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Finding the most underrated Mariner in M's history

Which player put up the most underrated single season performance in Seattle Mariners history?

Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images

We've gathered here today to try and determine which players (one pitcher and one position player) have had the most underrated single seasons in Mariners history.

To do this in a somewhat objective manner, we should first determine the variables that we're going to consider while passing judgement. For this discussion, I'm defining "underrated" as the ratio between a player's otherworldly production versus the utterly disappointing lack of accolades that they received from the general public/media. In this case, I'm simply using fWAR for the "production" and the number/type of annual awards for the "accolades".

Next, we should design a metric with which to judge the performance of the players. As such, I've put together this fairly straightforward figure of merit:

Underrated Index = fWAR - (5·(MVP+Cy Young shares)) - (3·ROY shares) - (1·AS) - (1/2·GG) - (1/2·SS)

where AS = 1 if selected to the All-Star team (or 0, if not), GG = 1 if Gold Glove recipient, and SS = 1 if Silver Slugger recipient.

You could certainly argue that the coefficients in this equation should be different so as to weight the value of each award differently. I didn't spend too too much time thinking about this, so it could probably be refined a bit more. However, I'm not submitting this article to a peer-reviewed publication, so it's probably sufficient. (And if you want to tweak this equation to come up with your own underrated rankings, I heartily encourage you to do so.) Anyway, the basic idea is that if you're receiving awards/MVP votes people have noticed you and you're probably not terribly underrated. When analyzing data, I only considered seasons where a player put up more than 4 WAR; this is a fairly arbitrary cut-off that I selected because I believe that, in this contest, you still have be pretty good to be considered "the most underrated".

I will admit that if I'd spent a bit more time looking at the WAR values for different players over the seasons right when I first started thinking about this post, I probably wouldn't have had to bother putting together a figure of merit... there were a few player seasons that were quite good and received absolutely no awards or votes.

First, the pitcher with the most underrated season.

Below is a table showing the pitching data from five different seasons. Four of these belong to Felix Hernandez. One does not. Look at them. Think about them. Consider them carefully.

Season A 19 5 0 34 34 238.2 8.18 2.68 0.57 0.278 76.7 % 2.49 3.09 6.3
Season B 18 9 0 33 33 236.0 8.05 2.59 0.57 0.284 73.6 % 3.24 2.74 6.7
Season C 15 6 0 34 34 236.0 9.46 1.75 0.61 0.258 77.0 % 2.14 2.56 6.2
Season D 13 12 0 34 34 249.2 8.36 2.52 0.61 0.263 77.4 % 2.27 3.04 5.5
Season E 13 9 0 33 33 232.0 8.65 2.17 0.54 0.308 75.0 % 3.06 2.84 5.9

I'm not really trying to trick you guys here; maybe you've already spotted which season doesn't belong to Felix. The point I'm attempting to illustrate is that none of these is particularly dissimilar. Each season represents an incredible performance - a ton of innings pitched, a great strikeout rate, a good/respectable walk rate, and a very good FIP. I wouldn't be terribly surprised to discover that any of these seasons resulted in a top-5 Cy Young vote... Four of them actually did.

Seasons A, C, D, and E correspond to Felix's 2009 (2nd in Cy Young voting), 2014 (2nd), 2010 (1st!), and 2012 (4th) seasons, respectively. Season B, on the other hand, belongs to (I'll draw this out to give you time to guess if you want to)...



...the 1990 season of...



this guy.

We all know the limitations of WAR, but still... the only pitcher in Mariners history not named Randy Johnson to put up a single-season fWAR above 6.5 is not Felix Hernandez. It's Erik Hanson. Think about that for a second. Think about how much you liked/respected/knew about Erik Hanson before you started reading this article. Maybe take a second to re-evaluate.

I will readily admit that because I turned four in 1990, I don't really remember what the public's perception of Hanson was that year. However, I do know that for his efforts Erik Hanson was not selected to the 1990 All-Star Game (he had the 3rd highest WAR among pitchers in the AL at the break). He did not receive any major awards. He received zero Cy Young votes and zero MVP votes. (In 1990, Hanson had 2+ more WAR than six of the seven men who received Cy Young votes.) His 6.7 WAR in '90 was second highest among pitchers in all of baseball (sandwiched comfortably between Roger Clemens and Nolan Ryan) and ranks as the fourth highest in the history of the Mariners for pitchers (at the time it was the best).

It's also important to remember he was pitching in a slightly different era (and in the Kingdome!). In 1990, Hanson's 8.05 K/9 was 48% higher than the average starting pitcher. In 2014, only Yu Darvish had a strikeout rate that was 48% higher than average. Hanson was incredibly dominant and consistent throughout the 1990 season. This performance was excellent and deserves to be remembered as such, but I get the sense that not too many people remember Erik Hanson or his contributions to the Mariners. (Although Patrick did write this gem back in 2011, so it appears as though we're not all guilty of forgetting Erik Hanson.) For these reasons, I feel very comfortable OFFICIALLY designating Erik Hanson's 1990 season as the most underrated by any Mariners pitcher in team history.

(If you're curious, the next most underrated season, according to my super scientific formula, was Mike Moore's 1985 campaign.)

Now, the position player with the most underrated season.

