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The 50 most underrated batters in baseball history

Posted by Andy
Following is the list of the most underrated batters in baseball history. Just as with our list of the 50 most overrated batters, the method utilizes Baseball-Reference.com's EloRater as well as its career WAR data for each player. You can read the detailed method here.

Very briefly, we've used the player's ranking on the EloRater to determine an expected career WAR (eWAR) and then subtracted that from his actual career WAR (bWAR) to find the difference. The players with the 50 largest such differences are listed below.

Robin Yount - a Hall of Famer but still underrated
Icon SMI
You will see that this list is dominated by two types of player:
  • Players from the early 1900s or late 1800s: these guys are comparatively forgotten and lose more than their fair share of EloRater matchups.
  • Players who had great careers but are disliked.
I'm not giving away a huge secret by mentioning that Barry Bonds is #1, thanks to his EloRanking of 25 at the time we worked up this data, despite the fact that he is #2 in career WAR, just a smidgen behind Babe Ruth.

OK--here's the list.

Rank  Player               Elo Rank  bWAR      eWAR  Difference
1     Barry Bonds          25        171.8     86.9    84.9      
2     Eddie Collins        17        126.7     95.5    31.2      
3     George Davis         86         90.7     60.2    30.5      
4     Roger Connor         76         87.2     58.3    28.9      
5     Fred Clarke          118        73.4     49.0    24.4      
6     Bill Dahlen          170        75.9     54.9    21.0
7     Willie Randolph      200        60.5     40.4    20.1      
8     Ty Cobb              4         159.4    140.0    19.4      
9     Bobby Wallace        206        60.5     41.7    18.8      
10    Lou Whitaker         98         69.7     51.4    18.3      
11    Charlie Bennett      724        38.0     19.9    18.1      
12    Bid McPhee           235        57.9     39.9    18.0
13    Dan Brouthers        63         83.7     66.6    17.1      
14    Rafael Palmeiro      135        66.0     49.3    16.7      
15    Joe Morgan           29        103.5     87.2    16.3      
16    Rickey Henderson     23        113.1     97.0    16.1      
17    Bill Bradley         634        35.0     19.4    15.6      
18    Lonny Frey           552        38.7     23.4    15.3      
19    Cap Anson            32         99.5     84.3    15.2      
20    Ezra Sutton          618        37.6     22.6    15.0
21    Tommy Leach          288        50.9     35.9    15.0     
22    Mel Ott              18        109.3     94.5    14.8  
23    Cupid Childs         276        47.2     32.7    14.5      
24    Ken McMullen         647        31.7     17.3    14.4      
25    Sal Bando            142        60.6     46.9    13.7      
26    Art Fletcher         444        42.8     29.3    13.5      
27    Jimmy Sheckard       301        51.8     38.4    13.4      
28    Johnny Evers         280        48.4     35.0    13.4      
29    Home Run Baker       118        63.7     50.4    13.3      
30    Art Devlin           626        33.8     20.5    13.3      
31    Max Bishop           500        36.4     23.3    13.1      
32    Dave Bancroft        271        46.4     33.4    13.0     
33    Jake Beckley         159        61.5     48.7    12.8      
34    Gene Tenace          258        48.7     35.9    12.8      
35    Deacon White         435        43.1     30.6    12.5      
36    Reggie Smith         147        63.4     51.2    12.2      
37    Eddie Mathews        31         98.3     86.1    12.2      
38    Jack Glasscock       222        58.7     46.6    12.1      
39    Herman Long          265        44.6     32.6    12.0     
40    Honus Wagner         9         134.5    122.5    12.0     
41    Tom Burns            894        24.4     12.4    12.0      
42    Tris Speaker         10        133.0    121.1    11.9      
43    Billy Nash           488        36.4     24.5    11.9      
44    Lave Cross           351        44.8     33.0    11.8      
45    Robin Yount          44         76.9     65.2    11.7      
46    Larry Gardner        383        43.0     31.4    11.6      
47    Roy Thomas           429        42.8     31.3    11.5      
48    Kid Elberfeld        657        30.6     19.3    11.3      
49    Ozzie Smith          104        64.6     53.7    10.9      
50    Darrell Evans        153        57.3     46.4    10.9      

Once again...deep breath.

Here are some thoughts:
  • Barry Bonds is screwed. Unless something happens in the next 5-10 years that dramatically changes the public's perception (of him as a person), he's doomed to remain underrated forever. The proof is a little further down the list--Ty Cobb. Cobb is another guy who has not liked during his career, and his reputation as a despicable person remains intact today. A hundred years after the fact, it's still hurting Cobb in the Elo rankings, and we can expect it will continue for Bonds too.
  • There are numerous other players on the list who are pretty substantially unliked. Rafael Palmeiro and Anson stick out as two guys who were also hurt by their lack of popularity.
  • Joe Morgan is an interesting case--he has two things that hurt him. Firstly, he's hated as a broadcaster, and that's got to hurt him. Secondly, I've often felt he was underrated as a player, probably because OBP wasn't much considered during his playing days.
  • Numerous guys make the list because their defensive contributions are not completely factored in. This is certainly true for Willie Randolph, and also for Lou Whitaker, Ozzie Smith, and Reggie Smith.
  • There are other favorites of relatively recent players who are often cited as underrated: Darrell Evans, Sal Bando, and Gene Tenace.
Pitchers coming up tomorrow!

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