Cardinals finish No. 1 as we honor each team's unsung hero
The top of this year's final Power Rankings suggests we could be in for a fourth World Series showdown between the No. 1 Cardinals and the No. 2 Red Sox. Those teams also faced off in 1946, 1967 and 2004, with St. Louis winning the first two of those in seven games and Boston sweeping to its first title in 86 years in the latter. In fact, those teams have held our No. 1 ranking more often than any other team this season: Cardinals (12 weeks), Red Sox (5), Braves (4), Tigers (3) and Pirates (1).
Now, with all that front-running commentary out of the way, the rest of this space is about the underappreciated and the overlooked, as Power Rankings presents the Fourth Annual Unsung Heroes edition. The idea is to honor the those people whose contributions have been a critical, if overlooked, part of their team's success.
And two final notes: Though this is the last edition of Power Rankings, it is not a ranking of full season performance -- which, of course, can be found by clicking the "standings" link above -- but of each team's play at the end of the season. Also, this year Power Rankings has utilized a quantitative formula based on season record (50 percent), recent play and strength of schedule (combined 25 percent) and run differential (25 percent).
NOTE: All stats are updated through Wednesday, Sept. 25.
Last Week: 2
|Kevin Siegrist, LHP |
Siegrist, a rookie former 41st-round pick, has thrown 38 innings this year. He's allowed two runs. That's good for a 0.47 ERA -- a 784 adjusted ERA+, by the way, a cool 684 percent above league average. He also has an 11.8 K/9 rate.
Last Week: 1
|Jarrod Saltalamacchia, C |
In Boston's remarkably deep lineup, even a catcher with 39 doubles (tied for sixth in the AL) and an OPS over .800 can get lost in the shuffle, but Saltalamacchia has, perhaps because he most often batted seventh in the order. Even the impending free agency for the switch-hitting catcher has been overshadowed by that of his more celebrated teammates, Jacoby Ellsbury and Mike Napoli.
Last Week: 3
|Omar Infante, 2B |
It's easier to remember last summer's Tigers-Marlins swap for Detroit's acquisition of Anibal Sanchez, but the Tigers also acquired Infante, who's been anything but an afterthought. Infante is batting .318, which leads AL second basemen with at least 450 plate appearances.
Last Week: 4
|Coco Crisp, CF |
Now that third baseman Josh Donaldson has become the subject of serious discussion as an AL MVP candidate, Crisp has taken the mantle of most underappreciated Athletic. This season he has a career-high 22 home runs, a .772 OPS that leads Oakland's outfielders, nearly as many walks (60) as strikeouts (65), a high stolen-base percentage (20-for-25, 80 percent) and above-average defense (+5 runs, per the Fielding Bible).
Last Week: 6
|Joey Votto, 1B |
There are actually complaints out there that Votto walks too often, an unfortunate line of thinking that obscures his genius at the plate. He rarely makes outs. In fact, he's about to lead the NL in on-base percentage (.434 so far this year), which would be the fourth straight season he's led the league in that category. As noted in this space before, only five other players have done that: Barry Bonds, Wade Boggs, Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Rogers Hornsby.
Last Week: 5
Many important Braves contributors this season have been acquired on the cheap, suggesting shrewd scouting work. Relievers Anthony Varvaro (2.72 ERA in 72 2/3 innings) and David Carpenter (1.81 ERA in 64 2/3 innings) were both waiver claims; starter Freddy Garcia (1.65 ERA in 27 1/3 innings) had his contract purchased from the Orioles' Triple A club; and third baseman Chris Johnson -- whose .325 batting average is second in the NL -- was the extra player in the trade that brought Justin Upton from Arizona to Atlanta.
Last Week: 11
|Alex Torres, LHP |
Torres has been an important bridge in the Rays' bullpen, covering for starters who have been knocked out early before the late-inning relievers enter. He has thrown 56 2/3 innings with a 1.43 ERA and .154 batting average against and has made 11 appearances of at least two innings, entering in the fifth inning or earlier 13 times.
Last Week: 10
|Yan Gomes, C |
The emergence of Gomes has helped the Indians play franchise cornerstone Carlos Santana an increasing number of games at first base and DH. Gomes, who has started 75 times, has a strong .289/.344/.477 batting line with 10 home runs. He also rates as having saved 10 runs defensively, which ranks fifth among all catchers.
Last Week: 14
|Neal Cotts, LHP, and Tanner Scheppers, RHP |
With past and present All-Star closers Joe Nathan, Joakim Soria and Neftali Feliz on the 40-man roster, it's easy to overlook the other relievers, but Cotts and Scheppers have been terrific. Cotts has a 1.17 ERA, 3.8 K/BB ratio and 11 holds in 53 2/3 innings; Scheppers has a 1.88 ERA, 2.3 K/BB ratio and 24 holds in 71 2/3 innings.
