The MLB season is the longest of the major American sports, spanning from April through late October. With 30 teams each playing 162 games, it’s nearly impossible to follow what every player on every team does over the course of the season. This leads to many players being perennially underrated and, in some cases, overrated.
Deciphering who is underrated is generally a matter of personal belief based on how much attention you believe that player gets. Market sizes and differing skill sets are usually the two leading factors to a player either being overrated or underrated. The goal here is to decipher who is underrated based on how we perceive these players.
Below will be a full 25-man roster, with the optimal lineup and pitching staff. This is purely subjective based on how these players appear to the general public, but there will be some criteria for the list to make it consistent and easy to follow. You’ll see that many players on this list are young, play in smaller markets, or have diverse skill sets but no standout tools.
The criteria are pretty simple: 1) Every player listed has to have played a minimum of three seasons in the majors. 2) All listed players have never made an All-Star team nor have they finished top 10 in MVP or Cy Young Voting.
1. Cesar Hernandez, 2B (Philadelphia Phillies)
Hernandez has racked up 7.6 fWAR the last two seasons and he has done it without posting gaudy counting stats. He has hit .294/.372/.406 over that time frame and has topped out at nine home runs, doing so last year. Hernandez is an above average hitter, defender, and runner (15+ stolen bases each of the last three years) but doesn’t have one standout tool. At 27 years old, Hernandez should be a stable, everyday option for the foreseeable future.
2. Carlos Santana, 1B (Philadelphia Phillies)
Believe it or not, Santana has never made an All-Star team and has only appeared on MVP ballots once, finishing 15th in 2013. Santana’s value comes from a skill that is generally under-appreciated: taking walks. Since he debuted in 2010, he has drawn the third-most walks with 726. Santana has a career .249/.365/.445 line, has turned himself into a quality defender, and is insanely durable. He’ll take his talents to Philadelphia after he signed a three-year deal worth $60 million this offseason.
3. Domingo Santana, DH (Milwaukee Brewers)
Santana plays for a small market team and has just tapped into his potential, so you’re forgiven if you’re unfamiliar with him. Once a tantalizing Houston Astros prospect, Santana exploded in 2017, slugging 30 home runs and posting a .371 OBP, albeit striking out 29.3 percent of the time in the process. He’s technically an outfielder but he has been a very poor defender, which is fair given his 6-foot-5 frame, so sliding him at DH seems fair. At 25 years old, this is just the start of what could be a very productive offensive player.
4. Tommy Pham, LF (St. Louis Cardinals)
It’s fair for Pham to not be a household name given 2017 was his first great year, but he absolutely crushed it this past season. Pham hit .306/.411/.520, slugged 23 home runs, stole 25 bases, and was one of eight 20/20 players from 2017. Pham will turn 30 shortly before the season so he isn’t exactly young, but he does plenty of things well and may be the new Cardinals gem that they dug up from obscurity.
5. J.T. Realmuto, C (Miami Marlins)
Realmuto has been one of baseball’s premier catchers the past two seasons and may be the next big Marlins player who is moved. The 26-year-old has hit .290/.337/.440 the last two seasons and ranks third in fWAR (7.2) among catchers in that time. Realmuto is an above average hitter who threw out runners and framed pitches at an above average rate in 2017. This is a legitimate big league catcher who is a borderline star based on how weak the catching position is right now.
6. Kole Calhoun, RF (Los Angeles Angels)
Calhoun had a down 2017 season (98 wRC+, 2.2 fWAR) but he has racked up 13.5 fWAR the last four seasons thanks to his well-balanced game. He’s a career .261/.330/.426 hitter and plays gold glove defense in right field. At 30 years old, Calhoun was a bit of a late bloomer but he should have quite a few more productive seasons left in him.
