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Most overrated MLB players of all time

Most overrated MLB players of all time

Barry Zito
San Francisco Giants pitcher Barry Zito pitches against the Milwaukee Brewers during the spring game at Scottsdale Stadium March 4, 2010.

Looking back, it’s not always easy to tell the difference between the greatest players in baseball history and some of the most overrated MLB players of all time.

With some players, it can be a tough call. There are even some overrated baseball Hall of Famers who never should have been allowed to be immortalized in Cooperstown. That’s why we felt the need to sort through some of the most overrated MLB players and come up with a list of 20 players we feel were grossly overrated. 

Most overrated MLB players of all time

That’s not to say that these players weren’t good. Some just had the misfortune of being unable to live up to some of the worst baseball contracts of all time.

Others were overrated MLB prospects who never lived up to the hype and were victims of expectations. No matter the reason, here is our list of the 20 most overrated MLB players of all time.

Jason Giambi

If he hadn’t been getting help from PEDs, would Jason Giambi have ever been considered a good baseball player? He did some special things during the early part of his career in Oakland, including winning MVP honors in 2000. But after signing a big contract with the Yankees, Giambi had trouble living up to expectations, even with his reported steroid use.

It’s not as if he brought much to the table outside of his PED-aided power, which allowed him to rack up 440 career home runs. It’s also somewhat telling that the Yankees never won a championship during Giambi’s tenure in the Bronx, although they won the World Series in the first year after he went back to Oakland.

Alfonso Soriano

To be fair, it’s a little hard to name Alfonso Soriano among the most overrated players in baseball history. After all, he’s just one of four players in the 40-40 club. He was also a seven-time all-star who was involved in some major trades because of the value he brought to the table and his immense talent.

But Soriano wasn’t necessarily a winning player who helped his team more than he hurt them. He was a free swinger and a subpar defensive second baseman. Even with over 400 career home runs, the negatives attached to Soriano help to make him a little overrated.

Adam Dunn

Adam Dunn is lucky that he played in an era where players were juicing and the long ball was valued. Other than occasionally being able to hit the ball a mile, Dunn contributed little.

He wasn’t good defensively, he wasn’t fast, and he struck out constantly. It was only when he was able to hit home runs at an alarming rate that he made his two All-Star Teams. Even with a career total of 462 home runs, Dunn isn’t worth that much as a player, as all of his strikeouts and his lack of other tools don’t necessarily make him a net positive. 

Barry Zito

During the first part of his career with Oakland, Barry Zito had a great curveball and was one of the best left-handed pitchers in the game. But he peaked early and never amounted to much after winning the Cy Young in 2002 and making a couple of All-Star Teams in the proceeding years.

When he moved across the Bay and signed a monster deal with the Giants in 2007, that was the beginning of the end. He was never able to overcome injuries and poor performances to achieve the same level of success he had in Oakland. That contract and his inability to live up to it make Zito’s career a failure in more ways than it was a success.

Harold Baines

Among Hall of Famers, especially among recent inductees, Harold Baines has to be amongst the most overrated MLB players. He was a perfectly fine hitter for most of his career, reaching over 2,800 career hits and playing in six All-Star Games. But it’s called the Hall of Fame, not the Hall of Very Good.

Baines was a good player and should be proud of his career. However, at no point was he among the elite players of his generation or one of the most feared hitters in the game. He played for over 20 years and put up a lot of good numbers, finishing his career with 384 home runs. But there’s nothing about his career that makes Baines stand out as a bonafide Hall of Famer.

Jason Varitek

Of course, Red Sox fans will always be grateful to Jason Varitek for his contributions to winning the 2004 and 2007 World Series. To his credit, he was a great “glue guy” and role player, not to mention a winning player who has appeared in the Little League World Series, College World Series, and the actual World Series. But Red Sox fans always make Varitek out to be far better than he actually was.

He was a great leader and a solid defensive catcher, but he only won the Gold Glove once and was only an all-star three times. During his 15 seasons in the majors, he was rarely considered among the elite catchers in the game for an extended period of time. Outside of Boston, nobody holds Varitek in high esteem, which is exactly how it should be.

