Sifting Through The List Of Comparable Players In PECOTA

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Baseball Prospectus released their PECOTA spreadsheet today, and it's where you'll learn that Juan Duran and Mickey Mantle have something in common.

One of my favorite things about February is that it means baseball season is getting closer. No, it's true! By extension, that means all of the baseball annuals are coming out. There's nothing better than getting a box with a baseball book, with the exception of getting a box with two baseball books. Remember, if you order from Amazon, the authors usually get a shiny nickel, which can be exchanged for goods and services.

And before the books come out, Baseball Prospectus usually releases their PECOTA spreadsheet for perusal. PECOTA is a forecasting system that projects what the 2012 stats might be like for everyone in baseball. But I usually get to the stats later. They're fine projections, but there usually aren't any crazy surprises ("Huh. Pujols will be nine home runs shy of the 20/20 club. Didn't see that coming.").

But what I rush to are the comparable players. PECOTA spits out three names, and going through the list is like a way to mainline the Baseball Encyclopedia -- there are so many names that you hadn't thought of in years.

So I boot up the spreadsheet that you can download here, scroll all the way to the left, and when I read a set of three interesting comps, I scroll back over to see who the player is with those comps. It's not the nerdiest game you can play -- I mean, you could be in a fantasy league based on other people's World of Warcraft characters -- but it's close. No shame, though. Here are some of the initial findings, broken down into categories:

The Greatest Comps in the World

Tim Wakefield: Roger Clemens, Gaylord Perry, Phil Niekro
Omar Vizquel: Tony Perez, Rickey Henderson, Pete Rose

There just aren't that many players who played for that long. The next player on Vizquel's comp list was probably Jesse Orosco. These aren't so much serious comparisons as acknowledgments that Wakefield and Vizquel are unique players in baseball history.

Potential Is a Double-Edged Sword

Geovany Soto: Gary Carter, Miguel Ojeda, Johnny Bench
Starlin Castro: Troy Tulowitzki, Rance Mulliniks, Wil Cordero
Pedro Alvarez: Jim Thome, Ian Stewart, Scott Rolen

Here you have a best-case scenario combined with the apocalypse. That's projecting young players, alright. Alvarez could be a Hall of Famer, or he could be traded in a couple of years in a horrifically disappointing challenge trade. Starlin Castro could continue to be one of the brightest young stars in the game, or he could bulk up and be forced to a corner spot as he kicks around the league. Po-tay-to, po-tah-to, right?

Eight to Ten Years is a Loooooong Time

Troy Tulowitzki: David Wright, Nomar Garciaparra, Hanley Ramirez
Matt Kemp: Duke Snider, Larry Doby, Josh Hamilton
Albert Pujols: Brian Giles, Lance Berkman, Todd Helton

Each one of those has a name that should strike fear into some hearts. Rockies fans should make the sign of the cross every time they read Garciaparra's name -- if Tulo followed Garciaparra's career path, the Rockies would pay about $98 million for about $5 million worth of player in his 30s. Snider seems like a great comp for Kemp until you remember that Duke had trouble playing in more than 100 games after turning 30.

Just Stay Healthy, Just Stay Healthy

C.J. Wilson: Warren Spahn, Erik Bedard, Whitey Ford

Just say healthy, just stay healthy, just stay healthy, just …

Baseball Pornography for New York Yankees Fans

Phil Hughes: Matt Cain, Vida Blue, Tom Seaver
Manny Banuelos: CC Sabathia, Oliver Perez, Clayton Kershaw

Of course, if this is really baseball porn for Yankees fans, that means the Oliver Perez comp is the equivalent of someone splicing in footage of Willie McGee directly addressing the camera and shouting, "You make me sick! Look at you! What would your mother think? WHAT WOULD YOUR MOTHER THINK?"

There Was a Player Named Puddin Head Jones

Jared Goedert: Puddin Head Jones, Pete Ward, Adam Rosales

Had a nice, long career too. I'm especially fond of the idea that someone thought that Pudding Head Jones was too formal and stilted -- "This isn't Cambridge, egghead" -- and dropped the "g" on "Pudding."

