Fun with B-Ref comps and the Brewers

Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

Let's take a look into the crystal ball with similarity scores.

Earlier this week I mentioned Baseball Reference's announcement that they've updated their player similarity scores to reflect statistics from the 2013 season. They give a full explanation of the method used to produce Sim Scores here. Every player's B-Ref page features two lists of ten players: One shows players who have had comparable careers, and the other shows players who have had comparable careers up to the player's current age.

Obviously these numbers don't hold a lot of predictive value. They're closer to "science" than science, but that doesn't mean they're not interesting. Here's a quick look at some 2013 Brewers and their new top comparison:

Jonathan Lucroy
Age: 27
Most similar batter through age 27: Don Slaught (1982-97)

The good news here is that Slaught had a long MLB career, playing 16 seasons as a member of seven teams. The bad news is that Slaught was largely a platoon/backup type, appearing in 100 or more games just four times in those 16 seasons. Slaught's best MLB seasons were actually probably later in his career (he was worth 2.6 rWAR as a Pirate in 1992) but he never had Lucroy's power. He only hit 12 homers in a season one time, while Luc has done that in three consecutive seasons.

Rickie Weeks
Age:
31 (but 2013 was his age 30 season)
Most similar batter through age 30: Bobby Grich (1970-86)

Grich experienced success much earlier in his career than Weeks, making an All Star appearance as an Oriole in his first full MLB season in 1972. By the end of his age 30 season he had been an All Star four times, and won four straight Gold Gloves between 1973-76.

Like Weeks, Grich had some lean years in the middle of his pre-30 career. He missed most of the 1977 season and his offensive numbers took a major nosedive in 1978, when he was 29. Grich rebounded by hitting 30 homers for the first time in 1979, though, and two years later he led the AL in the strike-shortened 1981 season. Grich played seven more seasons after age 30 and hit .269/.373/.438 with 111 home runs. If Weeks does that I think people will be thrilled.

After Grich the next three top comps on Weeks' list are all active second basemen on teams that made the postseason (or a play-in game): Ian Kinsler of the Rangers, Kelly Johnson of the Rays and Brandon Phillips of the Reds.

Jean Segura
Age: 23
Most similar batter through age 23: Lonny Frey (1933-48)

Segura has the smallest sample size, so of course his list is all over the place. His top ten comps through age 23 include Angel Berroa, who was done as a big league regular at age 26, and Hall of Famer Ernie Banks, among others.

Frey is an interesting case, though. His age 23 season was 1934 when he hit .284/.358/.402 for the Brooklyn Dodgers. He wasn't a superstar but he did play 100 or more games ten times in eleven seasons (with a two-year break for World War II). By his late 20's he was primarily a second baseman but performed well there, making three All Star appearances for the Reds before leaving for the war.

Like most pre-Ripken middle infielders, Frey didn't have a lot of power. Segura's 12 home runs in 2013 are more than Frey hit in any of his 14 MLB seasons.

Aramis Ramirez
Age:
35
Most similar batter through age 35: Carlos Lee (1999-2012)

Lee has been Ramirez's top comparable hitter following each of the last three seasons. Before that, Scott Rolen was Ramirez's most comparable for four out of five seasons. That's not awful company to find yourself in.

The bad news is that Lee's age 35 season was 2011, and he was already well into his decline at this point. Lee's .788 OPS in 2011 was an improvement over 2010 (.708) but still well below his career average, and his 18 home runs were the fewest he'd hit in an MLB season since his rookie year in 1999.

2012 was Lee's last hurrah in the big leagues, and he hit just .264/.332/.365 over 147 games between the Astros and Marlins.

Carlos Gomez
Age: 27
Most similar batter through age 27: Oddibe McDowell (1985-94)

McDowell and Gomez were both center fielders and have similar career stat lines at this point, but that's where the similarities end. While Gomez's career has taken a sudden turn upward in the last two years, McDowell was a great rookie who regressed terribly in his mid-20's. He was a .251/.325/.428 hitter through age 24 but lost his power after that, posting a .364 slugging percentage in his final 437 games.

The biggest reason this comp is scary is the fact that 1990, McDowell's age 27 season, was his last full year in the big leagues. As mentioned above, though, Gomez and McDowell's career arcs aren't really all that parallel.

Kyle Lohse
Age: 35 (2013 was his age 34 season)
Most similar pitcher through age 34: Estaban Loaiza

Here's another scary one. Through their age 34 seasons Lohse and Loaiza had each thrown 2000 MLB innings, and their counting stats are frighteningly similar:

Pitcher IP HR BB K
Lohse 2171.2 261 (1.1/9) 601 (2.5/9) 1363 (5.6/9)
Loaiza 2034.2 245 (1.1/9) 579 (2.6/9) 1352 (6.0/9)

Despite those similarities, though, Lohse's ERA is almost a third of a run lower (4.35 v 4.65).

Lohse has been more consistent than Loaiza, though. Loaiza's only above average MLB seasons were 2003, where he nearly won the Cy Young with the White Sox and 2005, where he pitched 217 innings with a 3.77 ERA for the Nationals. Aside from those seasons, he never posted an ERA under 4.5. With that said, Lohse had a 4.79 career ERA from 2001-2010 and has a 3.19 mark since.

After his age 34 season, Loaiza made just 17 more major league appearances.

Wily Peralta
Age: 24
Most similar pitcher through age 24: Kris Benson (1999-2010)

Man, the bad news keeps coming.

Benson was the #1 overall pick in the 1996 MLB draft and had a very good debut season with the Pirates as a 24-year-old in 1999, posting a 4.07 ERA over 196.2 innings and finishing fourth in the voting for NL Rookie of the Year. He was even better as a 25-year-old in 2000, but missed the entire 2001 season due to injury and had his career more or less come off the rails after that. He had a 4.66 ERA and bounced around between five franchises over the remaining seven seasons of his career.

Yovani Gallardo
Age: 27
Most similar pitcher through age 27: Justin Verlander

If this single comp came true it would make up for all the others.

Verlander is one of baseball's most dominant pitchers but it's easy to forget that it hasn't always been that way. As a 25-year-old in 2008 Verlander was rocked to the tune of a 4.84 ERA, walking almost four batters per nine innings. The next year he led all of MLB with 19 wins, pitched 240 innings and recorded 269 strikeouts. That was his first of five consecutive (and counting) All Star selections.

By age 27, though, Verlander was definitely a rising star. Gallardo's future isn't quite as clear at this point, although B-Ref puts him in some pretty nice company. After Verlander, Gallardo's next four comps through age 27 are Josh Beckett, Chad Billingsley, Freddy Garcia and Kevin Appier. All four of those guys went on to do pretty well for themselves.

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