Baseball-Reference.com has a list at the bottom of player pages called “Similar Pitchers/Batters” that shows the top ten similar players based on a system created by Bill James. I love the idea behind the similarity scores, but the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. RBI is used as a comparison while OBP is not, and there is no era adjustment. Just a reminder of the obvious point to not read too much into the lists; it is really just a fun toy. But now that the lists have been updated to include the 2011 season, let’s see what the lists have to say about some key Royals players:
• Before the 2011 season, I did a little exercise examining the numbers put up by Billy Butler‘s comparable batters through age 24. I averaged the seasons put up by his comps, which before last season included John Olerud, Kent Hrbek, Nick Markakis, Chet Lemon, Carlos May, Delmon Young, Carl Yastrzemski, Ellis Valentine, Tony Horton, and Keith Hernandez. Those comps ended up projecting a similar season to what Billy actually did in 2011. Here is the average age 25 season by those players compared to Billy’s:
Since Billy followed his comps closely, there was not a lot of turnover among his top ten similar batters this off-season. Off the list are Chet Lemon, Ellis Valentine, and Tony Horton, replaced by Don Hurst, Steve Kemp and Ben Grieve. I have calculated the average age 26, 27, 28, and 29 seasons using the updated comps, shown in the tale below. The age 21-25 seasons shown are Butler’s actual numbers, and the totals at the bottom add together Butler’s actual career to date with the projected age 26-29 seasons. The last line shows where the totals would rank in Royals history right now:
The games played by his comps decrease quite a bit from what Billy has done the last three seasons. Hopefully as a dedicated DH Billy can keep playing 150+ games a year. Even if Billy “only” follows the path of his comparable hitters and stays in KC, he should be around the seventh best hitter in team history when the contract is up, with the possibility of some more productive seasons after that.
• Eric Hosmer has played a grand total of 128 games in the majors, so his comps mean even less than most. Keeping that in mind, it is still a kick to see three Hall of Famers on his list, and that one of them is, um, Willie Mays. Of course, Delmon Young is on there too. The eight retired players on Hosmer’s list put up a 125 OPS+ for the rest of their careers.
• Alex Gordon‘s career to date has been so up-and-down and injury-riddled that I do not put any stock in his list. One exception is Larry Hisle, who was a very similar hitter before Alex’s age 27 season in 2011, including ups and downs and trips to the minors, and had a similarly big year at age 27. Hisle is an encouraging comp because he continued hitting at a high level for the next four seasons, only to be stopped by injury. In my mind, health is the only barrier to Alex continuing as a premiere hitter for many years to come (even if another year like 2011 is unlikely).
• Bruce Chen’s comps pitched an average of three more seasons with an ERA+ of 99.
• Luke Hochevar’s list does not offer any encouragement in the form of a starter who turned a corner after a similarly inauspicious career through the age of 27. I still have hope that Luke figured something out in the second half of 2011 that will allow him to become a decent starter, but the odds are stacked. Interestingly, Hochevar’s top comp, Jose Mesa, never started another game after age 27—but he closed out 632. There have been many games where Hoch cruises for three, four, five innings only to fall apart…he looks a lot like a reliever those days.
• Danny Duffy‘s career is too young for his comps to have any meaning, but one of the names on his list, Jesse Burkett, started like Duffy and ended up in the Hall of Fame. Something tells me Duffy will not be converting to a left fielder and posting a 140 OPS+ over 16 seasons like Burkett did though.