All the talk this season has been around baseball’s young stars who have are carrying baseball into a new era, but there have been other players having great seasons who aren’t being talked about nearly as much. During the season, we dove into the pitchers who are having underrated seasons, and now we’ll look into some position players who deserve more praise for their 2021 seasons.
Kyle Tucker has been one of the most underrated players in baseball all year, as he’s consistently been one of the best players on one of the best teams in the league. Tucker struggled in his MLB debut in 2018, posting -0.7 fWAR in just 28 games as a 21-year-old. At just 24 years old, Tucker put up an incredible season, with some of the best batted-ball data in the league.
This season, Tucker put up a .294/.359/.557 slash line, with a .383 wOBA, 147 wRC+, and 4.8 fWAR, which are all career highs. His plate discipline has been the best of his career as well, as he has an 9.3% BB% and just a 15.9% K%. He has taken over as the everyday right fielder for the Astros, who won the AL West despite the loss of George Springer in the offseason. Defensively, Tucker had 5 OAA in the right field, a slight tick down defensively from 2020, when he had 4 OAA in just a 60 game season.
Tucker’s results were great this year, as he had a 147 wRC+ and a .383 wOBA. His xwOBA was even higher, at .395. He had 49 barrels this year, good for an 11.6% barrel rate. He hit 30 home runs in his first full season and had one of the best second halves in baseball. In the 2nd half, Tucker had a .398 OBP, .631 SLG, and 177 wRC+.
The White Sox had very similar performances from Luis Robert and Yasmani Grandal, but it’s Grandal who has seemed to fly under the radar. Grandal had one of the weirdest seasons in MLB history, with the highest walk rate (among players with at least 300 PAs) since Barry Bonds in 2006.
On the season, Grandal finished with a .240/.420/.520 slash line, with a .402 wOBA, .412 xwOBA, and 159 wRC+. Among players with at least 300 plate appearances, Grandal ranked 4th in wRC+, 6th in xwOBA, 3rd in OBP, despite one of the worst batting averages.
Grandal’s plate discipline is great, in a different way from Juan Soto, Vladimir Guerrero Jr., and Alex Bregman. Grandal takes pitches like no other, leading to a 23.2% BB% and 21.9% K%. Among players with at least 300 plate appearances, Grandal had the lowest Swing% (31.9%), Z-Swing% (51.1%), and 2nd lowest O-Swing% (18.7%) in baseball.
He only played 93 games and had just 375 plate appearances due to some injuries and a lighter workload as a catcher, so he doesn’t rank among the league’s leaders in counting stats. Despite playing just over half a season, Grandal still hit 23 home runs. He had 3.7 fWAR, 3.7 rWAR, and 4.0 WARP while having the worst defensive season of his entire career.
Although Brandon Belt has missed the first few games of the postseason, he is one of the major reasons the Giants made it all the way there. He had a massive bounce-back season in 2020 after struggling in 2018 and 2019, and kept it up in 2021. The 33-year-old Belt has put up his top two seasons in SLG, wOBA, and wRC+ in 2020 and 2021, while setting his career high in HRs in 2021.
He went down with a thumb injury in late September, after missing a few months with various injuries earlier on in the year. Despite the injuries, Belt still appeared in 97 games. The injuries evidently had no impact on his performance, as he was consistent, and ranked in the 94th percentile in barrel rate with a career-high 17.0% rate.
As many fans and analysts mention the effect of the Max Muncy injury on the Dodgers, their opponent is also missing their star first baseman. Belt was a year early to the trend of Giants’ renaissances, joined by Brandon Crawford, Buster Posey, and Evan Longoria in 2021. For Belt, this could just be the start of his prime, as he has a 163 wRC+ in his past 560 plate appearances.
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