One big takeaway from Michael Lewis' Moneyball, the film adaptation of which comes out a week from Friday, is the Oakland Athletics' attempt to find value in the game of baseball where other teams do not. Working with a limited budget, the A's did their best to find players who were underappreciated by other teams.
There's a natural link between the book and the New York Mets, as general manager Sandy Alderson was featured as Billy Beane's predecessor in the same role with the A's. It was Alderson who hired Beane in the front office when Beane ended his career as a player and expressed the desire to work there.
As for underappreciated players, there are a few who come to mind on the 2011 Mets. The circumstances surrouding the players and the Mets certainly differ from those of the A's at the turn of the century, but acquiring or retaining underappreciated players can only be a good thing for any organization. If a player can be had at a price below the value he'll provide, he will benefit the team.
Manny Acosta was a Braves castaway when the Mets picked him up on waivers early in the 2010 season, but he's been nothing short of a very good reliever in his time with the Mets. Although the "Acostalypse" nickname created in his Braves days has stuck with him, Acosta has struck out 84 in 79.2 innings of work, a rate of 9.5 per nine innings, while posting a 3.05 ERA. Control has never been Acosta's speciality, but over the same span he's walked 3.4 per nine innings. Both numbers are a marked improvement from his time with the Braves. His splits show an ability to handle left-handed hitters without issue, and his salary is quite low by major league standards. Acosta rarely gets credit, but he's a great fit for medium-to-high leverage situations out of the bullpen.
Much like Acosta, Angel Pagan is too often overlooked, with some people even suggesting the absurd idea that the Mets should not tender him a contract for 2012. Pagan is undoubtedly having a down year at the plate, but he's still far from a liability. Since he began playing a significant amount of time in 2009, Pagan ranks seventh among qualified center fielders in wRC+.
It's a bit concerning that Pagan's defense in center field appears to have gone downhill. UZR/150 ranks him worst in baseball at -16.9, but DRS has him at a middle-of-the-pack zero. Poor scores in both metrics are out of line with Pagan's work in 2009-2010. It's possible that the metrics are just a bit weird with him in a small sample of data, or Pagan is just human and having a not-so-great year in the field. Either way, Pagan still looks like a major league center fielder who can be retained on the cheap for next season, and the Mets don't have any obvious choices to replace him in the minor leagues. Productive big league players under team control at a reasonable cost are hard to come by, and in that respect, Pagan definitely seems underappreciated.
And finally, each of the trio of Chris Capuano, Mike Pelfrey, and Dillon Gee is probably a bit underrated on an individual basis. The issue with the Mets' rotation is that all three pitchers are in it at the same time, but each of the three is at least a tolerable pitcher for the back end of a major league rotation. Pelfrey and Capuano will each have thrown nearly 200 innings by the end of the season, no small feat at baseball's highest level. Their ERAs are near-identical: 4.49 for Capuano and 4.66 for Pelfrey, but Capuano's defense-independent stats say he's been better than that: 3.89 FIP, 3.71 xFIP, 3.80 tERA, 3.51 SIERA. None of these pitchers should be taken for granted, even though it would be fantastic if Johan Santana returns in 2012 to replace one of them in the rotation.
Michael Lewis devoted many pages of Moneyball to the search for undervalued players outside of the Athletics organization, but it's certainly not a bad thing that the Mets have some players who are underappreciated by fans - and perhaps other organizations - at a time when their budget looks like it will be smaller to begin next season.