clock menu more-arrow no yes

Filed under:

The 4 underappreciated players left in the 2015 MLB postseason

New, comments

You know who they are, but everyone's still talking about Murphy this and Bautista that.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

I see that people are interested in words about Daniel Murphy. He's a story, alright. He's a free agent, and every time he hits a dinger, his bat makes a cartoonish cash register sound. Murphy might be the story of the postseason. Yet when I sit down to write about him, my fingers vomit this:

Daniel Murphy is pretty good, but he's not this good. If he keeps this up, someone's going to overpay him.

And that's it. Blinking cursor and blank stares. A sleepless night with my deadline hiding under the bed.

That's okay, I'll write about Johnny Cueto, who was pummeled on Monday night. The Royals made a calculated, seemingly brilliant gamble to trade him, and he turned into Kyle Davies. Like the end of a danged Scooby-Doo episode, with the mask ripped off and everything. You can toss a Kris Medlen/kids joke in here if you want, but the Royals have to be nervous to be this close to another pennant and have their ostensible ace pitching like the ghosts of Royals past.

Johnny Cueto threw 60 innings in 2013, then 243 in 2014. Then he complained about elbow discomfort in May. He's clearly not right. He makes me nervous, and he should probably make Royals fans nervous.

Blinking cursor. Writer's block. That's all I have to say about Cueto right now. The pressure is closing in on me.

There are players, though, on whom I can write hundreds of words because they're so cool. These are players that the mainstream analysts won't even touch. There's at least one on every team, and I'll prove it to you. Here are the under-the-radar players the cool kids are caring about in the 2015 postseason.

SIGN UP FOR OUR MLB NEWSLETTER

Get all kinds of MLB stories, rumors, game coverage, and Vines of dudes getting hit in the beans in your inbox every day.

Chris Young

You are the master of advanced medical nanobots. That is your superpower. You asked for x-ray vision or flight, but you got medi-nanos. That's fine. You can work with that. Now fix a player from the past.

I might chose Chris Young and make him eternally healthy. Apologies to Mark Prior, Eric Davis, Ken Griffey, Jr. and, well, literally hundreds of other players. But Young has never been bad, really. He's just been hurt. And I'd want to see what he was like over a full, healthy career.

Consider first that he's a right-hander who throws an 86-mph fastball, on average. He's throwing as hard as the death rattle of a 41-year-old former Cy Young pitcher, except he's still making it work. He's still flummoxing. He's a flummoxer. Watching Chris Young is to watch the best players in baseball swing through air, even though there's no earthly reason why they should.

Young is one of those smoky dorm room thought experiments. What if we took a pitcher and stretched him out, so that he released the ball four feet from the plate, man? He's proof that deception can be just as important as velocity, and he's continuing his successful-if-healthy run well into his 30s. He might never get a two-year contract for the rest of his career, but he's one of baseball's most watchable pitchers.

By the time you read this, you'll know if the decision to start him in Toronto -- that is, a flyball pitcher in a live ballpark against a team that swings like they're mad at baseballs -- was a brilliant gambit or a reminder that baseball can be quite predictable at times.

Either way, this is a perfect time to appreciate him, before his greatest triumph/darkest horror.

Trevor Cahill

This might be my favorite story of the postseason, if not the regular season, and the Cubs had better start winning and let us bask in the dadaist glow of baseball's weirdest ideas. The career progression of Cahill:

  • Top prospect
  • Preternaturally talented sinker-master and All-Star at 22
  • Mostly dependable innings-eater at 24
  • Hot mess at 26
  • Released and passed between four different teams at 27
  • Suddenly successful late-inning setup man two weeks later

It's probably bad analysis to attribute the change to pixie dust. Someone showed him a video or gave him advice or tweaked his arm slot or ... something. It's a safe bet that Cahill isn't thinking "Wheeeee, I have no idea what's going on, but I love it!" There's a reason. Unless it's pixie dust.

