Baseball’s Most “Tebowish” Players

I thought Jim Rome (via Twitter) put it best with regard to Tim Tebow’s performance in Sunday’s wild card game against the favored Pittsburgh Steelers…

“5 hours ago, Tim Tebow was trying to prove he was better than Brady Quinn. Now he’s John Elway. He was playing 4 his job. Now he’s a legend.”

While legend might be a stretch, what Tebow has done this past season is certainly a storyline unlike any other we have seen in professional football for a very long time, if ever. His performance on Sunday, as well as his rise to stardom as the starting quarterback for the Denver Broncos this season, got me thinking about what types of players hold a certain sense of “Tebowness” about them: Players who, for one reason or another, have outperformed their expectations even if just for one season.

Dustin Pedroia – Pedroia is listed at five foot nine inches and that might be generous. To this day, analysts point out his lack of athleticism. At first, that lack of athleticism was supposed to limit his upside as a big league regular. A Rookie of the Year and MVP award later, people are still saying that Pedey might decline faster than most due to his size. All Pedroia continues to do is work his hindquarters off and prove the nay-sayers wrong. Way wrong.

Hunter Pence – Nothing about Hunter Pence looks right. Heck, if you had no idea who he was, just watching the guy swing a bat in the on-deck circle might lead you to believe he’s just some lanky, uncoordinated minor league scrub called up to pinch hit in a meaningless game. One look at his production, however, and you would form a completely different view of his worth as a big league ball player. With about five full big league seasons under his belt, Pence has put up a line of .292/.343/.485 and has never had a season in which he posted less than three wins above replacement.

Jeff Francoeur – Frenchy has been the subject of both much praise and much criticism throughout his career. However, unlike the case with both Pedroia and Pence as mentioned above, Francoeur hasn’t performed nearly as consistently over his time in the big leagues. From 2008 through 2010, Frenchy was worth a meager 0.1 wins above replacement, meaning that his production was basically at the same level as a minor league fill-in. That all changed in 2011 as he rode a .323 BABIP and new-found propensity for base stealing to a .285/.329/.476, 20/20 season. Just as many think Tim Tebow won’t be a consistently productive NFL quarterback, I don’t think we’re going to see many more seasons from Francoeur like the one he posted last year due to his still extremely poor plate discipline.

Matt Cain – Sabermetric analysts will tell you, from 2007 to 2009 Matt Cain was a bit of an enigma. Despite posting what amounted to not much more than league average strikeout-to-walk ratios, Cain continually posted sub-four ERAs while others with his statistical resemblance failed to find the same success. While his home ballpark has certainly helped his numbers, Cain has actually improved statistically with regard to his K/BB rate and home runs allowed over the past two seasons.

Ryan Vogelsong – On the flip side of Cain is Ryan Vogelsong, who was largely considered a busted prospect until his miraculous 2011 season. Having pitched in Japan the season prior, not much was expected of the crafty right-hander, but he ended the season with a 2.71 ERA and 13 wins despite posting a league average 2.28 K/BB rate. Many predicted that his strong start to 2011 would fade in the second half. He did regress in the second half, but not by much, posting a 3.26 ERA after the all-star break. Unless he improves his K/BB rate in 2012, however, he might be in for a sizeable regression in both wins and ERA.

Kevin Youkilis – The Greek god of walks was among the misfit players that the Oakland A’s front office was extremely fond of in the early 2000s as referenced in the book “Moneyball”. His body-type has never matched his actually production, making those who simply judged his skills based on looks ultimately uninformed as to his worth as a ballplayer. Now six years into his career as an everyday major leaguer, Youk has a career .391 OBP and .492 SLG (.883 OPS).

Mark Buehrle – Buehrle doesn’t do anything flashy. He doesn’t throw hard, he doesn’t strike a lot of people out, he doesn’t suppress home runs or generate an extreme amount of ground balls; he just knows how to pitch. Despite the sort of boring aspect of his skills, one looks back on his body of work to see that he has only posted one season of sub-three wins above replacement and that he owns a more than respectable 3.83 career ERA.

Johnny Damon – No list making the connection between Tim Tebow and baseball is complete without Johnny Damon. While it’s been a few years since his days portraying the baseball playing Jesus while with the Red Sox, Damon still and has always brought an unorthodox aspect to his game. He “throws like Marry” and looks rather “jitterish” in the batter’s box. Perhaps only Hal Morris has more pre-pitch movement in the batters box than Damon. All-in-all his weak throwing arm an unique swing mechanics worked out. At age 37 last season, Damon hit a respectable .261/.326/.416 with 16 home runs and 19 stolen bases. He’s a career .286/.353/.435 hitter with over 200 career home runs and 400 career stolen bases.

The Outside Corner wants your opinion: Who are your most “Tebowish” players? Guys who have outperformed expectations or ones who are destined to come back down to earth after one year of glory.