One of the funnier things about the way we watch and cover sports is the way we treat players deemed underrated by the masses.
It always happens the same way. There's a player who does a lot of little things without being too flashy, almost always as part of a winning team with bigger names on it, and that catches the eye of those who are looking for a new angle. They become "underrated" and the word becomes an adjective locked to their name as if it was passed down from their great-grandfather. That description becomes so indelible and repeated so often that the player eventually becomes overrated because his contributions are treated with outsize respect by the sports watching community.
That trajectory came to mind on Wednesday while reading an entertaining article at Fangraphs about Nelson Cruz. Matt Klaassen looks at the last three years and finds that Cruz's production is a lot closer to Josh Hamilton's than you might imagine. Cruz's injuries have kept him out of the lineup a lot over that span, but on a per at-bat basis (not to mention his superior defense in right) you could make an argument that he is just as valuable as the guy who has been the subject of a thousand fawning articles since he got to Texas.
Despite all of that, Cruz hasn't even risen to the level of being underrated during his run with the Rangers. That's pretty surprising and not just because of his play. Cruz's story is also an appealing one. He was a throw-in in the Carlos Lee trade in 2006 after bouncing through two other organizations and didn't become a regular until he was 28 years old. That's the kind of stuff that makes feature writers swoon, yet Cruz remains an afterthought.
Klaassen opines that it is because the Rangers have become something of a boring story over the last year. On the field, anyway. The things that grab the headlines have to do with ownership drama, the Michael Young intrigue and Ron Washington's dalliance with cocaine. But on the field, as Cruz proves, the team is in really good shape and the front office seems to continually come up with smart answers to the problems in front of them. That makes for a lot of winning, but it doesn't make for great stories because, well, consistent success does get kinda boring.
It's an interesting take, although it doesn't fully explain why Cruz didn't get more love during last year's run to the World Series. We're more inclined to blame his injury troubles, which have kept him from putting up the gaudy numbers that make the mainstream drool all over their stat sheets. If he's healthy for all of 2011, it's a good bet that Cruz won't be a secret any longer.