It's PECOTA week here at BP, which means spring training is just around the corner. Baseball Prospectus 2016 has arrived at your doorstep, Effectively Wild team previews are well underway, and everyone's busy trying to figure out who merits that final keeper slot in dynasty leagues around the country—with the help of PECOTA, of course. We're all in the Best Shape of Our Lives, and we're all looking forward to a better year for ourselves, and perhaps more importantly, a better year for our favorite ballclubs.
One of the many great treats of PECOTA's output are the top three comparable players that come packed with each player projection, as found in the Annual and the PECOTA spreadsheet. As Sam Miller noted in 2013, those three player comps might actually be less helpful than anything else PECOTA delivers—for one, because there's a much larger pool of players used to guide PECOTA (it actually goes 100 deep for each player), and it's too easy to get caught up in the top three. Still, they're fun.
Here are some of the fun ones.
The Bryce Harper evolution, through comps
We can measure Harper's ascent through his statistics, but that's boring. Instead, let's measure it through the statistics of his top three comps (average career True Average in parenthesis):
2012: Robin Yount, Wayne Causey, Ed Kranepool (.268)
2013: Mike Trout, Ken Griffey, Justin Upton (.317)
2014: Jason Heyward, Justin Upton, Frank Robinson (.306)
2015: Frank Robinson, Jason Heyward, Albert Pujols (.319)
2016: Jason Heyward, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera (.322)
Alright, this wasn't that interesting either. Harper's always been good, and PECOTA knew it all along.
· Mike Carp – 10
· Edwin Encarnacion – 9
· Chris Young – 8
· Aaron Rowand – 7
· Jonathan Lucroy – 7
· Michael Cuddyer – 7
· Mike Jacobs – 7
· Luis Valbuena – 7
· Brett Lawrie – 7
Whatever happened to Caleb Gindl? You know, the guy PECOTA cited as a top three comp for other players 22 times between 2014 and 2015, making him the world's most comparable player. This year he reached the top three for only four players—Clint Coulter, Mark Zagunis, Nomar Mazara, and Braxton Davidson. A lost year in Triple-A—.228/.287/.319—as a 26-year-old will apparently prompt even PECOTA to turn its back on you.
And the pitchers:
· Vicente Padilla – 10
· Adam Warren – 9
· Alex Cobb – 9
· Adam Wainwright – 8
· Anthony Swarzak – 8
· John Lackey – 8
· Ted Lilly – 8
· Erik Bedard – 8
· Francisco Rodriguez – 8
· David Phelps – 8
· Randy Wolf – 8
· Mike Zagurski – 8
"There's the next Vicente Padilla" isn't something you hear everyday, but the guy was about as ordinary as big-league pitchers get: 6.4 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 1.0 HR/9, 4.58 DRA. There are bound to be many more future Padillas than there are future Greg Madduxes, which isn't a bad thing because it makes the Madduxes stand out.
The get-well-soon comp
Clay Buchholz has been a major-league starting pitcher since the George W. Bush administration, and he's pitched just 1,028 innings, failing to ever tie together back-to-back 150-plus inning campaigns. Bob Gibson once rattled off 14 consecutive 150-plus inning campaigns. From 1968 through 1970, he made 103 starts and tallied 912 2/3 innings. He topped 250 innings eight different times during his career.
Buchholz got Gibson as his No. 1 comp, which might be PECOTA's way of saying that it's time to buck up and make 30 starts, kid.
Maybin's quietly had a pretty decent career, but he never lived up to the hype a top prospect generates, in large part because injuries derailed his career anytime it looked like it was taking off.
Buxton still looks like a great player: Both PECOTA (5.0 projected WARP, most coming from defense) and BP's Prospect Team (he rated second in the recently released top 101) still love him, and he just turned 22 in December. The future is probably bright, but the early career injury bug provides a gentle reminder that he could still be more Maybin than Mike Trout.
