Who Is MLB's Most Underrated Player?

This is not Ben Zobrist! (Getty)

One man's first attempt to quantify "underratedness."

I was listening to our peerless leader on the great Bob Valvano show yesterday (Rob makes us listen to and transcribe all his radio appearances), when I heard the following exchange:

Bob: It's always dangerous to ask a guy is somebody underrated, because you can't speak for the whole country, but my impression is [Troy Tulowitzki] is underrated by the public's perception. He's a pretty extraordinary player.

Rob: He’s absolutely underrated. I think if you could somehow—you know what? The funny thing is, given the internet, one could construct a method to actually rate underratedness.

Bob: Really?

Rob: Sure.

Bob: That would be fun! I'd like that!

Well, even though I'm Baseball Nation's worst analyst (see, for example, yesterday's trenchant The Brewers are really good! post), I'll give it a go.

Think of this as a first attempt to quantify underratedness. I'm sure you or even your slow-witted cousin could come up with a better way to do this, but it's a start.

I headed over to FanGraphs to find the 30 top hitters and top 30 pitchers in Wins Above Replacement over the last two calendar years. I then googled those players and ranked them in reverse order of search results, so that the least "popular" players are at the top of the list. This is the player's Unpopularity Score. Finally, I added each player's ranks in WAR and Unpopularity to arrive at his Index of Underratedness Valvano Count.

Player Google hits Unpopularity WAR WAR rank Valvano Count
1 Ben Zobrist 675000 1 12.2 13 14
2 Troy Tulowitzki 1410000 17 14.7 5 22
2 Joey Votto 1430000 19 15.5 3 22
4 Jered Weaver 1170000 11 12 15 26
5 Adrian Beltre 1210000 12 11.7 16 28
5 Justin Verlander 1820000 24 14.9 4 28
7 Andrew McCutchen 896000 4 10.8 25 29
8 Clayton Kershaw 1050000 6 11 24 30
9 Rickie Weeks 1110000 7 10.3 30 37
10 Matt Holliday 2070000 30 13 10 40
11 Ian Kinsler 1120000 8 10 34 42
11 Ryan Zimmerman 1700000 20 11 22 42
13 Zack Greinke 1410000 18 10.8 26 44
14 Andres Torres 801000 3 9.4 43 46
15 Robinson Cano 2810000 39 12.4 11 50
15 Roy Halladay 3510000 48 15.6 2 50
17 Jose Bautista 6070000 52 15.8 1 53
18 Cole Hamels 1820000 25 10.6 29 54
19 Dustin Pedroia 2460000 37 11.6 18 55
19 Evan Longoria 3450000 46 13 9 55
19 C.C. Sabathia 3500000 47 13.1 8 55

That seems like a pretty fair list of underrated ballplayers, with the possible exception of 2010 National League MVP Joey Votto. I'm sure there's a better way to assess a player's "popularity" or "ratedness" than counting search returns from Google (like, say, using AltaVista or Ask Jeeves). Maybe you could use different search terms ("David Price+great") or incorporate award voting somehow. No matter how you slice the numbers, though, it's hard to imagine Ben Zobrist not coming out on top.

I assumed Brian McCann (43rd in Valvano Count) and Chase Utley (41st) would rank higher by any objective measure to quantify underratedness, but I guess googlers are finally hip to the fact that McCann is the best catcher in baseball. And injuries must have kept Utley's WAR down while Mac's love letter ("I think you would be impressed with my speed.") kept his Google hits up.

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