He's throwing his sinker harder than ever with the Cubs (averaging almost 93 mph, compared to a career average of 90 mph), and he's ditched his slider to focus on a changeup. The biggest difference, though, is probably the conversion to short relief, which allows him to throw harder and not worry about what he's going to feel like in five innings. The Diamondbacks tried him in short relief last year, and while it was just a 19 2/3-inning sample, he did well enough, striking out more than a batter per inning. It's possible the Cubs saw something.

One of his best relief outings in that stretch came against the Cubs, with Cahill striking out three in two scoreless innings, so it's probable that someone in the Cubs started daydreaming about his sinker for short bursts in the bullpen. They looked at how well he wore the classic, 100-year-old Rochester Diamondbacks jersey that we all love ...

... and used his curve to complement a darting sinker. Now he's an important setup man for the Cubs, along with Fernando Rodney. Chris Bosio probably deserves a raise, but so does the person who had the wacky idea to pick Cahill up and try him on the major league roster in the first place. It takes a special kind of arrogance to think you can fix what the Braves and Dodgers couldn't. A beautiful, special kind of arrogance.

Kevin Pillar

Aw, man, this one's going mainstream. The more innings he plays for the Blue Jays, the more people start to notice plays like this:

But I liked his first EP better. That is, I'm not sure if that play would make the top 10 Kevin Pillar plays of the year. I mean, look at this CGI crap here:

If you're reading this, you probably watch a lot of baseball on TV. Now, off the bat, the angle the line drive took, you figured that was in the gap, right? Then the camera cuts to the outfield, and you see this, cognizant that the ball is slicing away.

It's reasonable to give him a .001-percent chance of getting a glove on the ball. He caught it, and Mark Buehrle made this face:

Pitchers usually do make that face with Pillar in center, and he's a big part of the Blue Jays' success this year. If you go by Baseball-Reference's WAR, he was second only to Josh Donaldson this year. That's more valuable than Jose Bautista, more valuable than Edwin Encarnacion, more valuable that Russell Martin or anyone on the pitching staff.

It's not outlandish to expect a little improvement with the bat, too. In his first full season as a starter, he hit .278/.314/.399, good for a 96 OPS+, which would make him a deserving starter for the next 10 years with his defense. He's a career .322/.364/.477 hitter in the minors, including 39 doubles in both 2013 and 2014. He could have a Dee Gordon-like contact-fueled boom, or more of those doubles could turn into homers.

Or both.

Get in on Pillar before the rest of the world aw dang it they're already here. Well, he was cool for a while, at least.

Travis d'Arnaud

I'm more than a little obsessed with Kyle Schwarber, sentient pile of mammoth meat and his ability to destroy baseballs. He was in college 18 months ago, and now he's one of the most feared power hitters in the game.

d'Arnaud should have been that player a couple years ago. Save some of those medical nanobots for him, just in case, but he's finally, finally, finally coming into his own. It feels like he's an emerging prospect (he is, really), but he's the same age as Anthony Rizzo and Juan Lagares -- players you're already used to. We're just getting used to the idea of d'Arnaud's power, though. This was the home run off the apple, and I love it so:

It's the kind of swing/angle/location combo that you don't expect to result in a home run. It looked like a double to me before the camera cut away, only because I'm not used to d'Arnaud. That's probably the last time that will happen. There aren't a lot of players in baseball who could have hit a homer like that, and this one happens to be a catcher.

There's still a chance for the R.A. Dickey Invitational to happen, and d'Arnaud would be one of the most compelling parts of that narrative. Mostly because he hits baseballs really, really far.

There, four under-the-radar players in 1,500 words, and not one of them was "hipster," even though you would have known exactly what I meant if this article were titled "Four players that baseball hipsters are into." We need to come up with a new word, something that automatically makes you think of people who really would say things like "I liked their first EP better." We need to find an unsullied word because "hipster" is played out. I can't use that word anymore, even if it fits a subject perfectly, because everyone else uses it too much.

Which I guess makes me something of a ...

Oh god ...

* * *

SB Nation presents: The wild 7th inning of Game 5 of the Blue Jays-Rangers series