Josh Barfield was a good prospect who, as a rookie with San Diego in 2006, posted a .273 TAv in 578 plate appearances. He was spun to Cleveland that offseason—apparently, at least. The Barfield the Indians received couldn't crack a .600 OPS and didn't possess the necessary defensive range at second to make up for that kind of offense (who does?). He got only 53 total plate appearances with Cleveland in 2008 and 2009, and exited affiliated ball altogether by 2012.
Here's hoping Turner's career progresses more like Junior Lake's.
Wait . . . nevermind.
There's nothing particularly scary about a McGee (shutdown reliever) or Duffy (league-average starter) comp. There's also nothing particularly exciting about them. PECOTA, sometimes, can serve as the buzzkill at the prospect comp water cooler.
Prospect dude No. 1: Giolito could be anybody! He reminds me of . . . no, I can't go there.
Prospect dude No. 2: Say it!
Prospect dude No. 1: Pedro. There, I said it.
Prospect dude No. 2: Yup. I see a lot of Strasburg. 'Lotta Strasburg here. Maybe Jason Schmidt. Peak Schmidt.
Prospect dude No. 3: Felix Hernandez. Just throwin' it out there. He could be another Felix.
PECOTA: (robot voice) He . . . could be . . . Player ID 56197 Duffy, Danny.
The one Mickey Mantle comp
PECOTA doesn't (yet) integrate a Jaw-Dropping Home Run factor, but Mickey Mantle as Giancarlo Stanton's No. 1 comp seems fitting enough. Stanton has hit the longest home run in the majors in two out of his six seasons, and his 494-foot shot in 2012 marks the longest blast of this decade. Last season, he occupied the first and second positions on the homer distance leaderboard thanks to a pair of 484 footers. Mantle, of course, was famous for his prodigious—if occasionally exaggerated—home run power, making this a delectable match.
The Hank Aaron/Willie Mays combo comp
A Mantle comp is cool and all, but how about Aaron and Mays. That's what Andrew McCutchen got, with lowly Ryan Braun as comp No. 3.
McCutchen, himself, isn't quite on that level, but the best part about getting Aaron and Mays is that they were both productive for a long time. Mays racked up 51.5 WARP during the first half of his 30s while Aaron was famous for his late-career success, posting a .320-or-better TAv in each year of his 30s. McCutchen might not reach the performance level of an inner-circle HoFer, but, broad skill set and all, he should be really good for many PECOTA Days to come.
If you're looking for back-to-earth comps at Nos. 4 or 5 (Frank Robinson, Barry Bonds), good luck.
The Ted Lilly/Randy Wolf combo comp
Someday, in a future edition of The Dickson Baseball Dictionary, the Crafty Lefty entry is going to reference Lilly and Wolf instead of Whitey Ford and Bobby Shantz.
Lilly and Wolf were comped eight times apiece this year, but only two pitchers snagged both of them as top three comps—Jason Hammel and J.A. Happ. Neither Hammel nor Happ fits the definition of Crafty Lefty all that well, however. Hammel's right-handed, for one, and he pumps fastballs in there at 93 mph. Happ's a lefty, but he's tall and he throws pretty hard as well, so he's a good few years away from earning any kind of "crafty" designation.
If either pitcher proceeds to put up results like Lilly/Wolf, their teams will be happy enough, as both southpaws remained effective into their mid-30s.
The surname comp
Will Smith pulled a Marc Rzepczynski No. 2 comp.
Smith's surname is five letters neatly arranged into one, free-flowing syllable, an all-around easy name to say and spell. It's also the most popular surname in the United States, three Censuses running. Rzepczynski's surname is 11 letters, three syllables, and possibly the reason copy/paste is a thing. Not surprisingly, it doesn't rank as one of the most popular surnames in the US.
One thing's for sure, PECOTA doesn't use any sort of surname comparison index when matching players.
Thanks to Rob McQuown for research assistance.