Last week, I sat down to a work lunch with Rob Neyer at a corner cafe a few blocks from my door. I made sure we both understood it was a work lunch so that he would pay for it. After we ordered, he mentioned to me that he has a vote for the Seattle Mariners year-end team awards, which I didn't know. We got to talking, about the team MVP, the Pitcher of the Year, and the Unsung Hero. I rolled my eyes. The God damn Unsung Hero. I can't stand things like the Unsung Hero.
I bring this up because I want you to know that I don't really care about what follows in this post. But, recently, I was told that SBN would be running an editorial campaign across its baseball blogs based around the Moneyball movie. As part of this campaign, each site is to write two sponsored posts on a small list of suggested topics. The topic for this post is identifying the most underappreciated Mariner of the season. Of the suggested topics, I thought I could do the best job with this one.
Who has been the most underappreciated Mariner? It is not an easy question to answer. For one thing, you can't really measure underappreciation. Underappreciation implies that a player has not been appreciated in proportion to his performance, but there aren't any metrics for this. For another, underappreciated by whom? The fans? The writers? The national media? Everybody? The answer could potentially change depending on the group.
So it's a feel thing. Which would be great for most writers, since they could just drone on about whatever, but it's less great for me, since I love facts. I cannot prove who has been the most underappreciated Mariner. I cannot hope to prove who has been the most underappreciated Mariner. That's frustrating. But I can do my best, or at least the best possible on a Friday afternoon.
It stands to reason that whoever the most underappreciated player has been must have made a positive contribution, right? It would be hard to argue that a bad player was underappreciated. So that right there narrows down the pool of candidates rather considerably. So does a playing time constraint. I don't know where to set the minimum, but I wouldn't feel comfortable giving this thing to a guy with less than, I dunno, 200 trips to the plate, or 30 innings. That isn't enough.
Now we can start talking about individual names. Brendan Ryan? No way is it Brendan Ryan. I don't think Brendan Ryan is underappreciated by anybody. Miguel Olivo? Fans might underrate his intangible impact, but the man has a .255 OBP and a trillion unblocked balls in the dirt. Mike Carp has been widely celebrated for his power. Dustin Ackley has been adequately appreciated before he even showed up in the bigs.
It can't be Michael Pineda. Michael Pineda has been all the rage. It might've been Jason Vargas were it not for his slump, but he had the slump, and the slump was terrible. His ERA+ is 88. Adam Kennedy has been pretty bad, Ichiro has underachieved, Brandon League made the All-Star Game and is now viewed by many as a legitimate shutdown closer...
To be honest, the more I think about this, the more I keep coming back to Felix Hernandez. I'm serious. I think a lot of people have been a bit hard on Justin Smoak, but then he was bad for a long time. There are arguments to be made for Doug Fister and Erik Bedard, but they're gone, and I don't think the arguments measure up. Maybe you could say Jamey Wright - and I think Wright's a likely bet to end up with that Unsung Hero award - but then, really, Jamey Wright?
I really do think it might be Felix. My sense is that a lot of people have been bored with his season. Even disappointed with his season. But in the AL, Felix ranks fourth in innings. He's sixth in FIP. He's third in xFIP. He's sixth in strikeout rate. His ERA is a little up, but it's still terrific, and it ought to be a little lower.
I don't know. Again, this is an unscientific process. But as absurd as it sounds, through the 2011 season, Felix Hernandez might have been the most underappreciated player on the Mariners. King's Court and all. Very little about him has changed from a year ago, when he won the Cy Young, but there's been so much less enthusiasm - seemingly far less than he's deserved.
Maybe I'm wrong. I didn't conduct any original research. This is a weird and complicated subject. But if nothing else, take this as a reminder not to take Felix for granted. Felix Hernandez is an amazing starting pitcher. Be amazed.