Originally written on Midwest Sports Fans  |  Last updated 6/27/14
Way back in February, USA Today’s 2011 MLB Preview Magazine published a lengthy piece by yours truly, whereupon I rendered my thoughts on who the most over and underrated players in the game were as we approached the new campaign. Throughout 2011, I posted  monthly updates on these “predictions,” so as to capriciously praise or condemn myself. Today, on the 1st of October with the playoffs upon us, I offer the final “results.” Underrated Miguel Cabrera The definition of a superstar. He totally lived up to my remarks, and more importantly, still didn’t get enough national love  in 2011. The 28 year-old won the batting title with a robust .344 average, finished 2nd in walks, OPS and Top 10 in every other relevant offensive category.  As a bonus, in this era of Ryan Howard, Drew Stubbs, Curtis Granderson and Adam Dunn, only 89 strikeouts in 161 games. That’s what makes a great ballplayer: consistently good all around. And still, few notice him amongst the Jose Bautistas, Paul Konerkos, Adrian Gonzalezes, Mark Teixeiras, Robinson Canos and Jacoby Ellsburys of the AL world who garner our attention. Already off to a hot start in the playoffs, Cabrera’s a legit MVP contender again. In fact, he’d get my vote. {Grade on my prediction: A+ } Paul Konerko .300, 30+ HRs, 100 + RBIs. Period. Need more be said? (And that included a rough September where he struggled alongside the whole team’s concurrent collapse.) Pauly continues to be under-appreciated, and though I dislike the ChiSox, I will keep praising Paul  — because there are people who actually think Ryan Howard is a better player, despite Konerko being better in nearly every category, and by a long shot in some. Howard will never get 2000 hits, and 400 HRs is questionable. Konerko, just three years older than the Philly first baseman, has the former, and will achieve the latter in April 2012. And unlike Howard and most others, the White Sox first baseman somehow gets better with age.  He was in the AL Top 10 in nearly all major offensive categories. {Grade: A} Adam Dunn: I often compare the media love for Ryan Howard to Adam Dunn, as I feel they’re similar players (same age, same style, etc), but if I’m to call out Ryan, Adam needs the same treatment. You can’t spin this anymore now than you could at any juncture this season: he was a disaster!  Adam hit .159 in 122 games this season, with just 11 homers and 42 RBIs. He would have probably led the league in strikeouts (177) but was benched most of the final six weeks. Dunn was a startling 6 for 94 versus left-handed pitching in 2011. Yes, that’s a .064 clip! {Grade: F} Ryan Zimmerman and Shin Soo-Choo missed too much time for evaluation in 2011. Zimmerman hit near.300, and Choo, in half a season marred by various ailments, managed eight homers and 36 RBIs overall, with a .340 batting average in limited time post All Star break.   Overrated: Ryan Howard: The “centerpiece” of my article was the Phillies’ big first baseman, who’s been at the top of my list (and emails, texts and tweets) of overhyped ballplayers for years. I saw absolutely nothing in 2011 to change my mind; in fact, no matter what ESPN or the media says or ignores, I’m more confident in my views than ever. There was a devastating critique of Howard’s absurd $25 million/year salary and declining stats in Yahoo Sports back in July, hitting every angle statistically and factually. While some commenters applauded, most ignored the content and chose to call the writer names and use profanity. It was classic to read his backers getting so flummoxed. Then, in mid-August, Baseball Reference exposed his supporters’ one reasonable claim: RBIs. They showed that given Ryan’s unmatched opportunities with men on base, about 20 other guys (including JJ Hardy and Michael Morse) would’ve had as many or more RBIs than Howard (who had 95 then, and only knocked in 21 during the season’s final six weeks). He truly lives a blessed life, having nearly 20 at bats per season with the bases loaded. Though his RBI and home run numbers remained relatively high, vital categories (and overall power categories like slugging, OPS and OBP) continue to fall precipitously, while Howard’s strikeouts remained 2nd in the National League (a hideous 172 in 152 games). Ryan hit just THREE homers off a lefty in 170 at bats this season, and no clutch hits that anyone can recall. Howard’s 2011 OPS — the most relevant category for a power guy — was an abysmal 19th in the NL. Despite his power numbers, he was also still a distant 19th in Slugging, while his On Base Percentage didn’t even crack the top 30 on the Senior Circuit. Very telling. Unless you’re looking for a player on the back-end of his career; less durable than in the past; is quite replaceable; who doesn’t get on base enough; whiffs a lot; is slow; suspect with the glove, but will get you 30 HRs with 100 RBIs and a .250 average, he’s not your man. And despite a homer in Game 1 of the NLDS on Saturday — that his desperate fans and obsequious media treated with more excitement than George Washington crossing the Delaware — look for the decline to continue in 2012 and beyond — as his salary rises to nearly the top of baseball. What a bad joke. (I won’t get into past postseason futility since I covered it last fall and, starting late in last night’s game, you’re seeing it again. In the 2011 playoffs, Howard’s had a cumulative 13 men on base in his first six at bats. Considering that, his six RBIs is understandable.) {Grade on my prediction that Howard is overrated: A} Carlos Pena: The Cubs first baseman hit 28 bombs, but that’s around his career average. He still finished at his customary .225 and a putrid .133 off lefties; yet this overpaid 33-year old is a lifetime .239 hitter, so what do we expect? Losing player, losing teams. He doesn’t strikeout quite as much as Howard or Dunn (still had 161 in 153 games though), but that proves little. He’s still vastly overrated, and his signing didn’t help the Cubs one iota. {Grade: A} BJ Upton: Upton rightly doesn’t get the love he once received, but still, when you think of the Rays, after Longoria, BJ’s name comes up. Why?  You like .240 hitters who strikeout WAY too much (5th in AL, 161 in 153 games), with mediocre power and bad attitudes? He had a nice September, and Tampa will need him in October, but until his average improves… {Grade: A-} Jeff Francoeur: Jeff’s finished at .285/20/87, which is mighty impressive. He was part of the best defensive outfield in baseball this year — in terms of throwing out baserunners (second best in MLB history). He’s not an old player (27), so KC expected him to produce, which is why they extended him through 2013 . Coupled with Gordon, Cabrera, Hosmer and the rest of the young studs, he’ll be part of a playoff team in KC soon. {Grade: C-} Mark Reynolds: His average was .221, which is apparently impressive for a guy coming off a .198 season. “Only” 196 whiffs in 155 games for a guy who punched out over 200 times each of the past three seasons. Reynolds did have 37 homers and 86 RBIs; however, the Orioles were one of baseball’s biggest disappointments in 2011, so I’m really not sure what he brought to Baltimore. {Grade: B+} So I’m looking at very decent grades for 2011… Agree/disagree? Bring facts, not conjecture nor ad hominem attacks. Thanks. AJ Kaufman is the Co-Editor of MSF. Follow him on Twitter: http://twitter.com/ajkauf7

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