My All-Underrated Team (cont.)
Left Field: Carlos Lee, Astros
Like Roberts, Lee has been underrated for years and this season is no different. He ranks sixth in the NL in hits and eighth in RBIs, and among left fielders he's in the top five in each of the Triple Crown categories. For the year, he's hitting .305 with 25 home runs and 94 RBIs, well within range of his seventh straight season with at least 99 RBIs. Even more impressively, he has struck out just 45 times, the fewest in the game for any player with at least 20 home runs.
Center Field: Matt Kemp, Dodgers
The two men on either side of him in the Dodgers' outfield -- Andre Ethier in right and Manny Ramirez in left -- have gotten considerably more attention, but Kemp deserves similar treatment. One week shy of his 25th birthday, he's drawn comparisons from manager Joe Torre to Bernie Williams, the graceful and often overlooked center-field centerpiece of the Yankees' recent dynasty. Kemp leads all center fielders in RBIs, and his 10-game winning RBIs, while less dramatic than those of Ethier, are tied for the most in the game among center fielders. Overall, his .305 average, 23 home runs and 91 RBIs represent a breakout season for a man who isn't likely to be on a list like this much longer.
Right Field: Nick Markakis, Orioles
With a six-year extension he signed in January that will net him over $60 million, the 25-year-old Markakis is being paid like a star even though he isn't often thought of like one. He should be, though. Markakis leads the O's in batting average and RBIs and leads all right fielders in doubles. In addition, his 93 RBIs are the most of any right fielder in the American League, as are his 82 runs scored, and only Ichiro has more hits. With a .303 batting average, Markakis is on pace for his third straight .300 season in his four-year career.
Designated Hitter: Hideki Matsui, Yankees
As difficult as it might be to believe, there is actually a Yankee who doesn't get enough attention, at least not from the people in this country. Though he is still a living legend in Japan, Matsui has been overshadowed throughout his seven-season Yankees career, most recently by the likes of Derek Jeter, Alex Rodriguez, Teixeira and Johnny Damon. Yet Matsui remains what he has always been, a highly effective run producer with serious pop. After playing just 93 games last season (his second injury-plagued season in three years), Matsui has bounced back at age 35 to bat .275 with a .510 slugging percentage, 24 home runs and 81 RBIs. He leads all DHs in hits, home runs, RBIs and slugging percentage while ranking second in batting average and on-base percentage.
Starting Pitcher: Scott Feldman, Rangers
All of the players on this list are underrated. Only one is virtually unknown. That would be Feldman, the 26-year-old former 30th-round draft pick who is in his fifth season in the majors but only his second as a starter. If his 6-8 record and 5.29 ERA in 2008 kept him anonymous, then his 16-4 mark and 3.46 ERA this year should have changed all that. Feldman began the year in the bullpen, but was moved into the rotation after Kris Benson got hurt. Thanks largely to his new cut fastball, Feldman has improved substantially, and now has the best winning percentage in the American League. His 16 wins are the second-most in the AL and his 3.10 ERA as a starter is fourth-best. He's also holding batters to the third-lowest OPS of any pitcher in the league, behind only Felix Hernandez and Zack Greinke.
Closer: Huston Street, Rockies
Consider the following comparison:
Aside from the ERA, the numbers are almost identical, yet the top line belongs to the most talked about closer in the game and the second to one of the most overlooked. Mariano Rivera has been his usual excellent self and deserves serious Cy Young consideration, but Huston Street has been nearly as good, especially since he resumed his role as closer on May 1. In that time, Street has posted a 2.23 ERA and notched 31 saves. He ranks third among all closers in K/BB ratio, and leads the NL in save percentage, all while posting the lowest WHIP (0.92) of his career. Not bad for a guy who at lost his job at one point this season.
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