when I first posted it was for 2011-2013. Ichiro has not been a good ballplayer these last few years, although his defense and base running are still plus, but the hitting is just so poor that he should no longer be starting.

    • 33

      I’ll but it, Dr. Doom. Your underrated list includes a lot of guys who can take a walk and a lot of catchers, who are probably underrated by WAR due to reduced playing time.

  2. 2
    Artie Z. says:

    I might have started that discussion in the other thread, and while I don’t have anything substantive to contribute about methodology right now it’s difficult for me to get behind the idea of Trout being underrated.

    1. While he does not have any MVP wins, he’s finished 2nd twice. He didn’t lose to George Bell or Andre Dawson – he lost to a guy who led the league in HR/RBI/AVG/SLG/OPS/TB one year, and AVG/OBP/SLG/OPS/OPS+ the next – while playing third base. Now, he may not have played 3B well, but it allowed Fielder and Martinez into the lineup without having to put … I don’t know, Ramon Santiago? in it.

    2. His baseball cards are pretty much the most valuable cards in any set he is in, excluding (1) rookie cards of some other young players like Harper and Machado and (2) things like Sandy Koufax autographs. Even with down arrows in the recent Beckett this is still true, and even though the number of his certified autographs has increased, the lowest one I see having sold on eBay is for around $60 (you can get a Frank Robinson for $10-$15, and I’ve bought Musial autos for around $35-$40 – not all of them sell that cheaply, but not all Trout autos sell for $60). In insert sets his prices are typically a level below Ripken (who is pretty much always the most expensive player) and running even with Nolan Ryan (who is usually at the second tier of most expensive players).

    • 4
      Dr. Doom says:

      True, it may seem hard to believe that Trout is undervalued. But I submit a few thoughts of my own.

      1. Baseball cards are collected by people who are, in general, pretty huge baseball fans. The fact that people who value cards value Trout is no shock. My Dad follows baseball in the NL pretty closely, but I’m betting he has no idea that Mike Trout was the AL MVP runner-up the last two years. If you told him Mike Trout was better than Miguel Cabrera, he’d say, “Mike who?” I think using card collectors, HHS commenters, or Fangraphs readers as your comparison group will lead to pretty misleading results.

      2. Just because he’s rated highly doesn’t mean he’s not underrated. There are degrees of underrating. If Mike Trout is a 95 on a scale of 1-100 as a baseball player, and people think he’s an 80, they think he’s great; but they’re still underrating him. And it’s possible that they’d rate other players more closely to their actual skill level.

      3. If you look at the chart that I made, it ranks Trout as the #21 player over the last three years by traditional stats (and considering that that’s really only 2.25 seasons, that’s pretty remarkable). But it’s STILL not high enough. He should be #1 (well, tied with Miguel Cabrera over the last three years). So do people rate him highly? Yes. But if they rate him below Edwin Encarnacion and Jay Bruce and Ian Kinsler and Justin Upton and Adam Jones and Prince Fielder and Dustin Pedroia and Adrian Beltre… well, they’re wrong.

    • 8
      bstar says:

      I’ll disagree about Trout, Artie.

      If you’d have told me two years ago a young player was going to put up 20 WAR in his first two full seasons in the bigs, I’d have assumed he would be universally heralded as the best player in baseball and the game’s biggest star. I would have assumed there would have been tons of ink spilled about this guy, and how much he was going to achieve in his career.

      I don’t really think that’s happened. Considering Trout’s accomplishments the last two years, I’d say the amount of ink spilled about this guy has been minimal (we’re counting internet drivel such as this comment “spilled ink”).

      It seems to me the only time Mike Trout is truly in the spotlight is when he’s being directly compared to Miguel Cabrera. And, yeah, I’m gonna go there:

      Mike Trout, 2012-13: 20.1 rWAR
      Miguel Cabrera, 2012-13: 14.5 rWAR

      Is that close enough to be argued? Not to me. Mike Trout is the best player in baseball. But Miguel Cabrera is the best hitter, right?

      Mike Trout, 2012-13: 122 Rbat in 1355 PA
      Miguel Cabrera, 2012-13: 118 Rbat in 1349 PA

      Couldn’t be much closer to equal. And yet the perception is that Cabrera is the more skilled hitter but Trout makes up for that with baserunning and defense. But looking at their batting runs the last two years, I don’t see even a sliver of an edge for Miggy with the bat.

