Chase Utley: One of the Best Ever

If you are reading this, there is a remarkably decent chance that you are a somewhat invested baseball fan. As a baseball fan, you probably ...

Late 2000s Underrated MLB Team

 C: Russell Martin

1B: Kevin Youkilis

2B: Chase Utley

3B: Chone Figgins 

SS: J.J. Hardy

LF: Nick Swisher

CF: B.J. Upton

RF: J.D. Drew

DH: Jim Thome

I had this list typed up for a while and I didn't plan to publish it. I mainly went on blogspot because it saves my work and works as a nice document to type on. That said, I will type my thoughts on each of these players. Very little research was done (at least for this piece), so don't get really upset if I get something wrong. 

Russell Martin was a very underrated player, as you might already know. He was a very solid hitter at the catcher position, although that's not what he was known for. It was his top tier pitch framing that made him an immensely valuable asset. If your standards for HOF heavily rely on the idea of value in terms of winning games, then you should probably consider Martin for the hall. He was just that good. 

Kevin Youkilis, known colloquially as the greek god of walks, was a tremendous player for the Red Sox. He could play both first and third, playing third when Adrian Gonzalez was traded to Boston in 2011. Billy Beane and Paul Depodesta of Moneyball fame loved this guy as a prospect. They were almost able to get him in a trade for next to nothing, but young Red Sox GM Theo Epstein knew what they were up to and put a quick end to that idea. He tore up the majors for a while with his incredible plate discipline and strange batting stance, and was a massive fan favorite for his intensity at the plate.

I wrote a very in depth article about how Chase Utley was one of the best players in MLB history, and you can check it out in the sports section. Long story short, he was awesome.

Chone Figgins, from my memory, was an incredible baserunner and solid hitter. His production for the Angels was truly dynamic, although he slowed down after signing a large contract with the Mariners. "Chone Figgins" is also a badass name. 

J.J. Hardy was a tremendous defensive player who saw a late career power breakout. He couldn't hit very well overall, but his home run power at a premium position allowed him to be a great asset for the Brewers and Orioles. I remember he and Troy Tulowitzki being at the top of the home run leaderboard in 2011, and thinking "wow, this guy isn't as good as Tulo, but he is quite good." His 2011 season was definitely not a perfect indication of his true talent but regardless he was a really good player.

I don't know if Swisher was actually that underrated, but he was pretty awesome. He was another guy that Billy Beane loved, but this time it was in the draft. Billy thought he should have been the first overall pick, and was elated to be able to draft him in the middle of the first round. It's interesting that he thought that, because he was completely right. Swisher wasn't some raw power, elite defensive athletic freak that had the "potential" to be as good as Ken Griffey Jr. He was just a great hitter who had a very high chance of being a well above average major league player. People tend to not pencil in those types of guys as first overall picks, no matter how good they are, so it's impressive that Beane managed to do so. 

B.J. Upton was almost certainly not underrated, but I am still including him. He was well known due to his role on a very successful Tampa Bay team. His hitting skill left a lot to be desired, but he had tremendous power and was a great defender in center field. I'm not sure if he goes by Melvin or BJ at this point, but either way, he was a really fun player that I recognize from my childhood. 

J.D. Drew was actually very underrated. For whatever reason, Red Sox fans hated him. He signed a pretty large contract because he was really good. Bill Simmons claimed that he wasn't "clutch" for some reason. This is ironic because Drew ended up tossing out a multitude of clutch hits, including but not limited to his grand slam against the Indians (yes, they were the Indians at the point. Now the Guardians.) in the 2007 ALCS, his walk off ground-rule double against the Rays in game 5 of the 2008 ALCS, and his go ahead 2 run shot vs the Angels in the 2008 ALDS. He was an exceptional player that, I guess, made the game look too effortless and rubbed fans the wrong way.

Jim Thome was just a god tier hitter. No matter the age, no matter where he went, he just hit a lot of homers. The dude posted a 177 wRC+ in 340 PAs at the age of 39, without the assistance of a comically good BABIP. 612 homers, apparently. I vaguely knew both of those stats but I searched them up to verify. Thome was on that Indians team of the 1990s that contained an onslaught of top hitters. Imagine just being a pitcher and having to face Jim Thome, Roberto Alomar, Manny Ramirez, and some other dudes that I'm forgetting. Don't forget that one of their mediocre hitters, Omar Vizquel, was an exceptional defender. It's a shame that that core never won anything. More on Omar Vizquel: sexual misconduct aside, I feel like a lot of people misjudge him (as a player, to be perfectly clear). Obviously there are the people who genuinely think he is a Hall of Fame caliber player, which I find to be a bit of a stretch. On the other hand, there are copious amounts of people that believe that he just wasn't a good player. That population has a very low median age, probably a bit lower than where I'm currently at. Vizquel was not a good hitter relative to the league average, but this was a time when all of the best hitter+athlete combos weren't shoved at short. Shortstop is a difficult position, and while the league average shortstop these days produces somewhat well at the plate, this wasn't always the case. The replacement level for shortstop is the same as its always been, but people might not understand just how good the modern generation of shortstops is. The dominance for Hanley and Tulo was not a normal thing at the time. Then, all of a sudden, we saw Carlos Correa, Francisco Lindor, Trevor Story, Corey Seager, Trea Turner, Xander Bogaerts come out of the clouds at once. On top of that, possibly the best shortstop of all time Fernando Tatis Jr. spawned just a bit later. Then Wander Franco comes along to make things look even crazier. Notice how I haven't even mentioned guys like Tim Anderson and Bo Bichette. The point is, major league talent has moved towards playing the shortstop position, and people don't realize just how good these players are. When they underrate these players, and they compare past shortstops to these players, they tend to believe that the Vizquels of the world were actually just random bums who are overrated by old people. 

  One reason that Derek Jeter is so highly regarded is that it was once uncommon for a shortstop to be so good offensively. The league average shortstop in Vizquel's time put up around an 80 wRC+. These days, it is near 100. This is not because shortstop has become an easier position defensively, it is because teams are putting their most talented baseball players at shortstop. Anyways, Vizquel was a well above average player in his time. That was a long rant about in support of a player that I do not care for. 

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