If there’s a player on this list you haven’t heard of, chances are it’s Robb Nen.
If there’s a list of all time underrated players in baseball, chances are Robb Nen is on that one too.
Robert Allen Nen, originally drafted in the 32nd round of 1987 draft by the Texas Rangers, was snatched up by the Miami Marlins in a lopsided 1993 trade with Texas in exchange for Cris Carpenter. And before you question how such a trade could possibly be lopsided, keep in mind that spelling Chris with an “H” is apparently the difference between being a three-time All-Star that beat out Dontrelle Willis for the 2005 Cy Young and being the disappointing former 1987 first round pick St. Louis left themselves open to losing to Miami in the 1992 expansion draft.
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But back to Nen. After wrapping up the second half of 1993 as a spot starter and long reliever, the Marlins moved him to the bullpen full-time entering 1994. Nen made the best of the opportunity, seizing the closer’s job- a role he wouldn’t relinquish
until being traded to the Giants as part of the post-championship firesale. Nen did have some trouble early, going 0-7 in his 1995 followup to a strike shortened yet stellar 1994 season; still, he did notch 38 saves in that stretch.
But starting with the 1996 season, he was lights out for the rest of his career.
Five of the next seven seasons would see an ERA no higher than 3.01, with no fewer than 35 saves secured. While that resume was only good enough to earn him three All-Star appearances, a very strong case could be made that it should have been seven. Consider that in three of his four non-All-Star seasons during that run, he was on a team with enough talent to send three players to the Midsummer Classic. The one exception was 2000, where only two teammates beat him out, and that was a season in which he finished fourth in the Cy Young balloting with 1.50 ERA.
If there was ever a player who had a legitimate beef with the rule that every team be represented, it’s Nen. The perils of playing for a World Champion, and spending five seasons with some guy named Barry Bonds on your team.
Nen was instrumental in the Marlins championship run in 1997. While he did allow four earned runs that postseason, it’s worth noting that all four of them came in the 9th inning of a battle-of-the-bullpens contest that had just seen his club break a 7-7 tie with a seven run inning. When it actually counted, he was clutch, going 1-0 with four saves; two of those were in the World Series, and he pitched 1.2 scoreless frames in that extra-innings Game 7. Both saves by the way secured wins for No. 20 on our list, Livan Hernandez.
Considering only twenty players in baseball have more career saves than Nen’s mark of 314, his place on this list seems well earned to say the least.