I'm actually going to cheat a little bit and pick two for this. The two highest Underrated Indices returned by my FOM were pretty close to one another: 6.0 and 5.7. One of these seasons was based upon a very good offensive performance and the other was based upon a stellar defensive performance.

First, the most underrated offensive performance.

Below is a table showing two MYSTERY players. One of the players earned an All-Star selection and finished in the top-5 in MVP voting. The other player did not.

Player A 157 665 14 77 82 10 9.2 10.2 0.139 0.335 0.314 0.382 0.454 0.361 136 2.4 28.8 -2.4 5.2
Player B 150 642 14 98 52 0 13.1 11.2 0.145 0.331 0.307 0.405 0.452 0.384 138 -1.2 27.3 7.1 5.7

Again, I'm not trying to trick y'all, but man are these seasons similar. Both have very quality offensive numbers - in 2014, only 13 players in the AL had a WAR above 5.1 and only 10 had a wRC+ above 135. I suppose there are a few differences between these two stat lines. Player B seems to be more of a table-setter, batting higher up in the lineup (98 runs but only 52 RBI), whereas Player A likely bats closer to the heart of the order. Additionally, Player A seems to be quicker on his feet (10 SB), but Player B seems to be dramatically superior with his glove (defensive value of 7.1; according to Fangraphs' rules of thumb, this places the performance solidly between Above Average and Great).

If you're super attentive to stats, you may have recognized that Player A is our very own Robinson Cano in 2014. And Player B corresponds to... Edgar Martinez in 1991. Edgar was a 28-year-old, slick hitting, slick fielding lead off hitter who was one of the toughest outs in all of baseball. If you're catching yourself thinking that maybe Edgar's numbers are a bit less than impressive because the 90's were a period of super-bloated offensive output, please allow me to remind you that the average OPS in 1991 for non-pitchers was 0.718. Last year, it was 0.711.

However, despite being a top-10 player in the AL in 1991, Edgar got no love from the media/awards voters, receiving no awards or MVP votes. And this wasn't even his "break-out" season! He was a stud in 1990, as well, with a wRC+ of 134 and a WAR of 5.5. It wasn't until 1992 that the baseball world finally began to appreciate the true greatness of Gar. Unfortunately, this is something that a lot of people still don't seem to understand.

(Just for fun, here is a link comparing the Mariners 27-year-old third baseman in 1990 to the Mariners 26 year-old-third baseman in 2014.)

And finally, the most underrated defensive performance.

Below is one more table comparing two more mystery players. One of these men earned an All-Star selection, a gold glove, and finished in the top-10 in MVP voting. The other did not... but he probably got a pat on the back or something at some point.

Player A 153 629 18 85 70 16 7.3 19.4 0.142 0.333 0.283 0.339 0.425 0.335 104 2.1 5.5 33.4 6.0
Player B 156 710 14 88 71 6 4.1 15.9 0.148 0.322 0.283 0.314 0.432 0.325 102 -0.7 1.1 33.6 6.3

Once again, very similar numbers. Both of these players had slightly-better-than-average offensive output combined with plus-plus defensive production. In fact, the defensive performances of these two players rank among the top-10 defensive seasons over the last 30 years (in terms of Fangraphs Def rating, among 4368 qualified player-seasons).

I won't keep you in suspense for this one. Player B is the 2013 version of Manny Machado and Player A is the 2009 version of Franklin Gutierrez. Guti was so good that year. We all know it, but it didn't really seem like too many people outside of the PNW took notice, which is a damn shame.

At this point, I think that most intelligent people have probably realized that the idea that the best fielders usually/consistently receive gold gloves is pretty much horseshit. If you're still holding onto the belief that winning a gold glove is indicative of a quality defensive performance, please allow me to refer you to the table below.  It compares a few of the different advanced defensive numbers for Guti and the three gold glove recipients in 2009.

Player Innings DRS (rank*) RZR (rank) UZR/150 (rank) Def (rank)
Franklin Gutierrez
1353.1 32 (1) 0.965 (1) 29 (1) 33.4 (1)
Ichiro Suzuki (gold glove)
1291 3 (T-9) 0.951 (4) 9.1 (8) 2.1 (10)
Torii Hunter (gold glove)
977.1 12 (T-3) 0.913 (18) -2.1 (17) -0.1 (13)
Adam Jones (gold glove)
1005 2 (T-11) 0.921 (14) -7.9 (22) -5.6 (18)

*Ranks are among the 28 qualified outfielders in the AL in 2009.

To be fair to the managers and coaches who voted on the gold glove awards, Gutierrez did commit more errors than any of the other men in this table. Because, you know, fielding percentage is the best and only worthwhile defensive metric.

For a bit more perspective on how good Guti's season was... 429 men have suited up as position players for the Mariners since 1977. Here is a list of the gentlemen who put up a higher single-season WAR than Guti's 6.0 in 2009:

  • Ken Griffey Jr.
  • Alex Rodriguez
  • Bret Boone
  • Edgar Martinez
  • Ichiro Suzuki

Those are some pretty decent baseball playres. Watching Guti fly around center field in 2009 was a genuine treat. I'm so fortunate to have had the privilege to watch him play in person that season eight or nine times. I think it's fair to say that Franklin Gutierrez's performance in 2009 was super underrated.

- - -

I think that you could make a good argument that any of the three seasons that I've talked about above is the most underrated in M's history. What do you guys think?