Mike Cameron

Mike Cameron well entrenched in the Hall of Very Good


A Hall of Famer he obviously wasn’t, but Mike Cameron, who announced his retirement Sunday at age 39, might be the game’s most underrated player of the last 20 years.

Cameron nails just about all of the factors that makes a player underrated. He hit for low averages, he struck out a lot, he spent much of his career in pitcher’s parks, he changed teams frequently and he didn’t get the kind of defensive reputation early on that would have let him coast to Gold Glove awards like Torii Hunter and Ichiro Suzuki did.

But when Cameron was at his best, he was one of the top players in his league. Unfortunately, his two best seasons happened to come in Safeco Field in 2001 and in Petco Park in 2006. In 2001, he was the AL’s seventh-best player, according to Baseball-reference’s WAR. In 2006, he was the NL’s 13th best.

Cameron was more about consistency, though. From 1999-2009, he had OPS-pluses between 104-123 every year. He was a pretty exceptional defender right up until the end of that stretch, and he played in 140 games in nine of the 11 seasons.

Unfortunately, because of the kind of hitter he was, Cameron was typically typecast as a No. 6 batter. He never hit even .270 in a full season. The only time he ever led a league in anything was when he fanned 176 times for the Mariners in 2002. He drove in 110 runs in 2001, but his next highest total was 83. In 2004, he managed to drive in just 76 runs despite hitting 30 homers for the Mets.

So, no, Cameron wasn’t a superstar. He wasn’t necessarily the guy a team wanted up with the winning run on second in the bottom of the ninth (though he wasn’t exactly unclutch; he hit slightly better with runners on and with RISP than with the bases empty over the course of his career). He struggled mightily in his four postseasons, hitting .174/.309/.272 with one homer in 92 at-bats.

But as a third banana, he was quite an asset. WAR rates him the 24th best player of the aughts (2000-09), and I wouldn’t quibble with that. He comes up short just looking at his statistical line — he finished his career with a .249 average, 278 homers and 297 steals — but there were just so many pluses outside of that. He earned three Gold Gloves and deserved at least a couple of more, he was a terrific baserunner and he rarely grounded into double plays. There’s no doubt he won more games for his teams with those skills than he lost with the strikeouts.

The Cubs clinch World Series berth with NLCS Game 6 win

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  The Chicago Cubs celebrate defeating the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 in game six of the National League Championship Series to advance to the World Series against the Cleveland Indians at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images)
Getty Images

After 71 years, the Cubs are headed back to the Fall Classic.

The dominance with which Clayton Kershaw attacked the Cubs in Game 2 of the NLCS was nonexistent in Game 6 as the Dodgers’ ace loaded the bases to start the first inning and scattered five extra bases and five runs over five frames. By the time Dave Roberts pulled his starter in the sixth inning, Kershaw was sitting on a Game Score of 33, the lowest he’s mustered since the start of the 2015 season. Only one of his strikes came via curveball, and whether he was having difficulty locating his off-speed stuff or felt more confident with the fastball-slider combo, it was the fewest curves he’d seen land for strikes all year (per David Adler).

Where the Dodgers were able to give Kershaw the edge in Game 2, they found themselves powerless against opposing hurler Kyle Hendricks. Hendricks turned out 7 1/3 scoreless frames with two hits and six strikeouts, preserving the Cubs’ second shutout of the postseason and the first since they bested the Giants in Game 1 of the NLDS. After his 1-0 loss to the Dodgers early in the NLCS, seeing the MLB ERA leader turn out a gem was a relief for the Cubs, especially one as spectacular as an 88-pitch two-hitter.

With Hendricks effectively stymieing the Dodgers’ best attempts to get on base, the Cubs played to their strengths at the plate. Kris Bryant and Ben Zobrist cleared the bases in the first inning for a two-run lead, followed by a Dexter Fowler RBI single in the second. Willson Contreras came through in the fourth inning for the Cubs, lifting an 87 m.p.h. slider to left field for his first home run of October, while Anthony Rizzo hit his second homer of the postseason on a 1-1 fastball in the fifth.

Neither bullpen allowed a single run from the sixth inning onward. Dodgers’ right-hander Kenley Jansen took the ball from Kershaw in the sixth, scattering four strikeouts over three innings and denying the Cubs so much as a single baserunner through the end of the game. Aroldis Chapman, meanwhile, issued just one walk in 1 1/3 scoreless frames, inducing a Yasiel Puig double play to clinch the Cubs’ 17th franchise pennant.

With the win, the Cubs will face off against the Indians in Game 1 of the World Series on Tuesday at 8 PM EDT. And, in case you needed a reminder:

Video: Willson Contreras blasts first postseason home run off of Kershaw

CHICAGO, IL - OCTOBER 22:  Willson Contreras #40 of the Chicago Cubs celebrates after hitting a solo home run in the fourth inning against the Los Angeles Dodgers during game six of the National League Championship Series at Wrigley Field on October 22, 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.  (Photo by Jonathan Daniel/Getty Images)
Getty Images

So much for Clayton Kershaw posing a threat tonight. The Cubs got their knocks in early and often against the Dodgers’ ace during Game 6 of the NLCS, racking up three runs in the first three innings before rookie catcher Willson Contreras unleashed his first postseason home run in the bottom of the fourth inning.

According to MLB.com’s Phil Rogers, Contreras became the 10th Cub to homer in the 2016 playoffs, following big hits by Addison Russell, Anthony Rizzo, Dexter Fowler, Miguel Montero, David Ross, Jake Arrieta, Kris Bryant, Travis Wood, and Javier Baez. Of the ten home run hitters, Contreras joins catchers David Ross and Miguel Montero as yet another backstop capable of driving the long ball (and, less importantly, as another player capable of a sweet, sweet bat flip).

Rizzo, whose last homer was a deep drive to right field off of Los Angeles right-hander Pedro Baez in Game 4 of the NLCS, piled on Kershaw’s five-run outing with another home run in the bottom of the fifth inning. Kershaw called it a night after five frames, and the Cubs currently lead the Dodgers 5-0 in the sixth inning.