      I think even the sabremetric community is slightly underrating Trout. Why? Because I don’t think the brilliant minds who invented WAR and such, in general, have a great appreciation for the history of the game.

      And when you compare Mike Trout to every other 22-year-old in the history of baseball, well, that’s when he really shines.

      • 9
        Dr. Doom says:

        Great points, bstar!

        Also, I would like to take this opportunity to point out that both Trout and Cabrera may be underappreciated (I’m staying away from the “underrated” word used in the article above for now) because neither of them is viewed as a baseball player. Do you know how much fun we should be (and in our best moments, are) having watching these two incredible talents? Unfortunately, for two years, they’ve each become shorthand for a way of thinking, rather than just being viewed as awesome baseball players. You practically can’t mention one without the other, and if you say that one is great, you get harangued by others for having the “wrong” point of view on the issue. It’s just dumb. So I think you can add “people think of ‘Mike Trout’ as synonymous with ‘WAR,’ rather than a great baseball player” as a reason that he’s underrated.

      • 10
        Doug says:

        To your point, bstar.

        – Mike Trout, 4.31 million hits
        – Miguel Cabrera, 7.85 million hits

        Of course, Cabrera’s been around 5 times as long.

        • 40
          oneblankspace says:

          About 450,000 (about 10 1/2%) of those google hits are for trout fishing with Mike, but the point is still valid.

      • 27
        Jeff says:

        I can’t help but think that the reason Trout might be undervalued is the Joe Charboneau effect.

        “Yeah sure, he’s been great, but wait until he flames out”

        Mike Trout has been the best player in the American League for his first two years, but because he doesn’t have the previous seasons as groundwork, there’s a feeling that it won’t last. These have been Cabrera’s 10th and 11th seasons so there’s more of a perception/trust factor that this is who the player truly is.

        (Angel fan here if that makes any difference)

        • 31
          brp says:

          Being in the Central time zone, I can tell you that it’s really hard to follow West Coast players. Even if I was lucky enough to have Trout on my fantasy team, for example, I’m in bed by the 5th inning. I rarely see the West Coast teams play at all, and don’t necessarily look back at the prior day’s stats.

          The news cycle, 24-hour though it may be, still does slant toward the East Coast and NY/Boston/Chi and even Det (Miggy) get more coverage than LAA. Also, the Dodgers and ManBearPuig-mania really dominated the LA news cycle. I think this all contributes.

          Trout is incredible and people my age (or really anyone under, what, 60?) need to appreciate that we get to see someone really close to Willie Mays.

  3. 3
    Dr. Doom says:

    I’m back!

    I did something similar for pitchers.

    The categories I used were IP, W, S, SO, ER, BB, and H. I shaped them into five “buckets,” and all had to be cumulative, just like the hitters. The five categories I used were IP, W+S/2, SO, IP-ER, and IP*2-(BB+H). They also had to be scaled to one another. So just as the hitters were scaled to H, I did the same, but to IP. The “ideal” season (and worth 1000 points, just like the hitters) is this: 200 IP, 20 W or 40 S, 200 SO, 50 ER (2.25 ERA), 200 BB+H (1.000 WHIP). That season would be worth 1000 “points,” just like with the hitters. I used 180 IP minimum, so that the report was roughly the same size as the hitters (I had 226 hitters, 239 pitchers).

    I’m not as confident in this method as I am with the hitters; especially using Fangraphs WAR, rather than some combination of B-R and Fangraphs, which would be my preference. Nonetheless, the list actually looks pretty good, I think. So here they are.

    The Most Overrated Pitchers
    Bronson Arroyo
    Ervin Santana
    Tim Lincecum
    RA Dickey
    Jeremy Hellickson
    Jason Vargas
    Jeremy Guthrie
    Edison Volquez
    Mike Leake
    Yovani Gallardo

    The Most Underrated Pitchers
    Greg Holland
    Craig Kimbrel
    David Robertson
    Matt Harvey
    Jonathan Papelbon
    Roy Oswalt
    Matt Belisle
    Phil Coke
    Jorge de la Rosa
    Aaron Cook

    There are a lot of relief pitchers on that bottom list. Before you go about saying I’ve overvalued saves, only three of those guys (Holland with 67, Papelbon with 98 and Kimbrel with 138) have more than 4 saves in the last three years. And when I changed the formula to be SV/3 instead of SV/2, it was still the same 10 names – the order only changed slightly.

    Again, I’m not as confident about this as the position player list. I don’t know that it’s accurate, but it’s certainly one way of looking at it.