Tony Perez

Despite being a seven-time all-star and a two-time World Series champion, there were only a handful of seasons when Tony Perez was anything close to a star player. One could argue that he was a good player by association because he was part of the Big Red Machine in Cincinnati during the 1970s. Players like Johnny Bench, Pete Rose, George Foster, and Joe Morgan often did the heavy lifting, allowing Perez to follow their co-tails.

Admittedly, he was an immensely popular figure in Cincinnati during those days. But that popularity is why he’s often remembered for being better than he was. Perez wasn’t a great defensive player and he started to fade late in his career, helping to make him one of the most overrated MLB players of all time.

Phil Rizzuto

While Phil Rizzuto was a great defensive player, an excellent bunter, and a key part of a lot of winning teams with the Yankees, that doesn’t necessarily make him an all-time great. In fairness, Rizzuto was the MVP in 1950 and a five-time all-star.

But with or without him, the Yankees probably would have won seven World Series during his time in the Bronx. His defensive prowess was important, although he managed just 38 home runs in his career and was only a .273 career hitter. That means he wasn’t that great of a contact hitter.

But because he was on winning teams and well-liked as a broadcaster for many years, Rizzuto has ended up being a little overrated as a player in retrospect.

Bo Jackson

As a pure athlete, there aren’t many people in the history of American sports better than Bo Jackson (at least outside of Jim Brown). The fact that Jackson was able to play two sports at the highest level is indeed an amazing accomplishment.

But just looking at him as a baseball player, Jackson was nothing special. His athleticism allowed him to reach the majors and do things that other players couldn’t do. But he was a .250 career hitter with a career OPS of .783. While those are good numbers, they aren’t great, especially for a player with just one all-star selection.

While Jackson should be remembered as one of the greatest athletes who’s ever lived, he’s far from a legendary baseball player.

Dante Bichette

Dante Bichette undoubtedly had some big seasons during his career. But it’s impossible not to recognize that playing at Coors Field played a huge role in that success, perhaps more than any other player who’s become a star while playing for the Rockies.

In 1995, he was the National League leader in home runs and RBI, doing so in Coors Field. All four seasons he was an all-star came while he was with the Rockies. Even when he joined the 30-30 club, he hit 31 home runs while playing in Colorado.

Bichette was indeed a good hitter who finished his career with a .299 average and 272 home runs. Unfortunately, he never did anything noteworthy when he wasn’t with the Rockies and playing half of his games at Coors Field.

Dave Stewart

Dave Stewart had some good years and played for some good teams, although the stories about how good he was don’t necessarily match his numbers. He once won at least 20 games in four straight seasons, but it was a little easier to win games while pitching for the A’s during that time.

That enabled him to pitch in the postseason frequently and earn a reputation for being a big-game pitcher. Stewart was only an all-star once in his career and finished his career with a modest 3.95 ERA and just 168 career wins. While he was good, he wasn’t great, and he wasn’t as great as he’s sometimes remembered.

Mo Vaughn

As a player with massive size, Mo Vaughn is often remembered as a big-time power hitter. But his career total for home runs is a rather modest 328, although his .293 career average is a little higher than most people would expect. The best days of Vaughn’s career came in Boston, where he was an all-star three times and won MVP honors in 1995.

However, Vaughn wasn’t good at much else, as he wasn’t a strong defensive player or a good base runner. Plus, his power started to fade fast late in his career when he played for the Angels and Mets.

It was also revealed later on that Vaughn had a connection to steroids, which perhaps explains his power numbers during the peak of his career with the Red Sox. It also makes Vaughn one of the most overrated MLB players of all time.

Charles Nagy

Charles Nagy spent most of his career playing for winning teams in Cleveland. From 1995 to 2001, Cleveland went to the postseason six times in seven years, making two appearances in the World Series.

