The great thing about baseball is that unlike basketball, the best players aren’t always the ones that have the biggest moments in the postseason. Whereas LeBron James always will take the last shot, Mike Trout and Mookie Betts may not have the opportunity to get the clutch hit to win it. Let’s take a look at one overlooked player on each contender (5 games back or less) who could end up playing a pivotal rule in the playoffs. We’ll go from worst record to best record.
Pittsburgh Pirates: IF/OF Adam Frazier
The obvious choice would be David Freese, who is a postseason legend for his heroics in the 2011 world series for the Cardinals. Instead, let’s look at Adam Frazier, who is doing a lot of things right. After a hitting just .239/.323/.355 in the first half, he is hitting .435/.438/.696 in the second half. He also is extremely flexible, as he can play every infield and outfield spot. That means it will be easy to get him playing time while also mixing and matching depending on matchups. He’s also been solid versus both righties (.286 AVG) and lefties (.300), which will be big in the postseason as opposing managers won’t be able to match up against him with various relievers. Adam Frazier may not be an everyday starter, but his flexibility will help out the Pirates out a lot. Plus, he’s getting hot at the right time and may sneak his way into an everyday role.
Washington Nationals: RP Greg Holland
Once a big-time closer, Greg Holland faded after signing with the Cardinals on a one year/$14 million contract. With the Cardinals, he had a 7.92 ERA, 2.24 WHIP, and an atrocious 7.9 BB/9. He signed with the Nationals after being released by St.Louis and is now a reclamation project for Washington. So far, the results have been a little more promising. He’s thrown three scoreless innings for the Nationals, is striking batters out well *15.4 K/90> granted, it’s a very small sample size, and his 2.25 FIP shows that he has been a little lucky. He also has issued 2 walks in 3 innings, keeping up the pace he had with the Cardinals. However, if Holland can finally regain his command with the Nationals, then he could be a useful asset. It’s important to remember that despite this season, Holland still has a career 2.92 ERA and 2.58 FIP. He also signed on opening day and didn’t get the luxury of having a spring training so he may need some time to “get right”. if he does get back on track though, then he could be a valuable late-inning reliever to a Nationals team that could use some extra help in their bullpen, as closer Sean Doolittle and set up man Kelvin Herrera are hurt and they traded away relievers Brandon Kintzler and Shawn Kelly.
St.Louis Cardinals: INF Jedd Gyroko
Jedd Gyroko is not a perfect player by any means. His plays below average defense at second base (-1 drs) and struggles vs righties (.224 AVG). However, he does a lot of things well, as he plays above average defense at third base (7 drs) and rakes vs lefties (.329 AVG). He probably won’t ever be an everyday player, but he is still an excellent platoon option vs southpaws. That’s important, considering most of the top contenders rely on strong lefties. Clayton Kershaw, Cole Hamels, Jon Lester, Patrick Corbin, Kyle Freeland, and Sean Newcomb are all lefties the Cardinals may have to face if the Cardinals make the playoffs. Rather than play Matt Carpenter at third and Kolten Wong at second, St.Louis could move Carpenter to second and Gyroko to third. That would upgrade their offense while not losing out on defense despite not having Wong’s stellar fielding at second since Gyroko is an above average defender at third. Even in pinch-hit situations, Gyroko could come up with big at-bats vs tough lefty relievers. In the postseason, having an excellent platoon or pinch hit options are critical, and Gyroko provides that for the Cardinals vs lefties while also providing some versatility and solid defense at the hot corner.
Colorado Rockies: SP Jon Gray
Coming into this season, Jon Gray was expected to improve upon his 3.67 ERA and officially become the ace of the Rockies. Instead, he’s flopped with a 4.81 ERA. Or has he? Gray’s 3.22 FIP suggests he’s been an extreme victim of bad luck this season. It’s also unclear what’s quote on quote “wrong with him”. His walk rate is excellent (2.62 BB/9), as his strikeout rate (10.46 K/9) and his home run rate (.99 HR/9). He’s also forced a lot of ground balls at a 1.67 FB/BB rate, so his .337 batting average balls in play suggest he’s inducing a lot of ground balls that are finding holes for base hits. That bad luck is starting to wear off, as he has a 2.57 ERA in the second half. Assuming Gray continues to put together quality outings, he could once again become Colorado’s top starter. Therefore, he may be the guy called upon to start the wild-card game or a Game 1.
