March 2, 2005

PECOTA says ...

Baseball Prospectus recently unveiled the 2005 version of their PECOTA player projection system. In addition to projecting how players will perform this season, PECOTA also compiles a list of each player's 20 "most comparable players" in baseball history based on a number of different factors far too complicated to understand. What we do know is that, for example, Barry Bonds' most comparable player through this stage of his career is Ted Williams, which sounds about right. Anyway, I thought it might be fun to run through the Twins' roster and see if the team has any interesting comparables.

After winning the American League Cy Young award as a 25-year-old, PECOTA pegs Johan Santana's most comparable player as none other than Sandy Koufax. The good news is that there aren't many southpaws who were as dominant as Koufax in his prime and Santana is at the age when Koufax really started to peak. On the other hand, the bad news is that Koufax was able to toss just 184.1 innings as a 26-year-old and threw his last pitch at the age of 30.

Brad Radke's most comparable player is Dennis Eckersley, whose numbers as a 31-year-old in 1986 were very similar to Radke's numbers as a 31-year-old last season:

                  IP       H     HR      SO     BB
Radke 219.2 229 23 143 26
Eckersley 201.0 226 21 137 49

Of course, Radke was outstanding last year, while Eckersley actually went 6-11 with a 4.57 ERA in what ended up being his final season as a starting pitcher. He joined the A's the next year and began his metamorphosis into being one of the best relievers of his generation.

In the bullpen, closer Joe Nathan's most comparable player is Eric Plunk. That may not sound like such a great pitcher to be compared to, but Plunk was actually an extremely effective reliever for most of the 1990s. Plunk went 7-2 with a 2.54 ERA and 73 strikeouts in 71 innings as a 30-year-old, which is the age Nathan will be this season. He then combined to throw 141.2 innings with a 2.54 ERA and 156 strikeouts in his age-31 and age-32 seasons. The Twins would be thrilled to get that kind of pitching out of Nathan before he gets too expensive to keep.

Nathan's setup-man foursome of Juan Rincon, J.C. Romero, Jesse Crain, and Grant Balfour have Bobby Ayala, Tippy Martinez, Andy Messersmith, and Steve Bedrosian as their most comparable players, respectively. I'm not sure what that means for the future of the bullpen, but it's a pretty interesting group.

Over on offense, Joe Mauer and Justin Morneau have Mike Scioscia and Kent Hrbek as their most comparable players, which is pretty interesting. Scioscia was a very good player and caught nearly 1,400 games for the Dodgers, but aside from his durability I would be disappointed if Mauer ended up having his career. Meanwhile, I'm guessing most Twins fans would be thrilled if Morneau turned into another Hrbek, although I think Morneau actually has the potential to be even more of a power threat. Incidentally, Hrbek had arguably the best season of career as a 24-year-old (Morneau's age now), hitting .311/.383/.522 with 27 homers and 107 RBIs in 1984, which is a lot more impressive than the raw numbers suggest.

My favorite whipping boy, Luis Rivas, has Frank White as his most comparable player, which should entitle him to another 15 years or so to fulfill his potential as far as his supporters are probably concerned. Of course, most of White's value came from the fact that he was an extraordinary defensive player, which Rivas just isn't. White hit a very Rivas-like .255/.293/.383 during his career, which means PECOTA isn't exactly predicting much offensive improvement from Oh-For-ThRivas.

Torii Hunter's top comparable is Preston Wilson, while his outfield mates Shannon Stewart, Jacque Jones, and Lew Ford compare to Harvey Kuenn, Al Zarilla, and Bernard Gilkey, respectively. Yes, you read that right -- Lew Ford's most comparable player is Bernard Gilkey. And aside from the fact that one is a defensively challenged corner infielder and the other is a defensively challenged corner outfielder, Michael Restovich's #1 comparable of Wes Helms looks right on the money.

Michael Cuddyer's #1 comparable is Ron Swoboda, which isn't exactly encouraging. Meanwhile, Jason Kubel's top comparable of Jerry Turner is about as encouraging as Kubel's major knee injury, but he does have Tony Gwynn and Don Mattingly in his top five (at least until PECOTA realizes Kubel is out for his entire age-23 season).

Finally, here's what the Twins' lineup could look like on Opening Day, by way of their PECOTA most comparable players:

1) Harvey Kuenn, LF
2) Mike Scioscia, C
3) Preston Wilson, CF
4) Kent Hrbek, 1B
5) Bernard Gilkey, DH
6) Al Zarilla, RF
7) Ron Swoboda, 3B
8) Billy Gardner, SS
9) Frank White, 2B

With Koufax getting the start and Eckersley in the bullpen to slam the door, I think we might have a shot.

Today at The Hardball Times:
- Offseason Rankings: Part One (by Ben Jacobs)

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