Glancing at the the first page of leaders on www.fangraphs.com in value, many familiar and expected faces appeared. Pujols, yup. Longoria, yup. Votto, yup. Vernon Wells, yup. Beltre, yup. Zimmerman, yup. Zobrist, yup. But while looking at the list (to clarify, this is based on dollar value calculated from WAR for batters with their fielding figured in), three names popped out that simply weren't expected. They are Angel Pagan, David Eckstein and Alex Rios. Are you kidding!? Angel Pagan and David Eckstein?? Rios is a little less surprising in that he certainly had the talent to be where he is, but simply hasn't shown it for a fairly long while. This page that the Fan was looking at was the first page of six. In other words, it lists the players in the top 84th percentile currently in value in the majors. And it includes Eckstein and Pagan. Amazing. Let's look at all three and see why they are valued where they are. We'll start with Rios.
Alex Rios isn't just on the first page, he is listed tied for third with Carl Crawford just ahead of Kevin Youkilis and just behind Justin Morneau and Chase Utley. That's pretty heady company he's keeping there. And he's been doing this well quietly on a team that has been loudly disappointing so far this year.
Rios is a player that many suspected didn't care that much about how good he could be or was. The perception was intensified with some damaging statements he made during the latter stages of his tenure in Toronto. And last year certainly didn't help the image any. In combined time with the Blue Jays and the White Sox in 2009, Rios put up the terrible line of: .247/.296/.395. That's an ugly line. And it wasn't just his hitting. His fielding tanked too. He went from a 21.7 UZR in 2008 to a -0.5 in 2009. Blue Jay fans who had come to loathe him were particularly glad the Jays got rid of him.
But there he is at third in the league in value for 2010. Rios had some very good years at the plate for the Blue Jays. His wOBA from 2006 through 2008 was .365, .368 and .350. Those are good numbers. He averaged 18 homers a year during that time and a .296 batting average and threw in 64 steals for good measure. But then came last year and many thought the White Sox were idiots for taking him on. Rios also has a pretty fat contract which made it seem all the stupider. But so far this year, Rios has the following line: .309/.362/.568 and his wOBA is a nice fat .410. He's already hit nine homers and has stolen fifteen bases. And the hitting isn't fluky either as his BABIP is right where it should be.
Alex Rios isn't just doing it with the bat. He is also rated as the sixth best outfielder in baseball so far this year. That's great fielding! Kenny Williams gets a lot of criticism for his personnel decisions, but Rios has proven out to be a shrewd move.
David Eckstein has been around so long that it was hard to remember that he was still in the big leagues. He started with the Angels and in his first couple of years with the Cardinals but his playing time started to diminish in 2007. When the Cardinals let him go, it surprisingly wasn't his hitting they jettisoned (he hit .302 that year) but his fielding. Eckstein was always weak-armed for an infielder, but his UZR fell to -9.8 in 2007 and the Cardinals felt they had no choice but to improve themselves. In 2008, Eckstein signed on with the Blue Jays organization, but they ultimately didn't want him so he went to the Padres. There he had another bad year in the field (-8 UZR) and batted only .265.
But apparently, the Padres like the "intangibles" that Eckstein brings to the table. He hit only .260 in nearly full time duty last year for the Padres and had a .323 OBP. Nothing to write home about. But his defense improved some and finished out last year at -2.3. But this year, playing second base exclusively, Eckstein has turned around his fielding completely and has a 6.8 UZR. Remarkable. He is also batting .297 with a .358 OBP, so everything is roses for the Padres and Eckstein. He just came off a stint on the DL, but it sure was surprising to see him so high in the value ratings. The Fan isn't sure if Eckstein would even come to mind if the task was to put a 25 man roster together.
The third member of the shocking trio of top value-added players is Angel Pagan. For all this Fan knew, Pagan was just a place holder until Beltran came back. But Pagan hit a surprising .306 last year in 88 games for the Mets with a .350 OBP with a surprising Slugging Percentage of .487. Hit hit 11 triples and 22 doubles in just 88 games. This year, Pagan is showing the numbers weren't a fluke as he is batting .296 with a .361 OBP. His Slugging Percentage is a bit lower, but he's not a patsy at the plate by any means.
The value added by Pagan is his defense. Last year, Pagan finished with a +7 for his UZR and this year is even better at 7.6. He is in the top five for outfielders in fielding plus he already has four outfield assists this season.
So there you have it. There are three guys you would never expect to see ranked that high on the value charts this far into the season. Did it shock you too?