Players To Be Thankful For

On Thanksgiving weekend, an appreciation of players who accomplished little-noticed feats during the 2011 season.

We are really into the baseball doldrums now. It's been four weeks since the World Series ended. The awards winners have been announced. The new Collective Bargaining Agreement has been secured. And the free-agent and trade markets have been, well, boring. At least so far.

So on this Thanksgiving weekend, let's take a few moments to appreciate some players who accomplished little-noticed feats in 2011. They each made baseball special in some way. 

Dane Sardinha, part-time backup catcher for the Philadelphia Phillies. In only 15 games and 43 plate appearances, Sardinha walked 10 times for a walk rate of 23.3 percent, the highest in the majors for players with more than 10 PA. Sardinha's walk rate was two percent higher than Jose Bautista's. Yes, Bautista had 612 more plate appearances, but who's counting.

Livan Hernandez, starting pitcher for the Washington Nationals. Hernandez had the lowest strikeout rate in the majors for players with more than 10 plate appearances, at 3.3 percent. With 61 PA, Hernandez struck out only twice. Twice! And didn't walk a single time.

Dan Johnson, on-again-off-again first baseman for the Tampa Bay Rays. Yes, Johnson hit this game-tying home run for the Rays in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 162 against the Yankees. But overall in 2011, Johnson was the unluckiest batter with at least 80 plate appearances. In 91 PA, Johnson ended the season with a .125 BABIP. Which kinda makes the Game 162 home run even more remarkable.

Kevin Slowey, pitcher for the Minnesota Twins. Slowey started eight games for the Twins and pitched in six others, for a total of 59⅓ innings. Slowey landed on the disabled list twice: in the second week of the season, he went on the DL for a month with shoulder inflammation; two weeks later he suffered an abdominal strain that kept him out from late May through late July. But that's not what made him special. Of all major-league pitchers who threw at least 50 innings in 2011, Slowey gave up the fewest walks -- just five -- and ended the season with the lowest walk rate at 1.9 percent. Slowey also had zero wins and a 6.67 ERA. That's a pretty special combination.

Bobby Abreu, outfielder and designated hitter for the Los Angeles Angels. FanGraphs' Clutch statistic measures how well a batter performs in high-leverage situations, as compared to his performance in all situations. A player who performs best in high-leverage situations is considered very clutch. Abreu had the highest Clutch score of any hitter with at least 100 plate appearances at 2.70. The next most clutch hitter? Josh Hamilton of the Texas Rangers, at 2.20. No other players with at least 100 PA had a clutch score above 2.00. 

Tyler Clippard, relief pitcher for the Washington Nationals. Clippard pitched 81⅓ innings for the Nationals in 2011, the vast majority in the seventh and eighth innings. He ended the season with the highest left-on-base percentage in the majors for pitchers who threw more than 50 innings. At 95.6 percent, Clippard's LOB% edged out Koji Uehara by 0.7 percent.

Pablo Sandoval, third baseman for the San Francisco Giants. Sandoval ended the season tied with the Yankees' Brett Gardner and the Tigers' Austin Jackson with the most Defensive Runs Saved, with 22. Although none of these players won Gold Gloves, Gardner and Jackson won Fielding Bible Awards, so they were recognized in for their defensive prowess. Sandoval won no awards but should have, as he accumulated his 22 DRS in only 904 innings in the field; both Jackson and Gardner logged more than 1,150 innings on the outfield grass.

Players We Missed in 2011. Other players to be thankful for? Adam Wainwright, Kendrys Morales, Buster Posey, Ike Davis, Johan Santana, Brett Anderson, Dallas Braden, and Josh Johnson. These players missed all or or most of the season with serious injuries and are undergoing grueling rehabilitation to be ready to play in 2012. I'm grateful for their immense talent, their dedication and their love of baseball. And I can't wait to watch them do special things in 2012.

Who are you thankful for?

Wendy also writes about baseball at Fangraphs and HangingSliders. You can follow her on Twitter @hangingsliders.

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