Comparables



Hi from the Wet Coast. I've been travelling for a few days so the blog has been quiet.

I have, however, been pondering the matter of comparables that was discussed in the comments of the (second) Smid post. Popularized if not introduced by Bill James, the method is particularly useful in baseball where players are measured across a wide range of statistical categories.

Here's a simple example: Who is the best hitter in baseball?

To answer such a question I like to look right across the spectrum of offensive stats and spot those who contribute across the board without apparent weakness. As a Cards fan it's natural for me to start with the guy pictured above, Albert Pujols.

Albert had an exceptional 2008 season, even by his own exceptionally high standards. While playing his usual glittering defence (1st in the majors at his position in both range factor and zone rating, tied for 1st in the NL in fielding percentage), Albert brought a mighty big stick to home plate for the eighth consecutive season. He finished among the offensive leaders in virtually every significant (positive) category and in a class all his own in my favourite stat, OPS. I like to group the important stats into logical clusters:

524 AB (49th NL / 91st MLB) 1.J Reyes 688
187 H (3rd / 7th) 1.I.Suzuki/D.Pedroia 213
81 XB (2nd / 3rd) 1.R.Braun 83
37 HR (4th / 4th) 1.R.Howard 48

49th in AB, 3rd in hits. Albert is always a little ways down the AB list because so many of his plate appearances end in walks. In 2008 Pujols had a stint on the 15-day DL which depressed all of his raw numbers totals by close to 10%.

100 R (14th / 27th) 1.H.Ramirez 125
116 RBI (4th / 9th) 1.R.Howard 146

Run production numbers always depend on the other hitters in the line-up, and players on high-scoring teams are favoured. It's no mean feat to make the 100 + 100 standard; just 13 major leaguers did so in 2008. Among them, just the also-injured Alex Rodriguez did so in fewer ABs (510) than Albert.

104 BB (2nd / 3rd) 1.A.Dunn 122
54 K (116th / 243rd) 1.M.Reynolds 204

That last category is nothing short of scary. Of the 14 players in baseball who drew over 90 walks in 2008, the other 13 all had over 90 strikeouts as well, averaging 129 K's among them. Albert's 54 was at barely 40% of the norm. Considering the number of pitches he takes and how hard he swings, that's astonishing.

.357 AVG. (2nd / 2nd) 1. C.Jones .364
.462 OBP (2nd / 2nd) 1. C. Jones .470
.653 SLG (1st / 1st) 2. M.Ramirez .601
1.114 OPS (1st / 1st) 2. C.Jones 1.044

Percentage stats iron out the differentials in GP, AB etc. which may have been impacted by injury. The playing field thus levelled, Albert's performance is revealed as across-the-board spectacular.
***

Comparing on a player-by-player basis, there are a few individuals whose performance is equal or even better than Albert's among the various clusters of stats presented above. How did they compare across the board?


Player** AB* H** XB HR | R** RBI | BB* K** |
AVG* OBP* SLG* OPS**
--------------------------------------------
A.Pujols 524 187 81 37 | 100 116 | 104 054 |
.357 .462 .653 1.114
C. Jones 439 160 47 22 | 082 075 | 090 061 |
.364 .470 .574 1.044

Chipper won the batting title -- thanks in part to his protecting the lead by sitting in the dugout down the stretch, the gutless puke -- and posted some pretty nice percentages and a decent BB:K ratio. But his power and run production fell far short.

Player** AB* H** XB HR | R** RBI | BB* K** |
AVG* OBP* SLG* OPS**
--------------------------------------------
A.Pujols 524 187 81 37 | 100 116 | 104 054 |
.357 .462 .653 1.114
R.Howard 610 153 78 48 | 105 146 | 081 199 |
.251 .339 .543 0.881

Howard is an MVP favourite for his great production numbers in the middle of a potent Philllie lineup. But he was over 100 points shy of Albert in batting average, and even more than that in both OBP and SLG. As for those 199 strikeouts, say no more.

Player** AB* H** XB HR | R** RBI | BB* K** |
AVG* OBP* SLG* OPS**
--------------------------------------------
A.Pujols 524 187 81 37 | 100 116 | 104 054 |
.357 .462 .653 1.114

ARod**** 510 154 68 35 | 104 103 | 065 117 |
.302 .392 .573 0.965

Like Albert, ARod missed a little time and still managed to post yet another .300-30-100-100 season. But in 2008 it was really no contest between these two greats of our time.

Player** AB* H** XB HR | R** RBI | BB* K** |
AVG* OBP* SLG* OPS**
--------------------------------------------
A.Pujols 524 187 81 37 | 100 116 | 104 054 |
.357 .462 .653 1.114
MRamirez 552 183 74 37 | 102 121 | 087 124 |
.332 .430 .601 1.031


Now here's a decent comparison. Manny posted his numbers across two leagues, closing with a flourish in L.A. His percentages are a little shy of Albert's across the board, but at least they're in the neighbourhood, while the production numbers of the two are very similar. Again there is a huge differential in BB:K ratio, but no comparison is perfect.
***

Turning to career production, it's tough to compare guys at different stages of their careers. One possible method is to use the handy 162 Game Avg line courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com. Assuming full health, what's a typical season for these guys?

Player** AB* H** XB HR | R** RBI | BB* K** |
AVG* OBP* SLG* OPS**
--------------------------------------------
A.Pujols 599 200 89 42 | 124 128 | 091 066 |
.334 .425 .624 1.049
MRamirez 586 184 81 41 | 111 133 | 093 128 |
.314 .411 .593 1.004


Once again Manny is a good comparison, although as was the case in 2008 he falls a little short in all percentage categories. Production numbers are fairly similar, although Manny has generally played on a high-powered line-up, and unlike Albert has benefitted from playing in a hitter's park for much of his career.

Player** AB* H** XB HR | R** RBI | BB* K** |
AVG* OBP* SLG* OPS**
--------------------------------------------
A.Pujols 599 200 89 42 | 124 128 | 091 066 |
.334 .425 .624 1.049
ARod**** 624 191 80 44 | 127 127 | 078 130 |
.306 .389 .578 0.967

Many consider ARod the best player in baseball, but again we see Albert with a nice edge in batting average that is larger still in both OBP and SLG. Production numbers are very similar indeed. Of course ARod has been doing it for longer, so Albert has to prove he can keep doing it, but all the arrows do seem to be pointed in that direction. He puts up big numbers across the spectrum with Brodeur-like consistency.

Player** AB* H** XB HR | R** RBI | BB* K** |
AVG* OBP* SLG* OPS**
--------------------------------------------
A.Pujols 599 200 89 42 | 124 128 | 091 066 |
.334 .425 .624 1.049
B. Bonds 534 159 78 41 | 121 108 | 139 083 |
.298 .444 .607 1.051

Finally an "active" (unretired) player who outperforms even Albert in the BB:K dept., and the walk machine has the on-base percentage to prove it. Albert has a significant edge in hits and batting average to balance the scales. Even with the four "superhuman" years 2001-04, in which Bonds posted the 1st, 3rd, 4th and 8th best OPS seasons in major league history, the two are a virtual saw-off in that significant category over the course of their careers. The comp isn't perfect, but I think it's fair to say that across the offensive spectrum Albert compares pretty darn well to the seven-time MVP.
***

So what about comparables in hockey? That's a whole 'nother essay, better saved for another day.

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