He is currently leading the American League in batting average — yes, even ahead of the force of nature otherwise known as Josh Hamilton. He has hit 82 home runs since the start of the 2010 season, which is more than near-Triple Crown winner Matt Kemp. He has driven in only two fewer runs since the start of that same season than the great Albert Pujols. He owns a higher slugging percentage this year than — among others — David Ortiz, Miguel Cabrera and Giancarlo Stanton.
Yet he is so inconspicuous, you would likely pass him on the street and not even do a hint of a double-take.
He is the most underrated player in baseball. His name is Paul Konerko.
Konerko is the quietly reliable first baseman for, and captain of, the Chicago White Sox. He doesn't make waves with any kind of outlandish comments, slack off on the job or generally cause himself to become a distraction. He simply goes out to the South Side and does what he's paid to do.
And does he ever.
Consider the following. As of the beginning of the White Sox' game against the Dodgers on Sunday, Konerko is batting a scorching .359 with 12 home runs and 36 RBIs. He has hit .284 during his 16-year career, with 408 homers and 1,297 RBIs.
He's batted as high as .313 and crossed the .300 threshold four times. He's hit more than 40 home runs twice and at least 30 home runs seven times. He's driven in as many as 117 runs and has topped 100 six times.
He'll never be confused with Rickey Henderson on the basepaths — having stolen only nine bases in his career — but then again, what first baseman is? Konerko is pretty handy with the glove as well, posting a sterling .995 fielding percentage for his career.
Add all this up and you seemingly have a surefire league-wide star. He can hit for both power and a fairly good average, he can field and he's a model citizen. Not to mention, his most comparable player — according to Baseball-Reference.com — through age 35 is Fred McGriff. The Crime Dog, after all, is a borderline Hall of Famer.
So what is keeping Konerko from getting the credit he deserves from many baseball fans? There are two reasons that appear to be more probable than any others.
The first is that he is old as far as baseball players go. There's no way around the fact that Konerko is now 36 years old. Despite the fact that he is experiencing a remarkable late-career renaissance and has averaged 35 home runs and 108 RBIs with a batting average above .300 since 2010, the sad truth is that the attention paid to him will never come close to a Bryce Harper or Mike Trout, or even slightly older stars like Andrew McCutchen or Justin Upton.
While Konerko is a great story to be sure, he has no limitless future ahead of him as do the younger players now ascending into their prime years (or in Harper's case, his 20s). It's far more enticing to follow the arc of someone who may yet surprise you rather than someone from whom you know what you're going to get, no matter how productive.
The second reason is that first base is an absurdly deep position as far as talent goes. Even with the kind of numbers Konerko's posted, he is far less likely to stand out there than at any other position. If Konerko were putting up those kind of numbers as a second baseman, he'd already have a plaque in Cooperstown. But as his best aggregate season stats come up just shy of the average statistical season of Pujols — the current gold standard of the position — he's somewhat unfairly lumped in with most of the other first baseman.
Some of them are able to break out of this group based on a defining characteristic they have. Prince Fielder hits the ball a country mile. Cabrera hits for a high average. Joey Votto gets on base like his life depends on it. Adrian Gonzalez is a doubles machine.
But Konerko's blessing — that he's well-rounded — is also his curse. He's a jack of all trades, but a master of none.
So let's take this opportunity to recognize him for the career he's had, the season he's having and the career he still has yet to have. He may not be the flashiest or even the best — but he's much better than the majority of people give him credit for.
Photo via Facebook/Paul Konerko
Powered by WordPress.com VIP