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Under the radar (cont.)

Posted: Friday March 23, 2007 12:25PM; Updated: Friday March 23, 2007 12:54PM
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Little's accent and speech patterns, which can sound a little like Forrest Gump, can cause folks to underestimate him. It's not a strategy, though, just something that comes naturally. "What you see is what you get," he says.

What you usually get is the right call. The move to let Pedro Martinez keep pitching in Game 7 of the 2003 ALCS against the Yankees is the one folks remember, though.

"It'll be something people talk about for a long time," Little says. "To get the point where we're in the seventh game, I was sitting in the dugout. A lot of people are forming opinions and making comments, but they weren't in that dugout."

Runner-up Manager: Ron Gardenhire, Twins.

Starting pitcher

Derek Lowe, Dodgers.

Derek Lowe has been a consistent winner for the Dodgers since leaving the Red Sox.
Derek Lowe has been a consistent winner for the Dodgers since leaving the Red Sox.
Chris Trotman/WireImage.com

This guy is one of the best pitchers in baseball nobody ever talks about. He's clutch, he's durable and he's versatile. Plus, he's a major winner.

Since 2002, the three biggest pitching winners in baseball are Roy Oswalt with 84 victories, Randy Johnson with 80 and Lowe also with 80. One of them no one guesses.

"I think if anyone was asked to give the top 10, I wouldn't be mentioned in the top 30," Lowe says. "You can't change people's opinions. Guys who have electric stuff but are inconsistent get talked about."

He says he doesn't know why that is, but he has an idea. "I think it's all about the perception of the strikeout. Guys who strike guys out are remembered," Lowe says. "A guy can go seven and strike out ten or he can go seven and get 15 groundballs. What are people going to remember?"

Like a lot of much bigger stars, Lowe went through a tough breakup with Boston. He blames himself more than anyone. "I didn't pitch very good. I tried too hard to have a career year," says Lowe, who followed an awful 2004 regular season with a 3-0 postseason.

Yet he also decries the system in Boston, where star players' flaws are sometimes aired in the paper before they are let go. He understands the fans' need to know is insatiable in Boston. But that doesn't mean he enjoyed reading what his bosses thought of him.

"The sad thing about being in that market, they have to give the fans reasons why they keep guys or don't keep guys," Lowe says. "As the year went on, I'm reading all this negative stuff. If you want to know where you stand, just read the papers in Boston. When you play in a market like Boston, you know your fate.

"It's too bad they can't ease you out the door," he adds. "They have to slam the door."

Lowe recalls that Nomar Garciaparra, Mo Vaughn, Martinez and Roger Clemens, to separate degrees, also experienced uncomfortable breakups in Boston (and it appears the same may be happening to Curt Schilling). "They said Clemens was washed up, and he's won four Cy Youngs since then," Lowe remarks.

With Lowe, the knocks in the papers were related to off-field issues. "They didn't think I was reliable or trustworthy," he says. "I think a lot of the things they said were incorrect." Incorrect or not, they were wrong to think Matt Clement would be a suitable replacement for Lowe, who remains as reliable and trustworthy as almost anyone on the field, where it counts.

Runner-up Starter: John Lackey, Angels.

Relief pitcher

Scot Shields, Angels.

Almost no one does the job of setting up the closer better than Shields, an unassuming guy who goes unnoticed -- though not by folks in the game. When Manny Ramirez was discussed in trade with Anaheim, Shields was one of the names that came up. Anaheim wouldn't think of it.

Shields credits the Angels fine starting staff and having "one of the best closers in the game" in Francisco Rodriguez. But those who play know how good this guy is. Some of the game's biggest hitters dread having to face him.

Shields throw hard and his ball moves in unexpected ways, but his best attribute is that he acts like he has the upper hand, no matter who he's facing, an unusual trait for a 38th-round draft choice (1,137th pick overall) and converted shortstop. "I don't back down from any hitter," Shields said. "I just say, 'Here it comes."'

It works. Shields is regularly among the league leaders in innings and strikeouts for a reliever, and over the past three years has thrown 284 2/3 innings and struck out 291 batters. He also is usually among league leaders in the non-glamorous stat of "holds." "Middle relievers are starting to get more recognition," Shields says. "But it doesn't matter to me, as long as I'm doing my job."

Runner-up Reliever: Brian Fuentes, Rockies.

Infielder

Carlos Guillen, Tigers.

Guillen has to be the most underrated player in the game. Over the last three seasons, he's hit .318, .320 and .320, and last year, at age 30, he blossomed into a major star for the pennant-winning Tigers.

Guillen's offensive output compares favorably to any shortstop, and that includes Derek Jeter, who finished second in American League MVP voting. Guillen's batting average ranked third among all shortstops (behind Jeter's .343 and Miguel Tejada's .330), his .400 on-base percentage ranked second (to Jeter's .417), his .519 slugging percentage ranked first (Tejada was second at .498) and his .920 OPS first (Jeter's .900 was second). And Guillen did all this while playing in one of the worst hitter's parks, Comerica Park.

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