    • 7
      Dr. Doom says:

      Whoa. I made a HUGE mistake in this. It’s not W and SV/2. It should be W*10 and SV*5. Yikes. New lists here:

      The Most Overrated Pitchers
      Bronson Arroyo
      Ervin Santana
      RA Dickey
      Tim Lincecum
      Yovani Gallardo
      Jeremy Hellickson
      James Shields
      Ian Kennedy
      Jason Vargas
      Kyle Lohse

      The Most Underrated Pitchers
      Matt Harvey
      David Robertson
      Phil Coke
      Roy Oswalt
      Aaron Cook
      Kevin Millwood
      Javier Vazquez
      Chris Carpenter
      Matt Belisle
      Hyun-Jin Ryu

      That’s better. A lot less closer-heavy. Sorry for the boo-boo. Actually, I’m surprised that the lists are that similar, to be honest.

      • 21
        Darien says:

        I was just going to ask who exactly these people are who are rating Jeremy Guthrie and Edinson Volquez very highly. 😉

      • 35

        I’m glad you tackled pitchers and I didn’t. With the two keepers of WAR taking entirely different approaches, I have no idea whether the underrated guys are the run-preventers with less-than-stellar FIPs or the true outcome heroes with high BABiPs. I like seeing Matt Harvey at the top of this list, despite the midsummer hype, but Aaron Cook seems to occupy the opposite end of the spectrum (no Ks, but he gets outs).

        The most overrated pitchers probably come from two camps: those who take advantage of pitchers’ parks and those who have had a strong postseason or two, but aren’t as good away from the spotlight. David Price and Josh Beckett come to mind.

  4. 5
    Lawrence Azrin says:


    While I appreciate very much your effort here, I don’t think the ‘underrated’/’overrated’ discussion can be done entirely on statistics.

    I think that it’s more a matter of perception vs. reality; how players are popularly ranked at their position, versus serious analysis of that. For instance, 3-6 years Ryan Howard was considered perhaps the best first baseman in MLB, when he probably wasn’t in the Top-5. As you say, that’s what homers and ribbies will do for your popular reputation.

    As for historically – a week or two ago, I posted a lenghty analysis of “overrated”, listing three different types of it. I neglected to list whom I thought was the most overrated player ever. I think that the answer is obvious: Harold ‘Pie’ Traynor. This was a guy was a guy was considered the best third baseman EVER, from the mid-50s well into the 80s.

    Think about it – Eddie Mathews emerges as the best power-hitting 3Bman ever in the mid-late 50s, Brooks is considered the best-fielding 3Bman by the start of the 70s, yet it wasn’t entil Brett and Schmidt were well into their careers that Traynor wasn’t constantly mentioned as the best 3Bman.

    Jay Jaffe’s JAWS rates him 58th amongst 3Bman – that’s one heck of a disconnect from being cobnsidered #1. There are 11 3Bman who retired before Traynor, who are rated ahead of him by JAWS. Of course, we know why – a 320 career BA, lots of 100+ RBI seasons, a reputation as a great fielder.

    • 6
      Lawrence Azrin says:

      Sorry, last sentence of paragraph three should be:

      “This was a guy who was considered…”.

    • 18
      no statistician but says:

      Re: Pie Traynor

      What’s happened, paradoxically, is that now Traynor is seriously in danger of becoming under-appreciated.

      I’ve just taken a look at third basemen in both leagues from the early 1920s to the mid 1930s. There’s little wonder that Traynor impressed: year after year of the steady high batting average; yes, the utterly unimportant RBIs, the high ranking in hits and triples time after time, tops or close to it in assists, put-outs, double plays, range factor, fielding percentage—again and again. His OPS+ readings of around 110 don’t seem like much, not until you compare them to what the other third basemen of his time were putting up. Only Willie Kamm among them has respectable totals, and he was in the AL. There’s something to be said for being the best all-around big-leaguer at a position for a stretch of ten or twelve years.

      • 44
        Doug says:

        There’s something to be said for being the best all-around big-leaguer at a position for a stretch of ten or twelve years.

        I recall Bill James in his Abstract saying that this was (or should be) the hallmark of a HOFer. Except it wasn’t for 10 or 12 years – if I recall correctly, James just said that “at some point in his career”, a player should be generally regarded as the best at his position.

    • 43
      Lawrence Azrin says:

      @18/n s b,

      Bill James, in his historical abstract, pointed out that until 1930 or so third base was considered a defense-first position, so (as you say), many people were impressed with a third baseman who could really hit, at least by the standards of the time.

