Sunday, February 29, 2004

Back To The Future

There are two things that you see on virtually every baseball site at this time of year - useless predictions that all look the same, and rookie lists that pretty much look the same. I've got an allergy against writing about things that everyone else is writing about (as well as better ways to use my time), so you won't be seeing either of those things here. But it occurs to me that there's a whole class of players - young kids who aren't rookies - that everyone kind of forgets about. They've got a proven track record, and are entering their most productive seasons, yet no one seems to be getting excited about what's up ahead.

I made a list of the top players in the major leagues who are under the age of 25 and have played a full season. The full season requirement knocks off some fantastic athletes, like Miguel Cabrera and Jose Reyes. So why bother? The reason is because of what I'm doing next, which is taking the list of players and checking them out at baseballreference.com, which gives you lists of statistically comparable players of the same age throughout history. If I take Cabrera and Reyes, there's not enough data to find comparable players. But don't worry guys, I'll get you next year.

Here we go. I'm listing them in order of the greatest comparable player, everyday players who are under 25.

1. Albert Pujols - Right away we have an asterisk. There are plenty of arguments about Phat Albert's true age, but for now he's under the limit. He's got the same comparable player for every age of his career - Joe DiMaggio!

2. Rocco Baldelli - Would you believe Tris Speaker?!

3. Hank Blalock - Most comparable is a contemporary, and one of my favorites, Scott Rolen.

4. Corey Patterson - Jimmy Wynn. This one was a surprise to me, but Reggie Smith is second, and Dave Winfield and Dwight Evans are in the Top Ten, so Patterson is doing something right.

5. Adrian Beltre - Ron Santo. Another surprise, but it's come up Santo four straight years, so there most be something to it. Is Beltre underrated, or is Santo too fondly remembered by Cubs fans? Beltre only makes the age cut by a week.

6. Mark Teixeira - Bob Robertson. This one is a stumper until you realize that Robertson hit more than 50 homers between the ages of 23 and 24. Will Teixeira's bat stand out if he plays his career as a first baseman? This gives us two Texas Rangers on the list. Honestly, which infield would you rather have for the next three years - Jason Giambi, Enrique Wilson, Derek Jeter, and ARod, or Teixeira, Alfonso Soriano, Michael Young, and Hank Blalock? You might choose the Yankees, but it's real close.

7. Austin Kearns - Rondell White. You would have expected someone with more power. Rafael Palmeiro is second on the list, and Billy Williams is fifth.

8. Sean Burroughs - Red Smith. Talk about surreal. Red Smith played in Boston during the glory years - for the WRONG TEAM! He gets traded to the Boston Braves during the 1914 season, and hits .314 with a .401 OBP the rest of the way. The Braves go to the World Series, and leave him off of the roster! The guy who replaces him hits .125 as the Braves sweep the Philadelphia A's. Smith spends the rest of the decade on Comm Ave complaining about the neighboring Red Sox, who win several World Series. Hopefully, Sean Burroughs has more to look forward to than this.

9. Adam Dunn - Pete Incaviglia. The year before, Darryl Strawberry. Dunn already has the prerequisite oddity to his game, a refusal to swing at anything that doesn't have home run potential, to be compared to these characters.

10. Carl Crawford - My favorite. The most comparable player of all time to Carl Crawford is Jake Gettman, who last played in 99 - 1899! That's right, you have to skip the entire 20th century to find the most comparable player to Crawford. Gettman played in only 19 games that final season, when he was 22. When he was 21, he played in 147 games for the 11th place Washington Senators (Yes, they were awful even back then) batting .277. You can see the similarities. It would seem as though Gettman would have received another shot somewhere else, but maybe he could make more money outside of baseball. My guess is Crawford won't have that temptation.

So there it is, a look ahead, and a look back. This is one of the things that makes baseball so great, the way that everything that happens is part of a larger whole. So appreciate these young guys, without considering whether or not you can steal them in a fantasy draft, or find their rookie card on Ebay. Their stories have just begun to be written.

Next time, I'll do the pitchers.

Dave's Email

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