It's time once again, friends, to herald the unheralded, to look at the overlooked and to make the anonymous more … um … nonymous.
Yes, it's time for the 2016 installment of the All-Underrated Team. (Eat your heart out, Golden Globes.)
Because "rated" is such a relative term, I'm attempting to live by the following rules: No major awards, no All-Star appearances*, no gargantuan contracts. As you'll see, I only broke those rules in two places, which, I believe, is a new record low.
*At a time when, thanks to expanded rosters and injury replacements and whatnot, more than 10 percent of Major League players are named All-Stars in a given year, finding the right combination of worthiness for inclusion and eligibility for inclusion can admittedly be difficult.
C: Francisco Cervelli, Pirates
People -- Pirates fans, mostly -- understandably feared and/or fretted what might become of the Buccos' production from the catching slot when Russell Martin bolted for his native country, but this is how things shook out in 2015:
• Martin: 129 G, 507 PA, .240 AVG, .329 OBP, .458 SLG, 115 OPS+, 3.5 fWAR
• Cervelli: 130 G, 510 PA, .294 AVG, .370 OBP, .401 SLG, 114 OPS+, 3.8 fWAR
Pick your preference -- raw power or on-base ability -- but that basically amounted to a wash. And Cervelli proved correct the theory that, if healthy and if not suspended for his role in the Biogenesis scandal, he could deliver in a full-time role -- a theory that had been hinted at by the .822 OPS he compiled in a very limited 2013-14 sample.
But Cervelli's greatest strength is behind the plate. Per StatCorner's pitch framing data, he led all catchers in getting called strikes (10.7 percent) outside PITCHf/x's strike zone. That was nearly a full percentage point higher than the next catcher on the list.
1B: Adam Lind, Mariners
This is the first of two guys to break the above rules, because he was a Silver Slugger winner in 2009. But in baseball, that qualifies as a lifetime ago, and Lind gets extra credit for proving himself as a National League player in '15 with the Brewers.
The 2015 season was Lind's only one in the Senior Circuit, and he entered it having missed nearly half of 2014 with the Blue Jays. So it was an open question whether he could handle the daily duties at first base, given his chronic back woes. But Lind compiled his highest number of plate appearances (572) since 2010, turned in a very respectable .277/.360/.460 slash, hit 20-plus homers for the fifth time in his career and had his highest RBI total (87) since -- you guessed it -- 2009. Not only that, but his 11.2 percent walk rate was the best of his career.
All this at 31. So good on you, Mr. Lind, for outperforming expectations and not only logging an OPS+ far north of league average for the third straight year but doing so while playing the entire year. You've earned a return trip to the American League, where you can use the DH spot to occasionally rest that back.
2B: Logan Forsythe, Rays
It took injuries to others for the 28-year-old Forsythe to get a legit starting opportunity with the Rays last season, and he seized it. A former first-round pick with San Diego, Forsythe had previously been labeled a platoon player because of his struggles against right-handed pitching. But a sudden solution to that issue arrived with the increased playing time in '15, when he slashed a respectable .273/.353/.375 against right-handers and a terrific .299/.373/.599 against lefties.
Whether 2015 was fluke or reality remains to be seen. But this is a player who showed excellent contact and on-base skills early in his pro career and who might have finally matured into a legitimate everyday player, if his consistent '15 season is any indication.
SS: Adeiny Hechavarria, Marlins
A poor man's Andrelton Simmons, perhaps. All right, so Simmons is far and away the most highly touted defensive shortstop in the game today, and the Braves have the trade haul to prove it. But after some frustrating foibles on the defensive end earlier in his career, Hechavarria put together a terrific -- albeit injury-affected -- 2015 with the glove. The metrics confirm what the eye suggested. Hechavarria (15.8) finished second only to Simmons (17.3) and ahead of Gold Glove winner Brandon Crawford (10.9) in Ultimate Zone Rating, and he was sixth among Major League shortstops in Defensive Runs Saved. His bat's still nothing special, though, with a 90 OPS+, it did profile as slightly better than that of Simmons (86), his former division mate.
Much credit here goes to Marlins infield coach Perry Hill for the time he's put in with Hechavarria on his defensive positioning, work that bore fruit in '15. What the Fish now have is a serviceable bat with a stellar glove at a premium position, and that has a lot of value in today's game.
3B: Trevor Plouffe, Twins
Ladies and gentlemen, the only repeat participant on the All-Underrated Team from 2015!
Now, that's partly because Plouffe had another productive season worthy of more recognition than it received and partly because I just couldn't really come up with a better option who qualified at the hot corner. On a Twins team that went backward offensively but sprung forward in the standings, Plouffe's continued contributions in the power department (22 homers, 35 doubles) were vital.
There was quite a bit of external expectation going into the winter that Plouffe might be trade bait for a Twins team that had once viewed Miguel Sano as the future at the position. Plouffe, to his credit, has become enough of a middle-of-the-order mainstay for this club that the Twins are instead going to experiment with Sano in right field. Plouffe's .178 isolated power mark over the last two seasons ranks eighth among qualified third basemen, and he's improved enough defensively over the years to rate as a more-than-adequate handler of the hot corner.
