The playoffs are finally here. All the coverage will no doubt focus on the stars of the playoffs. Clayton Kershaw. Mike Trout. Miguel Cabrera. The usual suspects. The players who will supposedly propel their teams to glory. That's all well and good, but I wanted to give some attention to the unsung heroes. The "organizational cogs". The guys who showed up and didn't hurt their team. Good enough to play, but not good enough to get all the attention.
I didn't really use any stringent criteria for selecting these guys. I attempted to look at each playoff team and select the guy who most closely resembled an average player with considerable leeway. I considered only NL position players in this edition. Here they are, sorted by record.
Adam LaRoche, 1B. I'll get this out of the way first-LaRoche is not a particularly good defender, depending on which metric you prefer. DRS thinks he's an average first baseman at 0 DRS for the season. UZR thinks he's pretty bad primarily due to a lack of range. Inside Edge doesn't see him as terrible, but he's in the lower range for the 60-90% plays. Putting all this together, he's probably below average for a first baseman, but he's not terrible. There. That's done. Now then, the easy part. LaRoche is a good bat. After a down season in 2013, LaRoche cut his strikeout rate and was more powerful. His BABIP remained unchanged, but his wRC+ increased from 102 to 127 due to increased contact and more powerful contact. He gave only 1.6 fWAR due to his poor UZR rating, but that value is better if you prefer DRS.
Matt Kemp, RF. I know I said no stars, but this is Kershaw and Puig's team. Also, Kemp was the closest to average, so there you go. After recovering from a seemingly endless string of injuries, Kemp has rebounded in a big way. Kemp's 140 wRC+ is the same as Freddie Freeman's. However, Kemp garnered only 1.8 fWAR due to an abysmal defense rating. In fact, Kemp's defense was rated as the worst this season among qualified players. In a way, I suppose that means that Kemp was the worst defender in all of baseball this year, but Adam Dunn didn't really play the field. The small sample defensive stats don't like his body of work in RF so far, but it's not nearly as bad as his work in CF. Going forward, Kemp will be much less of a liability in right field, so that will really help his overall value.
Kolten Wong, 2B. Hey! A young guy! A well-rated defender! Wong had an incredibly rough cup of coffee in 2013. Full of dregs. His wRC+ was negative. However, Wong seems to have adjusted. His wRC+ is still not average yet, but since he's a solid defender at an up-the-middle position, his slightly sub-par offense is palatable. Wong is the most average of average guys, with 2.0 fWAR, but he did it in only 113 games instead of a "full season". Wong's walk rate didn't change from his small sample 2013, but he cut his strikeout rate down. He should remain a useful piece for the team that's full of useful pieces.
Jordy Mercer, SS. In Mercer we have a near carbon-copy of Wong. Slightly below average offense (91 wRC+) but solid defense at the toughest position. Mercer doesn't walk much either, so his offense is pretty BABIP-dependent. He had a better offensive season in 2013, but he had a .330 BABIP as opposed to his 2014 BABIP of .285. He's not that young anymore, but he will certainly help the Pirates maintain their solid defense to complement their ground balling ways. The combination of not terrible offense and good defense got him 2.0 fWAR this season.
Gregor Blanco, all the outfields. Gregor Blanco is one of those random guys that I really like despite the lack of any star power. As a Royals fan, I was excited when the Royals had this guy in 2010. He could take a walk and play defense, things which were in short supply during those days for the Royals. For whatever reason, the Royals got rid of him, and he ended up in San Francisco, where he has done the exact same things he did for the Royals-get on base and play good defense. He's gathered 2.0 fWAR this season, making it his third season in a row of 2+ fWAR baseball. He's probably most remembered for preserving Matt Cain's perfect game in 2012. I'll remember him for being a sneaky solid contributor that the Royals inexplicably ignored.
These guys will probably get almost no attention unless they make mistakes, with the obvious exception of Kemp. Kemp will get a lot of attention. Let's not forget about the other guys, though.
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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs.
Kevin Ruprecht is an Editor for Beyond the Box Score. He also writes at Royals Review. You can follow him on Twitter at @KevinRuprecht.