Sometimes, there are those guys that put up solid seasons and nobody really seems to notice outside of the fans that root for him. You didn't hear too many people talking about the above-average seasons that Angel Pagan and Craig Counsell put up in 2009, or Dana Eveland's quietly solid 2008 with the A's.
I mean, on many levels it makes sense. These players certainly weren't regarded as particularly interesting, and I suppose that there was some sentiment that they simply wouldn't maintain their performance going forward so it was tough to get too excited about. But still, isn't it cool (or funny, depending on who you ask..?) to know that Angel Pagan was roughly a 3-win player in 2009 and yet the Mets still opted to go with Gary Matthews Jr. and Jeff Francoeur in their outfield to begin 2010?
And the outcry wasn't nearly as loud as it should've been. Yeah, everyone knew that Matthews and Francoeur sucked, but there really wasn't that much focus on getting Pagan's talents onto the field every day. I know that Craig Calcaterra pointed out how curious the decision was on Opening Day, but this is the kind of poor decision-making that really should've gotten more attention than it did.
It's seems like people (the Mets front office included, presumably) didn't quite realize exactly how impressive Pagan's 2009 performance had been. That's pretty much the only way that I can explain how they determined that playing Francoeur and Matthews over Pagan, unless they thought it was 2006 or something. Because guys who played like Pagan did in 2009 simply should be playing everyday somewhere, and that's without factoring in that Pagan's competition for playing time was particularly weak. All the outfielder did was bat .306/.350/.487 while playing above average defense and stealing 14 bases. That's good for a 2.9 WAR in 88 games. Compare that to Matthews and Francoeur, who were a combined 1.7 wins BELOW replacement combined in 2008-2009.
I know that Pagan finally made his way into the lineup fairly quickly and is establishing himself as one of New York's best players. But I just find it pretty interesting that people didn't consider it an absolute travesty that the Mets weren't playing one of their best players on Opening Day in order to get a couple guys who belong in Triple-A into the lineup.
I thought I'd touch on a few players who are quietly putting up some pretty strong numbers without much fanfare or attention, so they don't end up getting stuck in the same position as Pagan. Because, you know, I have that kind of power and stuff.
Jerry Hairston Jr., San Diego - 2.2 WAR in 111 games
Yeah, it's mostly because of strong defensive numbers that may or may not be affected by sample size and/or batted ball distribution wonkiness, but Hairston's quietly putting up a pretty strong season in San Diego. People haven't really noticed his contributions because of the weak .252/.307/.364 line, but he's also dealing with playing in Petco Park and a somewhat low BABIP (although he does have a track record of being a low-BABIP hitter due to his tendency to pop the ball up). But he's appeared in 60 games at shortstop, 44 games at second base, 3 games in left field, 8 games in right field and 2 games at third base, and UZR indicates that his quality defensive work in the middle infield has continued this year. People talk about Adrian Gonzalez and the pitching staff a whole lot, but Hairston's been pretty huge for the Pads this year, too.
Jeff Keppinger, Houston - 1.9 WAR in 108 games
Keppinger's done some good (better) things before, as he put up 2.2 wins in 67 games for the 2007 Reds. But he was also sporting a high BABIP and a platoon split, so nobody exactly saw Keppinger as a big-time breakout candidate. But unlike in the Pagan situation, people were actually right this time as he was essentially a replacement-level player in 2008-2009. But this season, Keppinger's BABIP isn't nearly as high and is platoon split isn't nearly as pronounced, so there's a chance that the 30-year-old could stick around for a while. He's not going to be much more than a league-average player going forward, but Houston could still use more of those right now.
Albert Pujols, St. Louis - 5.3 WAR in 117 games
Ha! Just joshin' ya.
Cliff Pennington, Oakland - 2.6 WAR in 114 games
The former 2005 first-round pick was looking pretty disappointing for a while there as he never put up an isolated power over .089 in the minors, but he's proving to be a valuable long-term asset for the A's given his solid on-base skills and glove at shortstop. Heck, even the power has been pretty solid for a shortstop at .117 in 2010. Factoring in his league and home park, neither of which helps his numbers relatively, he's proving to be a pretty good long-term option at shortstop. The bat might regress some as ZiPS projects, but there are a lot of teams trotting out worse players at the position.