With 20-homer power and no discernible improvements coming in the plate discipline department, it's possible Plouffe has already maxed-out his Major League potential, and it's hard to know how long he'll remain in Minnesota. But he's been one of their better players in recent years.
LF: Khris Davis, Brewers
See, he's like Chris Davis but with more "K" and fewer Ks. Actually, Davis is a good comparable in name only, but, if we go back to July 12, 2013, when Khrush basically became a regular big leaguer, he has an almost identical OPS mark (.812) to that of Justin Upton (.813) and a superior one to Yoenis Cespedes (.807).
Of course, Davis doesn't have much of an arm in left, and he missed time last season with a knee injury that required surgery. But look at what he did in the second half of the season, when he hit a home run every 12 at-bats, and you see that this is an important player (read: important trade chip) for the rebuilding Brewers.
CF: Gregor Blanco, Giants
Blanco gets a starting nod here, despite no longer even having a starting spot on his own team. The Giants went out and signed Denard Span to bump Blanco to a fourth outfield job.
Now, I'm not suggesting the Giants did the wrong thing. Blanco's ability to plug and play in all three spots makes him an especially valuable asset, especially given how much time Span, Angel Pagan and Hunter Pence have missed in recent years. But after an offseason in which so many people -- myself included -- advocated for the importance of the Giants going out and getting an outfield bat to replace Blanco, I do feel it's worth pointing out what a beneficial asset he's been for this club.
Taking park effects into account (and we all know Blanco plays in a tough one for hitters), Blanco, over the last two years, actually has a weighted runs created plus mark (113) identical to that of five-time All-Star Adam Jones, and Blanco has been worth a full win more than Pagan, per Baseball Reference's WAR. Blanco also had a career-high OBP of .368 last season.
RF: Ender Inciarte, Braves
I generally try to use this list to identify guys who have flown under the radar despite being around a few years, but, two seasons into his big-league stay, Inciarte belongs for two reasons:
1. He was an unheralded piece of what D-backs fans call the "Shelby Miller trade" and what Braves fans call the "Dansby Swanson trade."
2. At a time when there's so much worthy discussion about all the 25-and-under talent in today's game, the 25-year-old Enciarte's name gets buried in that mix.
Inciarte has a league-average bat but provides premium defense. I've got him in right field here, because that's where he logged the most time in 2015, en route to compiling the second-highest DRS mark (29) of any big league outfielder. Like the only guy he trailed in that stat, Jason Heyward, Inciarte figures to shift full-time to center with his new club. Because of his glove and his speed, Inciarte was a five-WAR player for the D-backs last season, and the Braves received five years of contractual control of him in the Miller traded. It was an underrated element of a remarkably large trade haul.
SP: Wade Miley, Mariners
My second rule-breaker, because Miley was an All-Star in 2012, as the D-backs' lone rep. So sue me. Jose Quintana actually fits the above qualifications and is a better pick, but he held this spot a year ago, and I'm opting for variety and a guy who is a bigger bounce-back candidate in 2016 than some might realize.
The common perception is that Miley was a disappointing member of a disappointing Red Sox team in '15. He came over in a trade from the D-backs and posted an 8.62 April ERA. His season would, of course, improve from that point (he finished with a 4.46 ERA and 96 ERA+ in 193 2/3 innings over 32 starts), but not enough to where he was viewed as an indispensable piece of that rotation -- as evidenced by Dave Dombrowski's decision to ship him to Seattle after the David Price signing.
Dig deeper, though, and there's a suggestion to be made that Miley was the unluckiest pitcher in baseball. Baseball Prospectus' Deserved Run Average takes a number of external factors surrounding a pitcher -- from the parks he pitched in to the defense behind him to his opponents to the weather to the framing skills of his catcher -- and boils it all into a single metric. With all those factors taken into account, Miley was adjusted up 20.27 runs last year -- the most of any qualifying pitcher in the game. And that's interesting because in 2014 in Arizona, he ranked eighth on that list.
So Miley's due for some better fortune, and, pitching his home games in Safeco Field, he's in an ideal place to find it. Remember, this guy has delivered four straight seasons of at least 29 starts, averaging 198 innings. He's been very durable, and, in 2012-13, he had an adjusted ERA that was 15 points better than league average. He's much better than his brief Boston tenure would lead you to believe.
By the way, that's two M's pickups on this list. So I guess you could say Jerry Dipoto's had an underrated offseason.
RP: Cody Allen, Indians
Not a household name in the closing department, but, in terms of controlling what a pitcher can control (homers, walks and strikeouts), no qualified reliever rated better in 2015 than Allen did with a 1.82 Fielding Independent Pitching mark (Aroldis Chapman, for the record, was at 1.94). Allen also had the highest fWAR of any qualified reliever (2.6, to Chapman's 2.5).
Over the last three seasons, Allen has struck out opposing batters at an elite rate (12 per nine innings) with a strong 3.61 strikeout-to-walk ratio. And with an improved defensive cast surrounding him, he could be in line for a 2016 in which his ERA much more closely resembles that elite FIP.
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Anthony Castrovince is a Sports on Earth contributor and an MLB.com columnist. Follow him on Twitter @Castrovince.