Context Ruins Everything

Miguel Olivo: Charles Johnson, Javy Lopez, Lance Parrish

Miguel Olivo is turning 34. His career slash line is .243/.279/.421. When Charles Johnson was 34, he was out of the league. When Javy Lopez was 34, he was doing his last leg of the Baltimore Orioles Reality Tour, and he'd retire a year later. When Lance Parrish was 34, he was still pretty danged good. But the OBPs started to dip below .300 shortly after.

So, with the right context, the comparable players make a certain amount of sense. But seeing Olivo next to those three names in any context is still the baseball equivalent of a leaky tank of N2O. Now I wish that I didn't look anything up.

Fans of the NL West, Avert Thine Eyes:

Jerry Sands: Barry Bonds, Boog Powell, Ryan Klesko
Daniel Hudson: Dwight Gooden, Justin Verlander, Felix Hernandez

Hudson might be the most underrated pitcher in baseball, as he hasn't stopped putting up ridiculous K/BB ratios yet. And while any of those three comps would be a good thing for Sands, I'm thinking that any Barry Bonds comparison should trigger a script on the PECOTA computer that would reboot it and try again.

"And the Secret Ingredient is … Love ?!?!" - Minors Edition

Oscar Taveras: Ken Griffey, Justin Upton, Al Kaline
Christian Bethancourt: Robin Yount, Al Kaline, Ivan Rodriguez
Trayce Thompson: Willie Mays, Adam Jones, Sammy Sosa
Juan Duran: B.J. Upton, Alex Rodriguez, Mickey Mantle
Joe Panik: Alan Trammell, Edgar Renteria, Robin Yount

So you're scrolling through your team's projections, and you're curious to see what the minor leaguers are looking like and then you trip over the oh my sweet holy how can this be holy crap so awesome. But, again, there just aren't a lot of 20-year-old seasons with which to compare. Robin Yount is going to show up a lot because he's one of the few 19-year-olds that a team plopped into the majors and left to rot even after it was clear that he was overmatched.

Still, these are mostly hilarious. "Trayce Thompson, technically, is employed in the same industry that Willie Mays was," is a sentence that makes me uncomfortable. A computer-generated comparison ... just a touch more so.

"And the Secret Ingredient is … Love ?!?!" - AAAA-Warrior Edition

Clint Robinson: Justin Morneau, Glenn Davis, Kent Hrbek
Jai Miller: Eric Davis, Dale Murphy, Reggie Jackson
Dan Johnson: Kent Hrbek, Eddie Murray, Norm Cash
Cody Ransom: Ken Caminiti, Ron Cey, Eddie Joost

I, uh, have less of an explanation for these. Maybe Hrbek, Murray, and Cash also had home runs that vaulted their teams into the playoffs while hitting a fan in the junk at the same time. Suppose anything is possible.

The most inexplicable one is Jai Miller, who is 27. He has had 68 at-bats in the majors over parts of three seasons. He's a career .244/.328/.425 hitter in the minors. Here's what Miller's comps did when they were 27:

  • Eric Davis finished 9th in the MVP voting, with a Gold Glove and a 153 OPS+
  • Dale Murphy won the MVP with a Gold Glove and a 149 OPS+
  • Reggie Jackson won the MVP with a 162 OPS+

Jai Miller, everybody. If he finishes 9th in the MVP voting this year, we'll all be very, very disappointed in him. Of course, that's not what PECOTA is projecting him to do -- it's suggesting that he'll hit .234/.302/.432 in 32 plate appearances. The projections themselves are usually pretty reasonable and understandable.

But the comparable players? That's where the entertainment is. It's February. I'd eat a stick of gum from a pack of 1988 Topps if it would get me closer to baseball season. I don't want reasonable right now. I want entertainment. So I'll look over the actually statistical projections in a bit, then compare them with ZiPS to see where the systems diverge. That'll be especially informative.

Until then, I'm a sift through these here comparables. A handful of them might be curious-to-awful, and paying too much attention to them might be weird, but this is always one of may favorite parts of the offseason.

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