7. Eugenio Suarez, 3B (Cincinnati Reds)
Suarez came up in the Tigers system as a glove-first utility player and has transformed himself into a legitimate everyday player in Cincinnati. The 26-year-old cranked up his walk rate and hit a career high 26 home runs in 2017 while posting above average defensive numbers, leading to a 4.1 fWAR season. He’s in his prime and has a diverse skill set that should lead to plenty of productivity in the future.
8. Kevin Kiermaier, CF (Tampa Bay Rays)
It’s hard to stand out as a defender in center field these days with names such as Byron Buxton, Kevin Pillar, and Billy Hamilton roaming around, but Kiermaier is a certifiable beast of a defender. Kiermaier uses quick-twitch instincts and strong athleticism to get to baseballs few can get to. With a league average bat(106 wRC+), Kiermaier has quietly been a star-level performer but injuries have shortened his last two seasons. He has been worth 3+ fWAR each of the last four seasons.
9. Didi Gregorius, SS (New York Yankees)
Gregorius’s 2017 season was overshadowed by Aaron Judge‘s monstrous rookie campaign, but the Netherlands native really grew into himself. Gregorius is a capable defender at shortstop and started tapping into some power last year, blasting 25 home runs and slugging .478. The league is littered with young, talented shortstops and Gregorius isn’t in the same tier as Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, or Corey Seager, but he’s a very solid everyday shortstop.
Tyler Flowers, C (Atlanta Braves)
One of the game’s premier pitch framers, Flowers gains a lot of value from his smooth glove that turns balls into strikes. At the plate, Flowers will swing and miss a lot (30.5 K%) but has moderate power and plate discipline, which has led to a career 94 wRC+. He has quietly been a productive everyday catcher for some bad teams with the White Sox and Braves.
Billy Hamilton, CF (Cincinnati Reds)
Hamilton is a dreadful hitter, owner of a career .248/.298/.334 line, but he’s the game’s fastest runner, impacting the game in the field and on the bases. Hamilton’s 230 stolen bases over the last four years leads all players, and he alters the game defensively by catching anything within range of him. Hamilton represents insurance on this roster for Kiermaier and Pham, who have both had injury issues in their careers, and he’ll be valuable pinch runner/defensive replacement.
Tim Beckham, INF (Baltimore Orioles)
The 2008 first overall pick endured a long journey to the majors, but he has established himself as a real MLB option. Last year was a breakout season in which Beckham blasted 22 home runs and racked up 3.5 fWAR. He’s a capable defender at shortstop but also plays third base, second base, and first base, which makes him a utility player with some offensive thump on this team.
Justin Bour, 1B (Miami Marlins)
To round out the bench, Bour’s addition gives the club a big left-handed hitting power threat who can handle some first base and DH duties. Bour is a career .273/.346/.489 hitter and has blasted 63 home runs the past three seasons. He won’t provide any defensive or base running value, but his career 122 wRC+ off the bench is pretty enticing.
1. James Paxton, LHP (Seattle Mariners)
Injuries have plagued Paxton for a majority of his career, but the results the past two seasons have been staggering. The southpaw has only tossed 257 innings the last two years yet ranks eighth in fWAR during that time, thanks to legitimately elite stuff. His fastball sits comfortably in the 96-100 mph range, and he pairs that with a swing-and-miss curveball while mixing in an above-average cutter. If he can manage to stay healthy for more than 150 innings, Paxton has the potential to be one of the game’s best pitchers.
2. Aaron Nola, RHP (Philadelphia Phillies)
The 2014 seventh overall pick absolutely tore it up in 2017, tossing 168 innings with a 3.54 ERA and 4.3 fWAR. Nola features downright stupid movement on his pitches, flashing a running 92-96 mph fastball and one of the best curveballs in all of baseball. At just 24 years of age, the future is insanely bright for Nola and he could very well compete for Cy Young awards here soon.
