A View From Studio 3: Five guys under the radar
Markakis, Craig, Kendrick, Porcello among baseball's most underrated
You could easily make the case that Tuesday, June 18, 2013, was the most successful day for the Mets franchise since the club finished off the Dodgers in the 2006 National League Division Series.
Two young stud pitchers who represent the hopes and dreams of a frustrated fan base defeated the first-place Braves on the same day. Matt Harvey flirted with a no-hitter in the first game of a doubleheader. In the nightcap, Zack Wheeler was fantastic in his Major League debut. When my colleague compared the potential of these two "up and comers" to Tom Seaver and Jerry Koosman, I had a good chuckle. I guess they could be that good one day. But talk to me about that in a decade or so.
That comment started me thinking that, as baseball fans, we are always looking for the next great star. The next guy who will wow us in ways we've never been wowed. The next prodigy who eventually ends up enshrined in Cooperstown. We will be able to tell anyone who is willing to listen: "I remember when he came up. I knew he was special."
That's fine. But in doing so, we often miss the boat on dozens of ballplayers who should be applauded and enjoyed for consistency, reliability and production. Guys who deliver the goods on a regular basis, but are often taken for granted or go unmentioned.
Take Adam Wainwright for example. Sure, he gets paid a ton of money. And yes, he's an ace who is talked about with the best in the game. But his success is so consistent, the buzz has shifted to his teammates. Guys who are nearly 10 years his junior and not nearly as accomplished. It's a pretty good bet you've been involved in more conversations this season about Shelby Miller and Trevor Rosenthal than you have about Wainwright. In admiring the wealth of young Cardinals talent, you may be missing history.
Wainwright has the chance to accomplish one of the rarest feats in the history of the game -- finishing the season with more victories than walks allowed. Since 1900, only three men have accomplished that feat. Currently, Wainwright has 10 wins and nine walks.
Wins over walks
This gives a whole new meaning to the term "control freak." Let's be clear, Wainwright is not underrated or unappreciated by any means. But sometimes we overlook certain players while keeping out eyes on the next great thing.
With that in mind, here's my list of five underrated and underappreciated players.
5. Rick Porcello
Pitching in a rotation that has been talked about as possibly the best in decades is both a blessing and a curse. When all starters are healthy, the lanky right-hander is No. 5 in the Tigers' rotation. So his visibility is limited. But his value can't be overstated. At only 24, Porcello is already in his fifth full Major League season. He has already started 133 contests, and in 2013, is on pace to start more than 30 games, something he's already done in three previous seasons.
Don't forget about the 52 wins on his resume and his appearances in six postseason games. In terms of age, Porcello is only now entering his prime. Think about this: Porcello is only three months older than Harvey, who has made a total of 25 starts, and a year and half older than Gerrit Cole, who debuted two weeks ago.
4. Nick Markakis
Try getting involved in any conversation about the best players on the Orioles. I'll guess that his name is the fifth or sixth one mentioned. Truth is, the 29-year-old represents the guts of a franchise that lost an average of 94 games in Markakis' first six seasons. I can't think of another player who deserves to be part of a winning environment more than Markakis.
Through good, bad or ugly, he's batted in the first, second or third spot in the order 966 times in his 1,120 games. The right fielder with a wicked throwing arm never wavered, never complained. And his numbers are as consistent as any player in the game. Pencil him in for 160 games, 185 hits, 18 homers, 85 RBIs and Gold Glove-caliber defense. It's about time we pencil him in for his first All-Star appearance.
3. Howie Kendrick
Let Robinson Cano and Dustin Pedroia get the lions' share of American League publicity. Kendrick is outhitting both of them. It doesn't seem to bother the Angels' second baseman. He's one of the most unassuming players in the game. He should be headed to his second Midsummer Classic this July, just a few days after his 30th birthday.
On a club that has underachieved all season, Kendrick was hitting .332 entering play Wednesday while enjoying his highest OBP, OPS and slugging numbers in his eight-year career. The longest tenured Angels position player goes virtually unnoticed by the national media on a team full of superstars.
2. Bronson Arroyo
Are you kidding me with this guy? He's 36 and still taking the ball every fifth day for an entire season. Accoridng to Baseball Prospectus' web site, Arroyo has never been on the disabled list in his 14-year career. Ridiculous. Use permanent marker when predicting his 31 starts and 200 innings per season. It's a lock.
In some statistical categories, he's better in 2013 than he was in 2006 after being acquired by the Reds in one of the most lopsided trades in decades. Wily Mo Pena ended up in Boston. Cincinnati received a rotation anchor who now leads the way for youngsters like Mat Latos, Tony Cingrani, Homer Bailey and Mike Leake.
1. Allen Craig
How would you like the pressure and responsibility of replacing one of the greatest players in history on the heels of a World Series championship? That's what Craig was asked to do in 2012. He responded -- big time. Replacing Albert Pujols in the middle of the order and at first base, Craig smacked 22 homers while driving in 92 runs in only 119 games.
This season, Craig is on pace to drive in more than 100 runs while maintaining a .300 average as an everyday player. Here's a great indication of his value. When Craig hits, the Cards win. Period. Since Craig debuted in 2010, he's hitting .361 with 155 RBIs in the Cardinals' 175 victories. That's .88 RBI per win. In losses, the average drops to .217 and his RBI rate plummets to .38 per contest.
He's been a force for the majority of his career. Maybe folks outside of St. Louis will start to take notice.
Matt Yallof is the co-host of The Rundown on MLB Network from 2-4 p.m. ET. Follow him on twitter @mattyallofmlb. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.