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Under/Overrated Position Players

(A little off-day fun.)

The right-hand sidebar poll got me thinking - we always talk about how certain players are under- or overrated, but there's invariably a lot of disagreement. For example, if you tell a Yankees fan or Tim McCarver that Derek Jeter is overrated, he'll flip a tizzy. It's something we talk about almost every day, but it's always been a subjective argument lacking any sort of quantification. We can easily know how well a player is performing on the field, but how do you accurately gauge his popularity?

Type in any search query and you'll almost immediately get a list of the top ten results, along with a note near the upper right-hand corner of the page telling you roughly how many results there are in all. Enter "Lookout Landing," for example, and you get about 333,000 hits. Enter "flip a tizzy," and you get zero.

Why does this matter? Because, lacking anything else, I think it's a pretty good (not to mention quick and easy) way to measure just how popular a certain player is, relative to the rest of the league. Is Derek Jeter a more popular player than Alex Rodriguez? Google seems to think so - the former turns up 258,000 more results than the latter. You can do this for anyone (Google Fight being a fun way to put two people head-to-head).

So, if you can put a number on a guy's performance and his popularity, how can you combine the two into a single metric? Simple math. Allow me to show you my methodology, using current overlord Derrek Lee as an example.

Lee's performance can be most concisely measured using VORP, a neat little figure showing his value in runs over a replacement-level player. VORP is made readily available on the Baseball Prospectus website, and is often used in sabermetric articles. I don't think I have to explain it to you guys.

Lee currently has a VORP of 93.0, good for tops in baseball among position players.

The next step? Plug his name into Google. In order to avoid other Derrek Lees who bear no relation to the one in question, our search query will read as follows:

"Derrek Lee" baseball

This search turns up 202,000 results.

How do we shave this down to a smaller number? Easy math. We create what I like to call a "Popularity Index," in which we compare a player's total number of results to that of the least popular player in baseball. In this analysis, said player was Alexis Rios, for whom a search turned up a paltry 17,600 hits.

So:

Lee: 202,000 results
Rios: 17,600 results
Lee Popularity Index: 11.48 (202,000 / 17,600)

(PI ranges from 1.00 [for Rios himself] all the way up to 54.43 [Derek Jeter].)

The last step? Simply divide Lee's VORP by his Popularity Index to arrive at a final figure:

93.0 / 11.48 = 8.10 Productivity/Popularity Rating (PPR)

You can do this for as many players as you want. The only big problem you run into is with players who have a negative VORP; I'm not really sure what to do about those guys. Chances are, though, nobody who's performing that poorly is going to get mentioned in your daily overrated/underrated discussions with friends.

For purposes of this preliminary analysis, I only looked at position players who are qualified for the batting title (3.1 at bats per team game played). The results?

Five Most Underrated Position Players:

1. Jhonny Peralta (9.94 PPR)
2. Julio Lugo (9.70)
3. Jason Bay (9.64)
4. David DeJesus (9.56)
5. Travis Hafner (9.30)
Five Most Overrated Position Players:
1. Cesar Izturis (0.24)
2. Jack Wilson (0.31)
3. Aaron Boone (0.40)
4. Jason Kendall (0.82)
5. Bernie Williams (0.83)
Okay, the underrated guys look about right, but the list of overrated players is a little unsatisfying. Where are the big names? So let's modify the results a little bit to include only those players who are pretty well known by the majority of baseball fans in the country (minimum: 250,000 Google results). The new list:

Five Most Overrated Popular Position Players:

1. Bernie Williams (0.83)
2. Ichiro (0.97)
3. Carlos Beltran (1.05)
4. Derek Jeter (1.08)
5. Jason Giambi (1.77)
Much better. Note that to be "overrated," you can still be a damn fine ballplayer - it's just that you're disproportionately popular, given your performance (or, in Giambi's case, getting a lot of press for your steroid issue, which skews the study a little bit).

It's nice to put a number to that, isn't it?

Coming soon: pitchers? Maybe later.