Matt Carpenter does not seem like the type of player who would be underrated. He has been an All-Star twice. He has finished as high as fourth in the MVP voting, and he hits leadoff on a perennially contending team that draws a decent amount of media attention in the St. Louis Cardinals. He even hits for power, sending 28 blasts over the wall last season. Add in another six postseason homers when the lights are brightest, and Carpenter would appear to be a candidate who is potentially overrated by the national media.
MLB Network is in the middle of announcing their Top 100 players right now. According to their release, this is what they consider:
MLB Network's annual ranking of the best players in the game returns! In five episodes of Top 100 Right Now beginning Feb. 23, Greg Amsinger, Ron Darling and Bill Ripken count down the top players in Major League Baseball based on player performance over the past several seasons with an emphasis on 2015 and projected 2016 performance. Tune in each night at 9:00 p.m. ET and check back here after the shows for the latest rankings.
Several Cardinals made the initial list when they released players 61-100.
Carpenter-88— viva el birdos (@vivaelbirdos) February 24, 2016
Getting Carlos Martinez on the list seems like a positive. That Jhonny Peralta is still held in high regard after a disappointing second half is a good sign. While Yadier Molina has had injuries slow him down the past few seasons, this list appears to recognize his impact on the game. Last night, they continued the list and Adam Wainwright came in at 51 and in somewhat of a surprise, Randal Grichuk came in at 44. Barring a surprise on tonight's show, Randal Grichuk is the best player on the Cardinals according to MLB Network. Then there is Matt Carpenter, apparently the 88th best player in baseball right now.
So let us look at the criteria. They say they consider performance over the last few years.
From 2013-2015, Matt Carpenter is 11th overall in WAR. MLB Network just said he is the 88th best player in baseball. https://t.co/YMtPsSGolM— viva el birdos (@vivaelbirdos) February 24, 2016
That eleventh-place spot includes pitchers and position players. The stat above is based on fWAR, and while he is still quite good in bWAR, he is not as high. By bWAR over the past three seasons, Carpenter is all the way down at 34th, some 50 spots ahead of where he was ranked by MLB Network.
The next criteria used was 2015 statistics. Again, using fWAR, Matt Carpenter finished the season at 5.2 which was 28th in all of MLB. Of course, bWAR did not like him as much, and he was just 68th last season by that metric, yet still 20 spots higher than he ended up at MLB Network.
The other criteria they were said to be using were projections. Using the Steamer projections found at FanGraphs, Carpenter is projected for 3.7 WAR, a bit of a drop from last season. It might be reasonable to conclude this is how Carpenter ended up so low at MLB Network. However, when you add up the number of players who are ahead of Carpenter in the Steamer projections, we find just 47 players ahead of Carpenter.
Using ZiPS, Carpenter fares better at 3.8 zWAR so it seems unlikely that would affect anything. PECOTA doesn't seem to like Carpenter, giving him just 2.6 WARP next season, but overall the projections seem to think Carpenter is in roughly the top 50 for players.
Carpenter is one of the best players of the last three seasons, one of the best players from last season, and is expected be one of the best players in baseball this season. It would not be hard to make an argument that Carpenter is not in the top-20, and a little bit harder if you are arguing top-50. Putting Carpenter all the way down at 88 makes it official: Matt Carpenter is underrated.