Last week, we covered some of the most overshadowed players in the National League. This week, we turn our attention to the American League. Of course, the most dominant players in the AL in recent years have been Mike Trout and Mookie Betts.
Trout is in the midst of another fantastic season, while Betts has somewhat recovered form a woeful start to the year, although he is hardly putting up the kind of numbers that he posted in 2018.
However, the universe does not rotate merely around these two superstars. There are numerous performances from various American League players that deserve more praise, so let’s get to it, shall we?
Here are five overshadowed players in the American League:
1. Brandon Lowe
Does this name jump off the page? No? Well, Lowe is unquestionably the best rookie in the American League for a Tampa Bay Rays team that looks determined to make the playoffs in 2019.
While the Chicago White Sox made headlines by signing Eloy Jimenez to a contract extension before he had even played in an MLB game, and Vladdy Jr. continues to build his hype train, Lowe has far surpassed both of them in terms of value.
Entering play on June 19, Lowe was slashing .285/.341/.544 with 15 homers and 44 RBIs. He had accumulated 2.3 fWAR, which puts him in a tie for 26th in the majors in terms of WAR value. And according to FanGraphs, his 3.5 base running value (BsR) is sixth-best in the MLB, ahead of Trout.
Lowe could very well be one of the biggest two-way stars of the future. He can hit for average and power, run the bases and field his position. As of June 19, he had posted four Defensive Runs Saved and registered a positive Ultimate Zone Rating (UZR) in just over 442 innings at second base.
And yet, Lowe continues to be overlooked. He was hardly the most high-profile rookie in the league, and most of the focus on Tampa Bay continues to revolve around how they pulled a fast one on the Pittsburgh Pirates in the Chris Archer trade.
Yes, Lowe still has plenty of room to grow. He has struck out at a 34.1 percent clip thus far, with a walk rate that is barely over six percent. But make no mistake, this is a name that should ring out in MLB circles for years to come.
2. Robinson Chirinos
Plenty of players would be overshadowed on the Houston Astros. When you have a roster with names like Justin Verlander, Jose Altuve, Carlos Correa, George Springer and Alex Bregman, it is bound to happen.
This spot easily could have gone to the likes of Michael Brantley (one of the best pure hitters on this Houston team) or Josh Reddick (proving to be more than just a utility player), but Chirinos has been one of the most valuable catchers in baseball this season.
The Astros signed Chirinos to a one-year deal in December, hoping to merely acquire a decent filler to take over the role previously held by Brian McCann, Max Stassi and Martin Maldonado. But Chirinos has arguably exceeded any and all expectations.
Before play began on June 19, Chirinos was slashing .235/.365/.500 with 12 homers and a 135 wRC+, according to FanGraphs. Aside from providing some added pop and proving capable of handling the bat, Chirinos’ 14 percent walk rate is the best of his career, and he has cut his strikeouts by almost six percent from the 2018 season.
Considering that Altuve, Springer and now Correa have all missed extended time this season, Chirinos has provided yet another crucial run-producer in a lineup that was already full of slugging.
There are knocks to Chirinos’ skills behind the dish, particularly when it comes to framing. But he has also registered three Defensive Runs Saved, which is the best mark of his career thus far. And with 1.6 fWAR, he has already matched his 2017 total.
Chirinos may not be the biggest name on this Astros team, but his presence has been of vital importance.
3. Carlos Santana
When the Indians decided to bring Santana back into the fold for the 2019 season, plenty of skeptics criticized the move. After all, the Indians had far more pressing needs in the outfield, and Santana was about to be a 33-year-old veteran coming off one of the worst years of his career in terms of fWAR.
Of course, Cleveland still needs plenty of outfield help, but where would this team realistically be without Santana? Francisco Lindor began the year on the Injured List, and Jose Ramirez somehow forgot that he was one of the elite players in baseball.
Meanwhile, the Indians have seemed helpless as the Minnesota Twins have skyrocketed to the best record in the American League (as of June 19), and now find themselves between a rock and a hard place with just over a month to go before the July 31 trade deadline.
In the midst of it all, Santana has done nothing but rake. Entering play on June 19, he was posting career highs in batting average (.285), on-base percentage (.405), slugging (.514) and wRC+ while also already accumulating 2.2 fWAR. Santana led the team in doubles (14), homers (14), RBIs (42) and total bases (130), proving to be the most important bat in the lineup.
Unfortunately, the narratives surrounding the Indians are not in Santana’s favor. Instead of appreciating him as a guy that should be a shoe-in to start in the All-Star game for the AL, all of the focus will be on whether or not Cleveland decides to sell the likes of Trevor Bauer and Brad Hand.
Heck, even Santana himself could be in play if the Indians decide to blow it up. What a shame.
4/5. Matt Chapman and Marcus Semien
The Oakland Athletics have two of the very best infielders in the game of baseball, and yet their small market and defensive brand of superstardom makes both Matt Chapman and Marcus Semien candidates to consistently fly under the radar.
As of June 19, Semien ranked 10th in the MLB in terms of fWAR, while Chapman ranked 20th. Defense is not the sexiest thing in baseball, but these guys might be the best defenders in the game at their respective positions.
In close to 673 innings, Semien had racked up six Defensive Runs Saved and was running a 12.5 UZR/150. And according to FanGraphs, Semien is the third-most valuable defender in baseball.
Chapman ranks 16th on that list, but he is also the kind of defender that you simply have to watch. He has the kind of range and arm strength at the hot corner that is unmatched by anyone save for Nolan Arenado. He posted an insane 29 Defensive Runs Saved in 2018, and has eight DRS thus far this season.
But Semien and Chapman are hardly one-dimensional, though the tendency for both of them to get lumped into the “good defender” category explains why they are overshadowed.
Semien was slashing .280/.365/.447 and is a contact machine, striking out at just a 13.7 percent rate while still clubbing 10 homers. For his part, Chapman was slashing .257/.342/.504 with 16 homers, and has proven that his raw power is off the charts.
Oakland is going to have a tougher time making the playoffs this year, and the small market makes their players susceptible to consistently being overlooked and underrated.
Such has been the case for Semien and Chapman, who continue to excel at the highest level.