Atlanta Braves: SP Kevin Gausman
When the Braves traded for Kevin Gausman from the Orioles, they strictly did it for his potential, not the current pitcher he is. While he has always had excellent stuff, he’s never been able to put it together and had a 4.43 ERA with the Orioles. Gausman may be tapping into that potential sooner than expected, as he has given up four runs in 13 innings with a 10-2 K-BB ratio. Gausman suffered from a high batting average balls in play ( and a high homerun rate with Baltimore. With Atlanta, both of those issues are fixed. Gausman’s high ground ball rate (1.45 GB/FB) suggest that he, like Jon Gray, may have been inducing a lot of ground balls with eyes. They likely were finding holes due to Baltimore’s below average infield defense, but with Dansby Swanson, Ozzie Albies, and Freddie Freeman, Atlanta’s infield defense is much better. As for his high home run rate, Gausman is going from having one of the most hitter-friendly parks in Camden Yards being his home (6th highest HR rate this season) to one of the most pitcher-friendly parks in Sun Trust Park (28th highest HR rate this season). With those two red flags being easily fixed, Gausman could become a frontline starter for Atlanta right away. While he may not be ahead of all-star Mike Foltynewicz or Sean Newcomb, he still could start in Game 3, which would put him in line to start Game 7. Expect him to thrive if given the opportunity.
Philadelphia Phillies: OF Roman Quinn
In the postseason, outfielders with great speed and defense tend to thrive. Just ask Jarrod Dyson, who made a name for himself by proving to be a very useful asset for the Royals in their World Series runs in 2014 and 2015. Now, Roman Quinn has a chance to make that same impact. Quinn’s 80-grade speed makes him one of the fastest men in all of baseball. His 205 career steals in the minor leagues indicates that he’s a prolific base stealer, while his excellent on-base skills give him the opportunity to constantly steal bases. Quinn’s 60-grade fielding and 55-grade arm also give him to chance to make an impact as a defensive replacement to Nick Williams (-9 drs) or Rhys Hoskins (-16 drs). Due to Phillies’ lack of speed and outfield defense, Quinn may be called upon to fix those two things late in the game. Whether it’s stealing a base or making an outstanding play in the field, he’ll definitely make an impact in the postseason.
Arizona Diamondbacks: INF Daniel Descalso
With third baseman Jake Lamb out for the season, the Diamondbacks need someone to replace him. Sure, they can insert newly acquired Eduardo Escobar in there, but that still leaves them with a weak hitting middle infield with second baseman Ketel Marte (.250/.320/.422) and shortstop Nick Ahmed (.244/.299/.457). Insert Daniel Descalso. The 31-year-old is in the midst of a breakout season with an excellent .844 OPS, so he’s an offensive upgrade over both of these two. He’s versatile, as he’s played second base, third base, first base, and outfield. That makes it easy to get his bat into the lineup, where second base may be the best place to put him, as he’s been fine there (1 drs). While Marte provides value as a switch-hitter, he’s only been good vs lefties (.303 AVG). Descalso could at the very least be a platoon option with Marte, as he’s a left-handed hitter with solid power. However, Desclaso has actually been better vs lefties (.269 AVG) and therefore could end up as an everyday player due to being less of a platoon player and more consistent than Marte. It wouldn’t hurt to add a lefty in the lineup to truly replace Lamb’s lefty power as well. The last thing on Desclaso’s side is that he has a track record of being excellent in the postseason, as he’s hit .333 for his career in the playoffs. With a track record of coming through in the clutch, excellent on-base skills and power, and versatility, Desclaso should be a big part of Arizona’s playoff push.
