As a non-fantasy player going on eight years clean, and also as a non-baseball team employee, I might not be the precise target audience for our PECOTA projection system.
Still, PECOTA Day continues to be one of my favorite days of the year, and I think the player comps are a huge part of the reason why. Comparisons are a dangerous thing in baseball. They can be too binding and too racial. They can set too high an expectation—the draft day comps on television are particularly laughable. They can cloud judgment.
So I enjoy seeing if the data—the comparisons based on similarity and used to project how current players will perform going forward—might be more revealing. I look for the funniest ones, the scariest ones, and the ones where I’d never thought of the two players in the same sentence, but hey, maybe that makes some sense.
Not as an exact match. There is the usual disclaimer with all of my favorite 2014 PECOTA comps, that these are not exact talent matches, just the closest pairings of statistical, biographical, and positional pasts. And they might just tell us something about their futures.
Gonzalez, another defensively challenged, offensively overrated Rangers outfielder, hit free agency in advance of his 32-year-old season and immediately cratered. That was two years after Gonzalez rejected that famous $140 million extension offer from the Tigers, and the Rangers got him back for two years and $24 million. He would average 0.3 WARP in his remaining four seasons.
Cruz hits free agency a year older and has less far to fall. This could get even uglier, and it’s no surprise that nobody’s been willing to meet the asking price yet.
Justin Upton, No. 1 comp: Barry Bonds
Despite not maintaining his torrid April pace for much more than just April, Upton draws perhaps PECOTA’s most flattering comp. it’s a big step up from being compared to the Jay Bruce, Jack Clark, Ben Johnson trio last season.
Nobody else is getting a Bonds comp this year. And while this means very different things at their ages than in their primes, the Griffey comps belong to Torii Hunter, Curtis Granderson, Matt Kemp and Vernon Wells.
SMH racist, PECOTA.
The players most frequently found in comps
The Beckett binge is a little too much awareness from the computer. As a short-time Houston resident, it was laughable how easily the Beckett comps flowed, from Jameson Taillon on down to anyone who was over six feet tall, right-handed, and pitched in high school.
Robinson Cano: Chase Utley, Aramis Ramirez, Vladimir Guerrero
Think of this one as a graduation. Last year, Cano’s three comps were a threesome of second basemen, as one would expect given the positional portion of PECOTA’s projections. His closest comps were Marcus Giles, Aaron Hill, and Brandon Phillips.
This year, he just ran out of second baseman.
Given his offense, which is so out of character for the position, Cano takes to Seattle a skill set more befitting a corner position. How long that lasts is obviously the important part of the contract, but this is a much more encouraging set.
Prince Fielder, no. 3 comp: Nick Johnson
This is just mean, comparing the healthiest player of his generation to one of the unhealthiest. There is much more Nick Johnson sadness in this corner of the world knowing how similarly their careers began.
Listen, Milwaukee, you have probably the best fanbase in the game that comes out win or lose. You have a wonderful ballpark (even if you can’t walk there). You have Bob Uecker. You have tailgating at a freakin’ baseball game.
If that’s all you have for the next few years, you’ll probably be okay.
Juan Uribe, no. 1 comp: Eric Chavez
Even more so than Upton, Uribe is an example of what one great year can do to your career projections. Some of that improvement has to be regressed, but to go from Greg Dobbs to Eric Chavez in one year is emblematic of the type of season he had.
Players who are just destined to be together, all no. 1 comps.
Byron Buxton: Mike Trout
Roy Halladay: Chris Carpenter
Ichiro Suzuki: Lou Piniella
Carlos Correa: Manny Machado
Joe Thatcher: Heath Bell
Mike Adams: Heath Bell
Freddy Garcia: Bartolo Colon
Pete Orr: Joe McEwing
Cliff Lee, no. 2 comp: Koji Uehara
Normally, starters get starters and relievers get relievers. The physical comps might make sense the other way, but career projections wouldn’t make a ton of sense. What do you do with the guy on top of this list, though?
Starters’ K/BB the last five seasons (Source: Play Index)
When no other starters are on the same level, you just have to go to the freakiest reliever for a closer comparison. Uehara’s ratio in that time? 8.74.
Mike Leake, no. 1 comp: Dontrelle Willis
Okay, this one doesn’t even make sense. Sure, they had about the same average (.251 vs. .244), but they have totally different skill sets. Willis was much more of a power hitter, with a home run every 43 at-bats and a .134 isolated power. Leake has a good stroke, but he isn’t a power guy—he’s much more of a singles hitter. Have to say PECOTA whiffed on this one.