As the SWBL continues to mirror the MLB in becoming more stats oriented, it becomes harder and harder to be considered as an underrated player. With so much data at our fingertips, it’s hard to go under the radar. The underrated players of old often times have that breakout year and lose the underrated moniker (see Bakula (2015), Hays (2016)). In my debut article, I’ll focus on 4 players who have established themselves as key members of the league, probably won’t win any of the big accolades, but are in some way underrated considering their contribution to their teams vs. their perception in the league.
Kyle Breda/Grant Boyd (Rockies):
I’ll start with what I know best, and that’s Rockie Nation. Before Brett joined the most beloved franchise in the SWBL, the Rockies were perennially underrated—usually entering the season with a preseason power ranking hovering around 5. Despite this, the franchise thrived, earning playoff berths in each season and winning one SWBL title. Grant and Kyle’s underrated skills were a huge reason for this franchise’s success. I believe there are 3 things that are paramount to fielding a successful SWBL team. The first is having a stud pitcher. The second is having the bottom of your order filled with OBP guys so your best hitters are hitting 2 and 3 run homers instead of solo shots (I’ll get to the 3rd key later). This OBP skill is often overlooked, and is what these two hitters excel most at. In the franchise era, Grant and Kyle have a total of 50 and 33 walks (10 and 11 per season) respectively. Grant’s 50 walks are 2nd in the franchise era and Kyle’s 11 walks per season is also 2nd in the franchise era (Gus leads both categories). One of the hot topics of this offseason has been the new first strike rule. And while many pundits have mentioned how Brett might benefit most on the pitching side with this new rule, it will be interesting to see how these Rockies react to a rule that could force them to adapt their hitting approach as walks become increasingly rare.
John Calloway (Yankees):
As I teased earlier, the 3rd most important aspect of building a successful SWBL team is having a stud left fielder who makes the routine plays and can occasionally steal that would be single or home run. One player who almost always gets overlooked when the best fielders in the league conversation gets brought up is John Calloway. While his fielding numbers might not suggest it, I believe John passes the eye test in the field. Year in and year out he is making some of the most incredible plays in the field, but I think he sometimes fails to make the easier plays. If he can be more consistent in the field to go along with his “Top 10” play ability, he could be a dark horse for Platinum Hands this year. John also sports a .631 average in the franchise era that is just 2 points below his more heralded teammate Sam, proving he has what it takes to be one of the more dynamic 2-way players in our league.
John Leicht (Expos):
John is the 2nd oldest player in the SWBL, and is one of the few players who has the coveted “dad strength”. John harnessed this old man dad strength last year in replicating his 2015 Comeback Player of the year season. Not only did John continue to show a renewed ability at the plate, but he also showed that he is one of the more dedicated players in the league, often times risking his own health to make a spectacular play. We all remember the near play of the century where John went full extension over the fence but came up just short of making the undisputed best play in league history. Despite not making this play, it is common place to see John diving around in left field making great plays. I think on any other team, John could be that complimentary piece that greatly contributes to a playoff run. If the Expos run out a 4-man lineup of John, Close, Bannecke, and Nelson with Kevin on the mound and Germer as far away from the batter’s box as possible, I think this team could “shock the world” (2 wins).