We live in an age where professional athletes cannot hide. Their indiscretions will be made public in one forum or another, as will their finer moments. Of course, when you?re good at what you do, perhaps receiving a little bit of attention is nice.
However, there are a few players in the major leagues who continue to toil in relative obscurity. As the 2011 season approaches, we ask, who is the most underrated player in the game today?
This is a fluid debate. There is no clear-cut answer as underrating or overrating a player involves loads of subjective thought. So, in the interest of keeping the discussion open-ended, here are five candidates for the title, in no particular order:
Shin-Soo Choo, Cleveland, OF
The biggest news surrounding Choo of late involved his narrow avoidance of military duty in his native South Korea. Very few outside of Cleveland realize how important that was. Choo is not only one of the finest defensive outfielders in the game, he may be its most consistent. He has hit .300 each of the last two years, with OPS’s of .883 and .885, respectively. The 28-year-old has reached 20 homers and 20 stolen bases both times and ranked second in WAR (Wins Above Replacement) in 2010, a sure sign that his all-around game carries with it incredible value. Choo is easily Cleveland?s best player.
Michael Bourn, Houston, OF
Another guy who does amazing work on the defensive end of things, Bourn is somewhat one-dimensional offensively, but that dimension is a good one. He led the National League in stolen bases in 2009 and 2010 and was second in triples in ?09. Bourn is just a .263 career hitter who is still refining his plate discipline. His walks were up and strikeouts down in 2010, so perhaps he can become a better leadoff man going forward. Few are faster or more sensational in the field.
Carlos Ruiz, Philadelphia, C
There?s a reason some of the game’s best pitchers are eager to go to Philadelphia. Ruiz has gained a reputation as a phenomenal backstop while receiving for Roy Halladay, Cliff Lee, Cole Hamels and others. And he is getting better with age at the plate. Ruiz?s batting average has increased from .219 in 2008 to .255 in ’09 to .302 in ’10. He also slugged a career-high .447 last year and has five more walks than strikeouts for his career, a rarity this day and age. Once a promising defensive catcher, Ruiz is now an outstanding one with a pretty good offensive game to boot.
Mark Buehrle, Chicago White Sox, SP
It?s not as if nobody knows about Buehrle, who has a perfect game and a no-hitter to his credit, but it’s time he gets an even bigger boost in reputation. Not only is he the best defender at his position (can you tell we like defense), but he may be the most durable. For a decade running now, Buehrle has made at least 30 starts and thrown at least 200 innings. Only three times in that span has his ERA been above 4.00, and he has been .500 or better in all but one season. Throw in the fact that his teammates love playing behind the quick-working Buehrle and you have a pitcher with value that goes above and beyond his already solid numbers.
Angel Pagan, New York Mets, OF
Another outfielder with a fine glove, Pagan?s recent rise in Queens has been overshadowed by the high-priced flameouts surrounding him on the Mets roster. But after hitting .306 in a part-time role in 2009, the former Chicago Cubs product posted a .290 mark in 2010, his first full season as a major leaguer, and finished second to Bourn in stolen bases with 37. Pagan plays all three outfield positions, and plays them very well. He has now shown New York that he can hold down a spot near the top of the lineup.
Who is the most underrated player in the game today? Leave your comments below.
On deck: Which team has the best uniforms in baseball?