Answer that question for me, my lifelong baseball fan. Do you think a lineup that includes these players at or near their prime would be good?
Miguel Tejada, Jim Edmonds, Joe Torre, a chosen DiMaggio brother, and 1992 World Series MVP Pat Borders, with a pitching team that included Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Stephen Strasburg?
Yes? No? Perhaps? Who cares, we’ll never see?
Well, in a way we do kind see it, featuring the shiny new 2022 edition of the Boston Red Sox. The above players and several other, frankly, lesser-known players are the best historical statistical games for specific Red Sox players at their current ages.
The information comes from baseball-reference.com’s similarity scores, a formula developed by Bill James in the 1980s. It might be my favorite feature on the site, and I write this column about every two years to…well, mostly enjoy the surprisingly unpredictable comparisons, but hopefully also provide some context on where certain Red Sox players are are in their careers and where they could go.
This time I’ve stuck with the regular lineup and starting pitchers since the Red Sox have a short bank and far too many nondescript backup pitchers.
Let’s get to these comparisons. And, yes, I admit it: the comparison works vince DiMaggio…
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· Kike Hernandez
Comps up to age 29: Jack Howell, Derek Dietrich, Trevor Plouffe
Howell, a third baseman who hit .239 with .742 OPS and 108 home runs in 11 seasons primarily with the Angels, is actually Hernandez’s top comparison at any age from 26-29. But remember, this is just an insult. Hernandez is a far better defensive tackle and baserunner than Howell ever was, which is one reason Hernandez’s wins over backup last season alone (4.9, per baseball reference) accounted for more than half of Howell’s overall career ( 9.7).
· Raphael Devers
Comps up to age 24: Eric Chavez, Bob Horner, Ryan Zimmerman
Devers was so prolific at such a young age that I figured a few of the boldest names in baseball history might pop up on his list — maybe, oh, Frank Robinson, or if you want to go with a third baseman, Chipper Jones.
But don’t confuse this with bad company. Chavez hit at least 29 homers four times in a season, earned MVP votes every year from 2002-05, and was one of the best defensive third basemen of his era with Scott Rolen and Adrian Beltre before a back injury ended his career.
· Xander Bogaerts
Comps up to age 28: Joe Torre, Vern Stephens, Hanley Ramirez
Uh oh, does that mean Bogaerts will one day end up a wise, likable Yankees manager despite the rivalry? Torre found his way to Cooperstown after winning five World Series in the Bronx, but he was a rimhall worthy player, leading the 1971 National League in batting (.363) and hits (230) and ending his 18-year career with 252 home runs and a .297 average.
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· JD Martinez
Comps up to age 34: Jim Edmonds, Ryan Klesko, Tim Salmon
Am I the only one who forgot that Martinez, at 42, led the American League in doubles last season? He’s still a strong hitter when he’s a point or two away from elite in the batting order. At this point in his career, he logically fits into these three players, all .285/.290 shot types that would smash around 30 homers. Salmon, now forever relegated to the second best fish-themed outfielder in Angels history, is a particularly apt match.
· Alex Verdugo
Comps up to age 25: Terrence Long, Rip Repulski, and Dmitri Young
Long was a reasonable (career-adjusted OPS: 90) midfielder for the A-Teams of the early 2000s; He’s probably best remembered by Red Sox fans for robbing Manny Ramirez of what appeared to be a walkoff home run with a jump catch before the bullpen in 2002. We haven’t forgiven, Terrence.
Verdugo, who replaced Andrew Benintendi’s production with the Red Sox in two years, has the knack of ending up in better company.
· Trevor story
Comps up to age 28: Miguel Tejada, Javier Baez, Troy Tulowitzki
Interesting to see Tulowitzki, his de facto predecessor as the Rockies’ slugging shortstop, as a statistical parallel. What is surprising, at least to me, is that this is a more impressive comp list than Bogaerts.
Tejada wasn’t really considered a part of that A-Rod/Nomar/Captain Jeets flurry, but he put together some monster seasons for the A’s, won the 2002 AL MVP (.861 OPS, 34 homers, 131 RBIs) and drove in 150 runs in ’04 when he finished fifth in voting.
Ninth on Story’s list, by the way, is Stephen Drew. You do not have to tell me. I know he was your favorite.
· Bobby Dalbec
Comps up to age 26: N / A.