      Still, there were third basemen before Traynor, such as John McGraw, Frank Baker, Larry Gardner and Bill Bradley, who were better or just as good offensive players. What’s really odd is how this perception of Traynor as the #1 third baseman-ever persisted 20/30/40/50 years after he retired in 1937.

  5. 11
    Doug says:

    Not nearly so scientific, but 300 HR hitters with the lowest ratio of WAR per HR yields a pretty good list of overrated sluggers.

    Rk Player WAR/pos HR
    1 Andres Galarraga 31.6 399
    2 Alfonso Soriano 28.6 406
    3 Paul Konerko 28.6 434
    4 Carlos Lee 28.4 358
    5 Lee May 27.0 354
    6 Jay Buhner 22.8 310
    7 Raul Ibanez 21.2 300
    8 Jermaine Dye 20.3 325
    9 Jeromy Burnitz 19.7 315
    10 Vinny Castilla 19.4 320
    11 Joe Carter 19.3 396
    12 Ryan Howard 18.9 311
    13 Richie Sexson 17.9 306
    14 Cecil Fielder 17.3 319
    15 Dave Kingman 17.2 442
    16 Ruben Sierra 17.0 306
    17 Adam Dunn 16.6 440
    Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Play Index Tool Used
    Generated 12/6/2013.
    • 32
      brp says:

      Joe Carter reference – DRINK!

    • 41
      Lawrence Azrin says:


      So does this mean that all but one overrated slugger (Lee May)in MLB history played after 1982? (Sarcasm turned up full)

      • 42
        Doug says:

        In a way, yes Lawrence.

        I did a post on the cheapening of the 300 HR milestone a while back. It used to be a very significant accomplishment, one only better hitters could achieve. So, not overly surprising that all of the earlier 300 HR hitters compiled an appreciable WAR total.

      • 45
        Lawrence Azrin says:


        I’ll concede that 300+ career HR isn’t what it used to be 40/50/60 years ago, but I still find it hard to believe that _every single_ 300+ career HR guy before 1980 was more valuable than the 17 that you listed above in #11.

        Looking at the 300+ career HR list, I see some pre-1980 all-bat/not-much-else guys, like Greg Luzinski, Roy Sievers, Willie Horton, Frank Howard,and Joe Adcock. Granted, not as many as on your list above.

  6. 12
    Doug says:

    Speaking of under-rated … Craig Gentry (just traded to Oakland from Texas) and Babe Ruth are the only players who, in their first 5 seasons:
    – had 200 to 1200 PAs; and
    – had a WAR total of more than 1% of PAs

    Gentry has 7.7 WAR in 763 PA, only a tiny bit more than a full season, but has failed to start even 70 games in either of the past two seasons.

    • 26
      Joe says:

      He may have only a tiny bit more than a full season’s worth of PA, but he has around 1800 innings in the field, close to 200 games worth. His 37 Rfield is still impressive, but this explains a little bit why he alone finds himself in the Babe’s company.

  7. 14
    MikeD says:

    The term overrated is extremely overrated.

    It doesn’t mean anything. It’s subjective. It’s the quicksand of arguments because there is no response to the claim that really has any meaning. Overrated adds nothing to the conversation about the value of the player, which is all that matters.

    • 16
      Dr. Doom says:

      … except that it’s fun to talk about (at least for some of us). It’s especially fun to attempt to quantify something that people SAY, and that SEEMS to exist. This is a job of sabermetrics – asking questions and trying to quantify things that people SAY without actually trying to PROVE. Plus, again – fun. And what’s the point of talking baseball unless it’s fun? It’s not my job. I talk baseball because it’s a good time.

      • 20
        Brendan Bingham says:

        Dr D: I agree totally. Adding to the fun of exploring the gap between perception and reality is the possibility that even a player’s manager can misjudge his value and, as a result, misuse his talents. This can be manifest as poor choices about when to put a player in the lineup, where to put him in the batting order, and where to play him in the field. And when a player’s talents are not used properly, that only further muddies our perception of his value. Fun fodder for discussion indeed.

        • 30
          MikeD says:

          Yet that is exactly where I have the problem. The perception is subjective, so where does the conversation even begin!

          For the most part, I find if I’m having a conversation about a player and the term “overrated” gets brought up, the debate will fall apart and will no longer be based on facts.