Last Week: 13
|Juan Uribe, 3B |
Uribe was a major disappointment in the first two seasons of his three-year deal -- a .199 average and .552 OPS in 2011 and '12 -- but he's reinvented himself in '13. He has a .755 OPS and has been one of the NL's best defensive third basemen with 14 runs saved, according to the Fielding Bible.
Last Week: 9
Though Fox recently received his due in the Post-Gazette, it's worth highlighting his work here, too. Fox built the the Pirates' internal data system that played a key role in the team's aggressive defensive shifts and its pitchers' superlative groundball rates. Pittsburgh's pitchers have the highest groundball rate since at least 1987, the earliest season STATS LLC has the data, and its park-adjusted defensive efficiency has improved each of the past four years, according to Baseball Prospectus, from a ranking of 29th in 2010 to fifth in '13.
Last Week: 15
|Jason Vargas, LHP |
Vargas lost nearly two months in the middle of his season to a blood clot but was sturdy and, at times, exceptional before and after his medical leave. He was a capable No. 3 starter behind high-priced Jered Weaver and C.J. Wilson for the pitching-starved Angels while throwing the club's only two shutouts -- one before the clot and one after -- and posting a 4.01 ERA in his 23 starts.
Last Week: 8
|Bruce Chen, LHP |
Offseason moves crowded the 36-year-old Chen out of the Opening Day rotation, but he pitched his way back into it. All told, in 14 starts and 19 relief appearances, he's pitched to a 3.31 ERA in 114 1/3 innings.
Last Week: 7
|Ross Ohlendorf, RHP |
The thrice-released Ohlendorf began the year in the minors but has been good when summoned to the big league mound, with a 3.28 ERA in 60 1/3 innings. He's made seven starts, five of which put Washington in position to win: three officially deemed quality starts and two quality-ish starts, both of which lasted five innings with one run allowed. (Reliever Craig Stammen, he of the 2.76 ERA in 81 2/3 innings, would have been deserving, had he not been so named last year.)
Last Week: 12
|Tommy Hunter, RHP |
The "other guy" acquired from the Rangers alongside Chris Davis, Hunter has been a workhorse in relief, as his 85 1/3 innings out of the bullpen rank fourth in the majors. He's been effective, too, with a 2.74 ERA, and his average fastball is 96.2 mph, which ranks ninth among relievers, according to FanGraphs.
Last Week: 16
|A.J. Pollock, CF |
Pollock entered spring training buried as the No. 5 outfielder on Arizona's depth chart, yet he became Arizona's third-most valuable position player behind only first baseman Paul Goldschmidt and rightfielder Gerardo Parra. Pollock, who has a 3.2 WAR per Baseball-Reference, has logged 469 plate appearances with serviceable contributions -- 28 doubles and a .726 OPS-- and, more importantly, 14 defensive runs saved in centerfield, according to the Fielding Bible. His Ultimate Zone Rating may even set a record.
Last Week: 24
Collins has done a commendable job managing the Mets amidst considerable commotion: huge expectations on Matt Harvey, Zack Wheeler and Travis d'Arnaud and injuries to Harvey and David Wright. As of late July, the Mets had matched the preseason favorite Nationals in the loss column, and they are still playing hard late in the year with wins in eight of their last 11 games.
Last Week: 18
The Brewers have received some promising second-half contributions from rookies who weren't signed or drafted with huge fanfare. Righthander Wily Peralta, who received a modest $450,000 bonus as an international free agent in 2005, has a 4.37 ERA in 183 1/3 innings; second baseman Scooter Gennett, a 16th-round pick, has a .328 average and .857 OPS; leftfielder Khris Davis, a seventh-round pick, has 10 HRs and a .926 OPS; and righthander Tyler Thornburg, a third-round pick, has a 2.03 ERA in 66 2/3 innings.
Last Week: 17
While he made more headlines for his interactions with Alex Rodriguez -- headlined by the GM telling his third baseman to "shut the f--- up" -- Cashman's regular roster manipulations helped keep the club in contention. Facing unusual financial constraints for the Yankees, he maneuvered on the margins, employing 33 position players (tied for the most since 1916) to keep an injury-ravaged club in contention. (Joe Girardi deserves billing too but he should receive some Manager of Year votes, whereas there is no prominent executive of the year award.)