I’m not sure what the baseball reference uses for parameters in providing similarity scores — I’m assuming it’s 1,000 plate appearances, or maybe two full seasons — but the Red Sox, who beat first baseman, hasn’t got any games yet . (Same goes for Tanner Houck as a pitcher.)
But here’s another way to see where he stands. At the age of 26 last season, he hit 25 homers with a .240 batting average and a .792 OPS. Similar seasons by 26-year-old first basemen include 1987 Glenn Davis (27 homers, .251 average, .769 OPS), 2004 Carlos Pena (27 homers, .241 average, .810 OPS), and 1968 Boog Powell (22 homers). , .249 average, .748 OPS in the “Year of the Pitcher”).
· Jackie Bradley Jr.
Comps up to age 31: Vince DiMaggio, Nate McLouth, Eric Hinske.
In other words, what we have here is the DiMaggio brothers’ Don Swayze, 27th place finisher in the 2008 NL MVP poll and an obscure member of the Red Sox champions of ’07. I think I’ve said that every year that I’ve done this play, and I’ll say it again: Isn’t JBJ the Paul Blair of his time?
· Christian Vazquez
Comps up to age 30: Pat Borders, Toby Hall, and Greg Myers
I thought he might have some quality players here (Sandy Alomar Jr. is a few spots down on his list), but Borders, who averaged .253 with .663 OPS over 17 seasons, is a reasonable match. Remember he was the MVP of the Blue Jays’ win over the Braves in the 1992 World Series? I certainly didn’t, and as someone who sort of grew up listening to TBS, I was pretty invested in the Braves at the time.
· Nate Eovaldi
Comps up to age 31: Jason Vargas, Carl Pavano, Jake Westbrook
I’d say the unusual shape of Eovaldi’s career – injuries limited him to modest success in his 20s but he became a trusted front-of-the-rotation starter after rounding the corner into his 30s – makes it difficult to find his ideal Comp. Vargas was a soft-throwing left-hander who peaked when he led the AL with 18 wins at the age of 34 for the 2017 royals.
Also something to think about: Alvin (Texas) High School sent two players into the big leagues: Eovaldi and Nolan Ryan. Wonder what the third hardest pitcher in school history did with his life.
· Chris Sale
Comps up to age 32: Stephen Strasburg, Adam Wainwright, Johan Santana
Given Sale’s recent injury history, you could have told me his top three comps were Monty Python and the Holy Grail’s Black Knight, a discarded crash test dummy, and Off Duty. Pervis Ellison and I might have nodded, “Yeah, makes sense.” But Strasburg, a prolific pitcher who’s been limited to 26⅔ innings the last two seasons, fits in all too well.
· Nick Pivetta
Comps up to age 28: Vince Velasquez, Willie Banks, Claudio Vargas
Pivetta and Velasquez were teammates with the Phillies from 2017 until halfway through the 2020 season. Pivetta went 19-30 with a 5.50 ERA in 396⅓ innings at that stretch; Velasquez was 19-28 with a 4.99 ERA in 370 innings. No wonder no one is still there.
Pivetta won over Red Sox fans with his fiery demeanor and excellent postseason pitching (2.63 ERA in 13⅔ innings). But it might be a stretch to expect a pitcher with a career 5.17 ERA to consistently pitch as the No. 2 starter.
· Michael Wacha
Comps up to age 29: Aaron Harang, Scott Baker, Homer Bailey
Being the second coming of Harang is not such a bad thing. The guy has won 128 games and made about $60 million in 14 big league seasons. But what happened to the pitcher touted as Adam Wainwright’s second coming during World Series ’13?
· rich hill
Comps up to age 41: Orlando Hernandez, Jose Contreras, and Jim Turner
I didn’t think Hill’s two best comps were the Yankees’ pair of Cuban right-handers from the heyday of the rivalry with the Red Sox in the late ’90s/early ’00s, but it makes sense. Both were well into their 40s and, like Hill, had unusual career patterns. Turner played for three teams from 1937 to 1945. No, Turner and Hill were never teammates.
· James Paxton
Comps up to age 32: Kenta Maeda, Hyun Jin Ryu, and Chris Young
That’s a pretty decent trio of pitchers right there. A little deeper into Paxton’s comps, though, and a Red Sox fan might tremble. #5 is Erik Bedard, who made eight mostly memorable starts for the Popeye’s-Scarfing 2011 Sox. No. 9 is Garrett Richards. At least it’s a low bar.
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