Los Angeles Dodgers: RP Scott Alexander
While the Dodgers certainly have the offensive firepower and excellent starting pitching, but their lackluster bullpen may be holding them back from being the clear-cut best team in the National League. The trouble most of the year has been getting the ball to closer Kenley Jansen, but now Jansen is out for at least a month with health issues. Therefore, it’s safe to say that they need someone in their bullpen to step up. Could Scott Alexander be that guy? The 29-year-old lefty has had an excellent season, posting a 3.42 ERA, 1.27 WHIP, and a 3.33 FIP. With a power sinker in his arsenal, he is inducing ground balls at a 71.4% rates, while also inducing more soft contact (27.9%) than hard contact (24.3%), and rarely gives up home runs (0.34 HR/9). He also could be called upon to get some of the game’s best left-handed hitters out (Freddie Freeman, Anthony Rizzo, Christian Yelich), as lefties are hitting just .189/.277/.243 vs him this year. In the playoffs, teams need relievers to be able to get lefties out, force double play balls, and not give up home runs. Alexander checks all of those boxes.
Milwaukee Brewers: RP Corbin Burnes
There’s no question that the Brewers have a lineup capable of going up against top-tier pitching in the postseason. There is a question, however, if they have enough pitching to make a World Series run. Top pitching prospect Corbin Burnes could definitely help. As a reliever this season, he has a 3.86 ERA, 1.14 WHIP, and 3.01 FIP. He possesses a deadly cut fastball that helps him hold lefties to a .150/.200/.151 slash line and has a solid K-BB ratio of 15-4. While he could help the rotation tremendously, manager Craig Counsell has said multiple times that Burnes will stay in the bullpen for the rest of the year. Since the rotation is a weak-link, Burnes may be called upon to come into games earlier than expected and pitch multiple innings. In the wildcard game, Milwaukee may choose to rely on their bullpen with no clear ace on their staff and Burnes will likely be the first person called upon. Therefore, he may end up being the most used and most impactful pitcher for the Brewers. Believe or not, Milwaukee’s faith could rely on a 23-year-old rookie who started the year in the minors.
Cleveland Indians: RP Oliver Perez
A midseason pickup for the Indians, Oliver Perez has been a tremendous surprise. The 36-year-old left-hander has a 1.37 ERA, 0.56 WHIP, and 1.79 FIP this season. His 10.32 K/9, 0.92 BB/9, and 0.46 HR/9 make him a very complete reliever right now. He also hasn’t been just a lefty specialist, as he’s dominated righties (.074/.138/.074) as well as lefties (.171/.171/.275). With Cleveland’s bullpen struggling so much, Perez could end up being one of the main relievers used. If he continues to pitch at this rate, he’ll be vital in a postseason run.
Seattle Mariners: 1B Ryon Healy
Ryon Healy has been far from a perfect player this season for the Mariners. He has a -0.4 WAR, -9 drs, and only a .271 OBP. However, more can be expected to come soon for Healy. Remember, Healy had a .305 average and .271 average in his two previous seasons with the A’s (was traded to Seattle this offseason). His .252 batting average balls in play doesn’t go along with his career-high 34.6% hard contact rate. That suggests that he may the victim of some bad luck. At the very least, he’s still a major power threat (.448 SLG) who actually hits righties better than lefties, as he has a .246 average with 16 home runs vs right handers. When Seattle needs a homer when trailing late vs righty relievers such as Blake Treinen, Lou Trivo, Jeurys Familia, Craig Kimbrel, Cody Allen, and Hector Rondon, Healy could be the guy who comes through.
