The 2023 Major League Baseball season is getting closer and closer to the postseason, which begins with the Wild Card series on Oct. 3. But as the league’s regular season concludes this week, there have been plenty of players who severely lack the credit they deserve for the numbers they put up. Our team of writers discusses those who flew under the radar in 2023 in this week’s roundtable.
One of the lone bright spots on a lackluster Boston Red Sox team, Turner has done nothing but produce at the plate this season. The 38-year-old veteran has amassed a 115 OPS+, playing in over 140 games for the Red Sox this season. His 96 RBIs lands him second behind just Rafael Devers for team leaders, and his countless clutch moments this season have made him a fan favorite in Boston. Fangraphs has a statistic to break down “clutch” and Turner places 13th in the entire MLB with a value of 1.14. Add on top of that 23 home runs, 30 doubles, an OPS of .802 and playing most of the season with a bone bruise, I’d say that he’s pretty underrated. Turner didn’t even get an all-star nod this season with his only award being Boston’s Heart and Hustle Award winner (which he deserved). The Red Sox haven’t been good by any standards this season which is why I think people are overlooking the damage Turner has done in 2023.
Especially given the Arizona Diamondbacks’ young core featuring Zac Gallen and National League Rookie of the Year frontrunner Corbin Carroll, Walker has been one of the most underrated players in the entire league for the past few seasons. Since Paul Goldschmidt signed with the St. Louis Cardinals during the 2018-19 offseason, Walker has played in 100+ games at first base and whacked at least 20 doubles in every season but the 60-game one in 2020. Through 153 contests in 2023, the 2012 fourth-round pick sports a .265 batting average with 33 homers and a career-high 103 RBIs. Alongside MVP candidates Freddie Freeman and Matt Olson, those numbers make the Norristown, Pennsylvania native a top-five first baseman in the National League. Should the Diamondbacks earn a spot in the postseason for the first time since 2017, Walker will be heavily relied on as the power bat in the heart of a balanced lineup. If the lifelong first baseman produces at the plate like he has all year, Arizona has the potential for a deep postseason run.
It’s hard to imagine a list of the most underrated MLB players that does not include at least one Tampa Bay Ray. While the case can be made for Yandy Díaz, Paredes has had an exceptionally quiet, though elite 2023 campaign. The positionless star ranks 12th in baseball in wRC+, finding himself just behind the likes of players such as Cody Bellinger, Bryce Harper and Kyle Tucker. Paredes opened the season in a utility role for the Rays, playing consistently but really to give the primary starters needed rest, but his play meant his role grew to that of an everyday player. His batting average may not blow you away at .248, but in today’s game, does batting average really matter? What is important is that Paredes is a superb run-creator, as evident by his high wRC+, 30 home runs and 95 runs batted in this year. It’s players like Paredes, who are immensely valuable run-producers but lack “superstar” status, that have garnered success for the low-budget Rays over the last several seasons.
Somewhat of a late bloomer in his career, Rays first baseman Díaz has had a sensational 2023 campaign and hasn’t gotten much recognition for it. This season Díaz is batting .328 with 21 home runs and 76 runs batted in while boasting the league’s sixth best on base percentage (.408). While Díaz was selected to his first career all-star game this season, I feel many baseball fans are unfamiliar with his prominent season due to the slow start to his major league career. Díaz played in less than 50 games for three of his first seasons in the league before finding everyday playing time with the Rays in 2021. Last season Díaz was a very solid contact hitter with limited pop, but the average and power have taken a big step forward in 2023. As the Rays zero in on the postseason, Díaz has been playing his best baseball of the season to close out 2023, batting .430 over his last 15 games.
After a lackluster season last year, the Baltimore Orioles are currently in first place in the AL East. Fans may think because of this team’s youth, they won’t make it far in the postseason. Thanks to 2019 first-overall pick Rutschman, fans shouldn’t be concerned. Throughout the season, manager Brandon Hyde has been using him as his leadoff man. Since this decision, his batting average increased from .272 to .290, showing that this is the spot for him. Despite his work behind the plate, he’s also helped the team out offensively scoring 76 RBIs and a .802 OPS. He was also on the 34-man American League roster for the 2023 MLB All-Star Game. During this competition, Rutschman notched 27 home runs. He had the third-most runs out of all the players from the first round. The Orioles have a young team this year, but with the depth of Rutschman’s offensive ability, fans should expect a breakthrough postseason for this catcher.
While this has been a very disappointing season for the New York Yankees, Torres has quietly put together one of the best offensive seasons of his career. Gerrit Cole’s potential Cy Young campaign and the Yankees’ poor performance have taken the spotlight in the Bronx, leaving Torres’ performance to go relatively unnoticed. In 2023, Torres has hit for a .272 batting average and an .802 OPS, both of which are the best he has done since 2019. He was also more disciplined at the plate this year, posting a career high in walks with his second-highest OBP behind the shortened 2020 season. While Torres had his struggles on defense this year, 2023 has been a big bounce-back season after there were questions about whether he should be the Yankees’ long-term second baseman. Both fans and the Yankees front office should feel more confident with Torres being the second baseman in the future, especially with there being several holes in New York’s roster that will need to be filled in the offseason.
Associate Sports Editor
When you’re talking about a team like the Oakland Athletics, one of the worst teams in baseball in 2023, it’s pretty easy to overlook some of its players. However, Rooker has been one of the bright spots in a season of darkness for this 48-109 ballclub. Keep in mind, this is the same player that went from playing just 16 games in 2022 to a first time all-star with an OPS+ of 129, the 21st highest mark in all of baseball. While he may not be killing it defensively with a dWAR of just -1.3, to do what Rooker has done as a former 38th round selection with little experience prior to 2023 is nothing short of extraordinary. Unfortunately, knowing the masterclass that is the Oakland front office, he’ll most likely be contributing for another team sooner or later.
Aside from making the headlines for getting pegged with a ball thrown by a fan, Kirby hasn’t been talked about nearly as much as one would expect given his production. Many eyes focusing on breakout players like to talk about Justin Steele or Zach Eflin, but what about Kirby? The righty has among the best command in the league, with only two games with two walks. He has yet to record a game with three or more this campaign. This has contributed to his league-leading 0.9 walks per game, best in the league by 0.3 and his MLB fourth best WHIP. His ERA is a bit higher at 3.46, a figure that’s 13th best among eligible pitchers. He’s also helped the Mariners stay firmly in the playoff race, just 0.5 games out of the playoffs. It’s easy to favor other players, but when you talk about guys who make an impact and contribute to wins, you can’t forget to mention Kirby’s name.