          Of course, as I say this, I regularly participate in these type of discussions, so I’m guilty on some level myself. : -)

          • 37

            “if I’m having a conversation about a player and the term “overrated” gets brought up, the debate will fall apart and will no longer be based on facts.”

            I agree- unless you steer the conversation toward establishing a mutual understanding of why that player is “rated” as he is. Then, as Doom says above, you’re talking sabermetrics. Just about every team in baseball is trying to exploit market inefficiencies to win more games without spending more money. Isn’t that basically identifying what makes players underrated and trying to acquire those players?

    • 19
      no statistician but says:

      Perhaps a truly meaningful discussion would be to address the issue of how WAR itself can, in certain applications, be used to under- or over-value a player’s season or career.

      What am I getting at, other than my usual skepticism about the infallible sanctity of stats? See my comments at #18 on Pie Traynor for a start, while I go put on my face mask and chest protector.

      • 36
        tag says:


        I’ve always liked WAR when it agrees with my perceptions and disparaged it when it doesn’t.

        From my Windy City perspective, two guys I’ve always thought were egregiously underrated were Santo, who’s at last starting to get some love, and Don Buford, the Ben Zobrist of his day.

        Santo was a little analogous to Trout, I’d say. He started putting up MVP-caliber numbers at a very young age (though not quite so young as Trout) and continued to do so for a good five, six years. He suffered, at least in Cub fans’ minds, from the sense that he wasn’t “clutch.” I always thought of him as just having a very good eye, but I think lots of Cub fans wanted him to swing away rather than walk and bring up an aging and fading Banks.

        Buford was simply ahead of his time over there on the South Side, able to play both the IF and OF well. When he moved to Baltimore later, I don’t think even Earl knew what he had on his hands. Buford’s primary failing was that he was not quite as fast as he thought he was. Earl did him one favor by stopping him from getting caught stealing so much.

      • 38

        Great point, nsb. I still think the average fan trusts batting average and RBI to tell him what players are great, but as WAR penetrates the mainstream, it will likely become a vehicle by which we overrate and underrate players, rather than the “truth” we use to determine how we should rate them. That Yadier Molina shows up on Doom’s list above, but not on mine, speaks to one imperfection of WAR.

  8. 17
    DaveR says:

    Here’s something off-subject that someone may want to explore:
    As I was checking out the stats of pitcher Greg Booker, I noticed he pitched in a lot of losing games. MANY losing games. In fact, in his 161 appearances, he only was involved in eighteen games that his team was the victor.
    I know this isn’t a record, but he is the definition of a quintessential mop-up man. A guy that’s on a roster only to pitch in games that innings are needed and the team doesn’t want to waste another pitcher with more talent. I found his career remarkable in that way.

    • 24
      Richard Chester says:

      From 1916 to date, in a pitcher’s first 161 game appearances, Booker’s 143 appearances in losses is a record.

      • 28
        DaveR says:

        That is truly an impressive achievement! I wonder how he viewed his career. Thanks, Richard!

        • 39
          Voomo Zanzibar says:

          From Booker’s b/r bullpen:

          Booker is the son-in-law of Jack McKeon…
          His major league career is unexplainable without the family relationship:
          Booker had terrible statistics in the minor leagues, which would have gotten any other pitcher his unconditional release, and he never did anything in the major leagues to justify his presence in The Show.

          His former teammate Steve Fireovid says in his book The 26th Man: “[His career] has to be the most blatant display of nepotism I’ve ever seen first hand”. But he adds: “Nobody held this against Greg. He was one of the more popular players on the team.”

          Indeed, he had a 1.961 WHIP in A-ball (with 8.7 BB/9).
          This got him a promotion to AAA.

          A year later his was displaying his ability to walk batters in the World Series.

    • 25
      Doug says:

      Boom-Boom Beck has the longest streak of appearances in team losses, with 46 over a span of more than 3 years (1941-44). The second-longest streak is 43 games by Thornton Kipper (1953-55). For his career, he appeared in losses in 51 of 55 games (93%).

      Walker Cress has the longest streak to start a career, at 32 games. His lone win came in game #33, his last. Scott Ruffcorn and Charlie Bicknell are tied at 30 games for the longest career with ALL appearances coming in team losses.

  9. 22
    Albanate says:

    Someone on this site (I think) did an interesting study comparing bbref’s elo ratings to the player’s WAR…seems like an interesting way to compare actual value to perceived value.

  10. 23

    […] On Underrated and Overrated Players […]

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