If you’re a Yankee fan, the most underrated player in baseball is on your team, and I’d bet a pretty good sum of money you don’t know who it is.
Only part of that statement is hyperbole – you decide which. But it must be noted with full disclosure, I have to be clear about two things:
First, I have no idea what underrated means. For today’s purposes, I’m going with this definition: The ratio of performance to public acknowledgement of such. I.e., performance and an impossibly vague barometer.
Secondly, I didn’t peruse the rosters of all 30 Major League Teams. I started with the Yankees and stopped. Sue me.
So, what if I told you that Adam Warren was the 3rd best relief pitcher in the American League in 2017, with only Craig Kimbrel and Andrew Miller being better? Would you believe me?
If you didn’t, you’d be wrong, because he is.
Put a pin in that, I’ll come back to it. I want to back up a little to provide some context…
In 2015, Warren was used primarily as a starter. He started 17 games, threw 96 innings, to a 3.66 ERA. He allowed fewer than a hit per inning and had a better than 2 to 1 strikeout to walk ratio. I list those numbers as a nod to those who prefer baseball card stats.
With regards to numbers I prefer: Among 71 American League starters in 2015, he was 9th in ERA+, and 12th in opponents’ OPS+.
In other words, he was a plus starter – a number 2 on most teams. Definitely a guy who earned his job and deserved more starts.
Why is this relevant? Two reasons:
First, starters make more money than relievers (rightfully so, they pitch more innings). I rarely fall into the “this guy is a team player”, “just happy to be here, hope I can help the club” crap clichés former players usually spew when they don’t have facts to back up their ancient opinions. I’ll take a guy who plays for himself, is cranky and produces over a guy who’s well liked but doesn’t.
That being said, Adam Warren is clearly a guy who loves baseball, wants to be out there and whatever happens, happens. And as far as wanting to help the club, it’s ironic that in a great career, the only blip on his resume are the two awful months he had when he wasn’t playing for the Yankees.
Secondly, and this is important to my point: Adam Warren is the only relief pitcher I can think of that didn’t fail as a starter. If you can name me one, I’m listening. Because every single relief pitcher, almost without exception, became a relief pitcher because they weren’t good enough to start. It’s simple math: If you’re good enough to start, you’ll start. If you’re not, you’re off to the bullpen.
And as a reminder, earlier this year I suggested using Warren as a starter again given the struggles of C.C. Sabathia. It’s interesting to think how the season would’ve turned out if Joe Girardi took my advice (cough…)
But back to the bullpen Adam Warren went, and this is what happened:
Since Warren’s first full season in 2013, among 22 AL relievers with 250 innings pitched (keep in mind, any reliever who throws 250 innings over 5 seasons is a very good reliever – these 22 are the best of the best to whom we’re comparing Warren) he’s 6th in Wins Above Replacement. (Teammate David Robertson is 7th. Warren makes $2.29 million this season. Robertson $11.5 million.)
Also keep in mind, WAR factors in number of innings (someone who can pitch two shutout innings is more valuable than someone who pitches one shutout inning…duh) and importance of situations. In other words, pitching two shutout innings in the 5th and 6th innings of a tie game against the other team’s best hitters is more valuable than pitching the 9th inning against the other team’s weakest hitters when you have a three run lead. For more on this, see my previous blog.
What about this season in particular?
In 2017, among 46 AL relievers with at least 45 innings pitched, he’s 2nd in opponents’ OPS+, 3rd in ERA+ and 9th in WAR.
On August 17th, we can say that Craig Kimbrel and Andrew Miller are the only better relief pitchers in the American League this season. That makes Adam Warren the most underrated player in baseball, in my limited world anyway.
On another note: As I mentioned above, he’s earning every penny of his $2.29 million this season and he’s eligible for arbitration at the end of it. Let’s hope Randy Levine isn’t a dick again, as he was with Betances. But whatever happens, I know this: He won’t get paid very well because he’s not…you know…a “closer”. (Groans…)