March 28, 2006

The All-Comparable Team

Baseball Prospectus has a projection system called PECOTA, which they use to publish statistical projections for hundreds of players each season. For example, this year they project Justin Morneau to hit .270/.336/.493 with 28 homers and 91 RBIs in 580 plate appearances, and they project Brad Radke to go 11-10 with a 4.21 ERA in 188 innings.

In addition to the basic projections, PECOTA also looks at each player in terms of a whole bunch of various factors. A player's numbers play a big role, with the typical stuff like plate discipline, power, strike-zone judgment, batting averages, and speed being accounted for. Along with that PECOTA also factors in stuff like height, weight, age, handedness, and defensive position to come up with a list of the 20 "most comparable players" in baseball history.

For instance, Johan Santana's most comparable player is Tom Seaver, which is about as good as it gets for a pitcher. In other words, through the age of 26 in each of their careers, Santana and Seaver are a good match. Last year at this time Santana's #1 comparable was Sandy Koufax (who has dropped all the way to #11 this time), so a lot can change because of just one season. I'm not sure how much actual value is found in these comparisons, but I do know that it's a lot of fun.

Radke's #1 comparable is Dennis Martinez (followed by Juan Marichal and Robin Roberts). Carlos Silva compares best to Larry Sorensen, while PECOTA matches Kyle Lohse with Stan Bahnsen and Scott Baker with Francisco Barrios (followed by Mike Mussina and Rick Aguilera). So in PECOTA-speak, the Twins' 2006 rotation consists of Seaver, Martinez, Sorensen, Bahnsen, and Barrios.

The guy many people would like to see in the 2006 rotation, Francisco Liriano, has Curt Simmons as his #1 comparable. That may not sound like much and it's admittedly a letdown, but Simmons did win 193 big-league games. Some interesting names in Liriano's top 20: Don Sutton, Jose Rijo, Robin Roberts, Ken Holtzman, Dwight Gooden, Dave Boswell, and Dontrelle Willis.

In the bullpen, Joe Nathan compares best to Tom Henke, whose 311 career saves rank 15th all time. Nathan also has Trevor Hoffman, who is second all time with 436 saves, as his #2 comparable. Juan Rincon's #1 match is Scott Williamson, which is sort of depressing given Rincon's elbow problems this spring and all the arm issues Williamson has struggled through. However, Rincon's top 10 also includes Dave Righetti, Gregg Olson, Tug McGraw, Duane Ward, and Mariano Rivera.

Switching over to the position players, Joe Mauer's comparables are predictably great. Joe Torre checks in at #1, with other catching greats Bill Freehan, Ted Simmons, Mike Scioscia, and Ivan Rodriguez also in the top 10. Interestingly, Mauer's top 10 also includes one very recognizable non-catcher: Kent Hrbek. And in case you're curious, PECOTA projects Mauer to hit .298/.360/.451 with 14 homers and 70 RBIs in 577 plate appearances.

Hrbek also fittingly appeared as Morneau's top comparable last year, but after a disappointing season PECOTA now has Carmelo Martinez at the top of Morneau's list. Martinez wasn't a bad player, posting a 108 OPS+ in nine big-league seasons, but Morneau's career will be huge bust if that's how he turns out. Of course, Morneau hit 22 homers in 2005 after bashing 19 homers in a half-season in 2004, while Martinez's career high was 21.

To make you feel a little better about Morneau possibly unleashing his power potential down the road, his top 10 also includes Richie Sexson, Paul Konerko, Mark Teixeira, Nate Colbert, and Mo Vaughn, each of whom have multiple seasons with at least 38 homers. Hrbek has dropped from Morneau's #1 comparable to off the list completely, which is due to Hrbek having the best season of his career at the age of 24, while Morneau struggled.

Jason Kubel's list is led by the immortal Jackie Brandt and is uninspiring throughout, but I'm guessing PECOTA has a tough time finding comparables for a guy who had a great age-22 season and then missed the entire next year. Another promising young Twins outfielder, Alex Romero, has current Tigers center fielder Curtis Granderson as his #1 comparable, but the best part is that Romero's top five also includes Carl Yastrzemski and Don Mattingly.

Torii Hunter has Derek Bell as his #1 comparable, which is really bad. Bell's performance fell off a cliff once he got on the wrong side of 30 and he played his last major-league game at the age of 32. Hunter turns 31 in July. Other interesting comparables among hitters: Jason Bartlett and Jerry Hairston Jr.; Tony Batista and Craig Paquette; Luis Castillo and Steve Sax; Michael Cuddyer and Doug Radar; Lew Ford and Alex Ochoa; Shannon Stewart and Harvey Kuenn; Rondell White and Lou Pinella.

Finally, here's what the Twins' likely Opening Day roster will look like based on each player's top PECOTA comparable:

C Joe Torre SP Tom Seaver
1B Carmelo Martinez SP Dennis Martinez
2B Steve Sax SP Larry Sorensen
SS Jerry Hairston Jr. SP Stan Bahnsen
3B Craig Paquette SP Francisco Barrios
LF Harvey Kuenn
CF Derek Bell CL Tom Henke
RF Doug Radar RP Scott Williamson
DH Lou Pinella RP Bob File
RP Mark Huismann
C Joe Girardi RP Dave Smith
IF Billy Ripken RP Curt Simmons
IF U.L. Washington
OF Alex Ochoa
OF Tony Perez

And yes, I believe this officially means the offseason has been dragging on for far too long.

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