Every year, unheralded, underrated players guide their team to a World Series title.
In 2011, Allen Craig and David Freese stepped up and guided the Cardinals to a championship. Edgar Renteria and Cody Ross stepped up for the Giants in 2010, while Hideki Matsui powered the Yankees to their 27th championship. So, it’s safe to say there’s a great chance of that happening in 2012.
There are players out there posting great stats, and those players are getting no love from the media. So today, I’m here to recognize those players for what they’ve done and what they could do. Here are three underrated players who could play a key part in their teams’ quest for a World Series title.
Brandon Belt, San Francisco Giants
I could’ve easily put Joaquin Arias or Marco Scutaro here (although Scutaro is getting attention for his incredible performance). But I decided to go with Belt, the long-necked first baseman/left fielder better known by the Bay as “The Giraffe.”
Belt doesn’t have great power stats (six homers and 52 RBI) but he has a great OBP and decent batting average. Belt is currently hitting at a .273 clip, and he has a .360 OBP (meaning he gets on base 36 percent of the time). Belt was hitting around .230 in late July, but he has seen good pitches to hit and started to make pitches pay for their mistakes.
The Giraffe gets the majority of the starts at first base (he usually starts at first four out of every five games) and he is starting to see more time in left field. Manager Bruce Bochy has been very patient with him, and he has made it clear that he has faith in Belt. Luckily, Belt responded to his manager and has delivered for the team.
Belt plays good defense at first base, and he is a capable left fielder. He has helped the Giants this year, as his 2.6 WAR (wins above replacement) show. Despite being a very streaky hitter, Belt has been able to stay patient, avoid chasing bad pitches and post decent stats. And, when he’s hot, Belt is unstoppable.
For a week in June, Belt was amazing. He hit a home run in three consecutive games and caught the final out of Matt Cain’s perfect game (at first base). In August, he heated up as well, and his batting average jumped. Thanks to Belt’s ability to get on base in the bottom of the order, the Giants are having success. But the Giants are praying for Belt to get hot at the right time.
Because if he does, opposing pitchers (especially righties) need to watch out.
Austin Jackson, Detroit Tigers
Despite posting great numbers and being among the batting average leaders for the first half of the 2012 season, Austin Jackson has barely received any media attention.
Jackson has a better batting average than Prince Fielder (although the difference is very small). He has the fifth-best WAR (4.8) in the American League, which says a lot about him to me. Despite having 16 less homers and 39 RBI than Albert Pujols, Jackson still has a better WAR than him.
The speedy center fielder plays spectacular defense, too. He has been known to save games and make highlight reels with spectacular defensive plays, and his offense has soared this year. He has hit 14 home runs, showing that his bat has pop. Jackson is among the league leaders with 90 runs, since he has Cabrera and Fielder to drive him in.
If the Tigers (currently one game back in the AL Central) make the playoffs, Jackson will start to receive attention. Jackson isn’t a good base-stealer, but his dazzling .391 OBP will translate into great playoff numbers. If Miguel Cabrera and Prince Fielder do their job in the middle of the order, Jackson’s production will shoot upwards.
And, along with Jackson’s media popularity, the Tigers’ championship hopes will increase.
Ryan Zimmerman, Washington Nationals
Despite being in the midst of a 16-game hitting streak and being on the team with baseball’s best record, no one is talking about Ryan Zimmerman.
Zimmerman has very respectable stats, and he has really helped a surging Nationals offense make up for the loss of Stephen Strasburg. However, most fans are focused on Strasburg’s shutdown and not the Nationals’ offense.
The third hitter for the Nationals has a .287 batting average and a .354 on-base percentage, despite a terrible April, May and June. In July, Zimmerman hit .366 with 10 homers, and he had a multi-homer game against Jair Jurrjens. He hit .315 in August and is hitting .333 in September, while boosting his power numbers every month.
If you make a mistake to Zimmerman, he will make you pay. In July, R.A Dickey left a pitch middle-in to Zimmerman, and Zimmerman drove it into left field for a no-doubter. Zimmerman had two homers in three innings against Jurrjens, as he adjusted to poorly thrown pitches (right down the middle) and hit them to all fields. Thanks to his amazing second half, the Nats have done better (as you can see from Zimmerman’s 3.6 WAR).
Zimmerman is an amazing player, and he’s been on fire for three months now. Zimmerman isn’t about to cool down now, with the playoffs coming up. Just like Jackson, everyone will pay attention to him once the playoffs start if he keeps getting on base, driving in runs, hitting home runs and scoring (Zimmerman has 85 runs this year). However, for now, despite being on an 89-54 team, Zimmerman is still heavily underrated.