Last Week: 19
|Chad Gaudin, RHP |
As the righthanders in San Francisco's rotation struggled -- Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum and Ryan Vogelsong all had disappointing seasons -- the journeyman Gaudin stepped in and pitched better than all of them, with a 3.53 ERA in 12 starts. He was even better as a reliever, with a 2.05 ERA in 18 appearances over 30 2/3 innings.
Last Week: 22
|Jhoulys Chacin, RHP |
After an injury-riddled 2012, Chacin has emerged as Colorado's ace, with a 3.47 ERA in his 31 starts, which translates to a 127 adjusted ERA+ that ranks seventh among all NL pitchers. His 0.50 HR/9 rate is third all-time among qualified Rockies starters.
Last Week: 20
|Tyson Ross, RHP |
Ross, a former second-round pick in Oakland, perhaps needed a change of scenery. He had a 5.33 ERA in parts of three seasons with the A's before an offseason trade to San Diego, where he had a 3.10 ERA in 119 innings (15 starts, 19 relief appearances) and an 8.5 K/9 that was two strikeouts better than his rate in Oakland.
Last Week: 21
|Adam Lind, DH, and Colby Rasmus, CF |
The lefty-swinging Lind and Rasmus delivered twin bounceback seasons to pair with the righthanded sluggers Jose Bautista and Edwin Encarnacion, giving the Blue Jays better lineup balance. Lind had three straight seasons with an OPS below .735 before rallying to an .850 mark in 2013; Rasmus had two years of a sub-.700 OPS before an .840 in '13.
Last Week: 25
|Matt Garza, ex-Cubs RHP |
Garza's season started late because of a stress fracture in his elbow, but then he pitched well enough (3.17 ERA) and long enough (11 starts) in a Cubs uniform to land several prospects from the Rangers -- power-hitting third baseman Mike Olt, promising rookie pitcher Justin Grimm and A-ball pitcher C.J. Edwards -- at the trade deadline before his season took a decided turn for the worse (4.56 ERA in 12 starts so far).
Last Week: 28
|Justin Smoak, 1B |
The .238 average and sub-20 home run output from the once highly touted prospect are distractions from the fact that Smoak turned in a solid season. Smoak's .742 OPS computes to a 112 OPS+ -- meaning he produced 12 percent better than average after adjusting for league and ballpark -- thanks in large part to his patience at the plate: personal bests in walk rate (12.2 percent of plate appearances) and OBP (.333). He's not superstar material, but he's a solid everyday player for a club that doesn't have enough of them in the lineup.
Last Week: 27
|Jose Quintana, LHP |
Only seven lefthanded starters in baseball have an ERA+ greater than 120 -- i.e. 20 percent above average, after adjusted for league and ballpark -- while also maintaining a K/BB ratio of at least 2.9. The White Sox are the only AL club with a pair of them -- Chris Sale, of course, but also Quintana, a 24-year-old in his second big league season.
Last Week: 23
|Cliff Lee, LHP |
Even though he was named an All-Star, Lee has not been getting much attention for his remarkable season. Lost amidst the tumult of the Phillies -- Charlie Manuel getting fired, Roy Halladay and Ryan Howard suffering injury-plagued years, et al. -- is that Lee has been the third-most productive pitcher in baseball, according to Baseball-Reference's computation of Wins Above Replacement. Lee has a 6.9 WAR, which ranks 10th among all players and pitchers thanks to his 2.93 ERA and big league-leading 6.53 K/BB ratio.
Last Week: 29
Hernandez has overseen an impressive rotation of youngsters, a unit headlined by deserving NL Rookie of the Year Jose Fernandez, who only just turned 21. But he isn't the only youthful starter to turn in a good year, as Nathan Eovaldi, Jacob Turner and Henderson Alvarez -- all 23 or younger -- have pitched well too. The four have combined for a 3.18 ERA in 81 starts.
Last Week: 26
The No. 1 story for the Twins this season was the emergence of two of the game's best prospects, outfielder Byron Buxton and third baseman Miguel Sano. Minnesota signed Sano for a $3.15 million bonus in late 2009 before the new CBA capped international spending. The club drafted Buxton No. 2 overall in 2012, after the Astros selected Carlos Correa first and offered him a below-slot bonus in order to have more money to distribute to later picks -- a consideration motivated by the new CBA.
Last Week: 30
As the Astros assemble prodigious talent to rebuild their depleted farm system, the major league club has suffered, having secured the worst record (and, thus, No. 1 overall draft pick) for three straight seasons. Despite the recent 0.0 Nielsen rating for a game, Houston still averaged 22,292 tickets sold over its most recent six-game homestand, which is better than what the playoff-contending Rays and Indians have averaged all season, and those fans will likely be rewarded for their perseverance in a few years' time. (Astros fans were given this honor last year too, but let's be honest, they deserve it again.)