3. Jon Gray, RHP (Colorado Rockies)
Were he pitching anywhere else, Gray would probably be a bigger household name in baseball. He’s the owner of a career 4.40 ERA, but when you adjust for context and take a look at his underlying stats, he’s a legitimate frontline starter. He has accumulated 6.8 fWAR the past two years and will be just 26 next season. Gray throws absolute gas and features an array of hard breaking balls, while throwing all of them for strikes.
4. Danny Duffy, LHP (Kansas City Royals)
Duffy is a World Series champion and signed a five-year, $65 million deal last year yet he hasn’t gained a ton of attention. He has been worth 6.1 fWAR the past two seasons thanks to an ability to miss bats and command the strike zone. Duffy sits in the 92-95 mph range on his fastball and complements that with an above-average slider and changeup.
5. Trevor Bauer, RHP (Cleveland Indians)
Bauer was a heralded prospect who hasn’t quite met the lofty expectations placed on him, yet he has been a very productive MLB pitcher. Rather than being a dynamic frontline arm, Bauer has been an innings eater, ranking 24th in innings pitched the last four years while posting a league average 101 ERA-. It’s not sexy, but plenty of teams would take a durable number-four starter who still flashes potential at times.
Ken Giles, RHP (Houston Astros)
The 27-year-old is coming off an abysmal playoff performance where he allowed 10 runs in 7 2/3 innings pitched. However, Giles has been one of baseball’s best relievers since he debuted in 2014. Since that time, he has posted a 2.43 ERA and struck out 33.7 percent of the batters he has faced in 244 innings. Giles is absolutely menacing on the mound, thanks to a ferocious attitude, 96-100 mph fastball, and bat-missing slider.
Cody Allen, RHP (Cleveland Indians)
Allen has been overshadowed by Andrew Miller‘s dominance, but he has been an elite performer for a very good Indians team. Allen has tossed plenty of innings, while posting well above-average strikeout and walk rates along with a shiny 2.81 ERA over the past three seasons. Allen’s mid-90’s fastball and sharp breaking ball are legitimate weapons and ones that he can throw for strikes.
Felipe Rivero, LHP (Pittsburgh Pirates)
The Pirates did well to obtain Rivero in the Mark Melancon trade in 2016. Rivero was certifiably dominant in 2017, posting a 1.67 ERA in 75.1 innings while posting a 22.7 K-BB%. Rivero is one of the hardest throwers in baseball, sitting 98-101 mph consistently, but he also has a pair of plus secondary pitches in his nasty changeup and sharp slider. He has been absolute death on left-handed hitters but also succeeds versus righties, making him a strong option for any bullpen.
Raisel Iglesias, RHP (Cincinnati Reds)
Iglesias’s name has been floated around in trade rumors and it’s for good reason. Iglesias has a lethal fastball/slider combo that has crushed MLB hitters since he made his transition to the bullpen in the middle of 2016. In 2017, Iglesias posted a fantastic 21.3 K-BB% and he should continue this success as he enters his age 28 season next year.
Addison Reed, RHP (Free Agent)
Reed is incredibly durable, tossing 55 or more innings each of the last six seasons, including 153.2 innings the past two seasons. The 29-year-old ranks 11th in fWAR among relievers the past three years and has posted a 2.66 ERA during that time. Reed is likely the best remaining reliever on the free agent market and any team that signs him will get a dependable righty who can pitch some high-leverage innings.
Mychal Givens, RHP (Baltimore Orioles)
Givens has a sparkling 158 ERA+ in his big league career and nothing about it has been flukey. His quirky arm slot, mid-90’s fastball, and above-average slider/changeup combination have been giving hitters fits since he debuted in 2015. With Zach Britton‘s major injury, Givens figures to get more high leverage innings in 2018.
Hunter Strickland, RHP (San Francisco Giants)
Strickland is now notorious for throwing a baseball at Bryce Harper, but he’s actually a pretty darn good reliever. Strickland can straight bring the heat, averaging 96.5 mph on his fastball so far in his career. His slider is a plus pitch and he uses that duo of pitches to miss bats and post respectable walk rates.