Since Nagy was an important part of the rotation during that time, it’s easy to remember him being better than he was. But he was only a three-time all-star during his career, and never in consecutive years.

Nagy may have been able to step up in big moments on occasion, although consistency wasn’t always his strength. Surprisingly, he finished his career with an ERA of 4.51, which is what most would describe as average at best.

Jim Palmer

It’s not that Jim Palmer was a bad pitcher, he’s just a little overrated because his career was built on the backs of good teams. The Orioles during the late 1960s and early 70s were a force to be reckoned with.

Palmer was far from the only great pitcher on those teams, which is why he was on the last rotation to have four 20-game winners. Granted, he might have been the best of the bunch, but his accomplishments are still a little overblown because he was always surrounded by such great talent.

Herb Pennock

Some believe that Herb Pennock was one of the greatest left-handed pitchers to ever play the game. But he’s someone whose success came in part because he played on great teams. He won two World Series with the Athletics in 1913 and 1915 and was then a part of four championship teams while playing with the Yankees.

It was after the Red Sox foolishly traded him to the Yankees that Pennock’s career took off and he became a known commodity. But a lot of pitchers would have been in a position to succeed while playing for the Yankees in those days.

For his career, Pennock’s ERA was just 3.60, and he racked up 241 wins over 20 seasons, giving him a far more modest career than what his status as a Hall of Famer might indicate.

Fernando Valenzuela

While he was a trailblazer for Mexican pitchers and an icon for the Mexican-American community during his days with the Dodgers, Fernando Valenzuela isn’t necessarily an all-time great.

He’s been rightfully denied a place in Cooperstown despite his contributions to the game. Granted, he won Rookie of the Year and has a Cy Young to his name, Valenzuela only won 173 games during a career that spanned 18 seasons. Once his time in Los Angeles and Fernando Mania died down, he became just another pitcher during the second half of his career.

Early Wynn

It’s tough to call a 300-game winner and a Hall of Famer one of the most overrated MLB pitchers of all time. However, Early Wynn had over 20 seasons to collect that many wins, losing 244 games along the way.

For such a hard thrower who had several pitches in his repertoire, Wynn should have been able to amass more than 2,334 strikeouts in his career, especially since he led the American League in strikeouts twice.

The fact that he barely got into the Hall of Fame with 76% of the vote during his fourth year on the ballot is evidence that Wynn doesn’t hold water compared to some of the other legends in Cooperstown.

Cy Young

One would assume that an award given to the best pitcher every year being named after him would make Cy Young one of the best pitchers in baseball history. However, Young mostly just had longevity on his side, pitching for over 20 years, which allowed him to rack up an MLB-record 511 wins and 7,356 innings pitched.

Of course, nobody is going to take those records away from him. But in terms of talent and ability, Young isn’t on the high end of pitchers in baseball history. He was able to control his pitches and outsmart hitters. However, Young is not all that talented compared to many of the pitchers who have won the award that bears his name.

Lee Smith

For over a decade, Lee Smith was the all-time leader in saves, which is one of the biggest reasons why he eventually got into the Hall of Fame. However, his time as one of the most dominant closers in baseball didn’t extend too far beyond the early 90s.

He led the National League in saves three times in four years from 1992 to 1994 during the same time that he was selected to five of his seven All-Star Teams. But while he put up big numbers in those years, he wasn’t able to sustain that level.

His career ERA increased all of the way to 3.03 by the time he retired, as he failed to sustain himself at an elite level the way the best closers in baseball history have been able to do.

Bruce Sutter

Bruce Sutter had to wait until his 13th appearance on the Hall of Fame ballot to get into Cooperstown, which is one of the reasons he can be considered one of the most overrated MLB players ever.

While he was able to reach 300 career saves and win the Cy Young in 1979, he was only a dominant reliever for a short period of time. Between 1977 and 1981, Sutter went to five straight All-Star Games. He also led the National League in saves every year from 1979 to 1982.

But he tailed off a little after that, which is why he was only third on the all-time saves list at the time of his retirement and why others have passed him since then.