Chicago Cubs: RP Jesse Chavez
When Jesse Chavez was traded for the Cubs, most people ignored the news. Now, he’s turned into a dominant reliever for the Cubs. Since joining the Cubs, he has a 1.42 ERA in 12.2 innings (9 appearances). He also has a 9.9 K/9 and 0.7 BB/9 since joining Chicago. His ability to pitch multiple innings is also important, as he could be an insurance plan if their inconsistent rotation fails to eat innings. Chavez’s ability to not surrender free passes, induce more ground balls than fly balls (1.32 GB/FB), and still strike batters out at a respectable rate makes him a great option as a multi-inning reliever.
Oakland Athletics: OF/1B Mark Canha
One of the main reasons that the A’s have exceeded expectations this season and currently hold the second AL Wildcard is that a lot of their developed players have produced at a high rate this season. This year, Canha is hitting .256/.331/.450 with 14 home runs this season. His main tool is his ability to crush lefties, as he’s hitting .293 with 11 home runs against them. He’s also versatile, as he can play all three outfield spots and first base. These two things are very important, considering that if Oakland were to win the wildcard game, their opponent would be the Boston Red Sox. Boston relies heavily on their lefty starters (Chris Sale, David Price), so it’s important that Canha would be in there to face them and jumpstart the A’s offense. His versatility will give him the opportunity to just that vs lefties, and he won’t disappoint.
Houston Astros: RP Collin McHugh
When you think of the Astros, you think of their dominant rotation, outstanding lineup, and the new additions in the bullpen. The player who continues to get overlooked, however, is Collin McHugh. The 31 one-year-old right-hander has an incredible 0.98 ERA, 0.71 WHIP, and 2.49 FIP. He’s striking out batters at an excellent rate (11.45 K/9) and limiting the free passes (2.13 BB/9), which gives him an unbelievable 5.38 K-BB ratio. He’s been pretty much unhittable vs righties (.100/.168/.192) AND lefties (.186/.263/.291). Also as a former starter, he has the ability to pitch at a high level for multiple innings, which becomes useful in both extra innings and if anyone in the rotation somehow fails to go deep into a start. After pitching six innings in the entire 2017 postseason and being an afterthought, Collin McHugh is on the verge of becoming Houston’s most reliable reliever for the postseason.
New York Yankees: SP Lance Lynn
Most people were confused when the Yankees decided to trade for Lance Lynn. The 31-year-old had a 5.10 ERA as a member of the Twins and was walking batters at an atrocious rate (5.5 BB/9). However, Lynn has been excellent for the Yankees. After being inserted in the rotation to replace the struggling Sonny Gray, Lynn hasn’t disappointed. In three appearances (two games started) he has a 0.54 ERA, 0.96 WHIP, and 1.24 FIP. Even more important, his walks are way down (2.2 BB/9), while his strikeouts are way up (11.9 K/9). A change of scenery seems to be all Lynn needed to regain his form as a solid #3 starter. Considering that the Yankees rotation outside of ace Luis Severino seems to be the weak link, they need as much rotation help as possible if they want to make a playoff push. Lynn may have been the missing piece for a championship, assuming he continues to produce like a #3 starter.
Boston Red Sox: CF Jackie Bradley Jr.
The Boston Red Sox have two AL MVP candidates (JD Martinez and Mookie Betts), a Cy Young candidate (Chris Sale), arguably the best closer (Craig Kimbrel), and three rising stars (Xander Boegarts, Andrew Benintendi, and Rafael Devers). Therefore, it can easy to overlook Jackie Bradley Jr. The 28-year-old is only hitting .218/.308/.388, but Statcast suggests he’s actually performing much better than that. His expected batting average is .266, while his expected slugging is .493. His average exit velocity is higher than ever before (91.6), he has a higher barrel percentage this year (11.0%), and his hard hit percentage is a career-high 47.8%. At some point, his bad luck is going to wear off, and luckily for Boston, that’s going to be in the postseason at this point. Even if it doesn’t wear off for whatever reason, Bradley can still make an impact with his baserunning (12 stolen bases) and with his stellar fielding (career 45 drs). With so many ways to make an impact and with the stats showing that he may on the verge of an offensive breakout, Jackie Bradley Jr. may play a huge role for the Red Sox in a World Series run.