Friday, August 05, 2005

Me and Willie McGee

You may have noticed that we here at Touching All The Bases like to use's Similarity Scores whenever comparing ballplayers of different eras or trying to put someone's career in perspective. The tool, which is explained in detail here, is one of those addictive, thought-provoking features that can steal an hour of a sports junkie's life without you even realizing it.

And the knowledge it dispenses can be invaluable when you're bickering with that Yankee fan in your office and you can casually drop this nugget on him/her/shmale: "If Jeter's so damn wonderful, how come the player he's most like in baseball history is Ray Freakin' Durham? Has he also mastered the fist-pump? Is Gary Sheffield jealous of him? Does he have a restraining order against Tim McCarver?" Trust me, such a comparison to a decent but hardly fawned-over player usually causes the mustache to jump right off said Yankee fan's face - male or female.

(Confession: Upon further review, Durham is actually second on Jeter's list, after . . . (ahem) . . . Jackie Robinson. But Yankees fans don't need to know this, okay?)

Anyway, while poking around the site tonight, we got to wondering whom the closest historical counterparts to the current Red Sox players might be. So, being all nerdy, nerdish and nerd-like as we are, we looked 'em up and wrote 'em down.

Your Sox. And those most like them:

Bronson Arroyo: The Sox's stick figure of a pitcher is a duplicate of . . . Rick Matula? Now, I wouldn't know Rick Matula if he came up to me and said, "Hi. I'm Rick Matula. Howarya?" But I do know this: If Rick Matula is being compared to Bronson Arroyo, then this much must be true: Rick Matula rocks!

Chad Bradford: The forgettable Mike Perez, a so-so middle reliever for the Cardinals in the early-'90s. We assumed it would have been someone . . . oh, more unconventional. Maybe Byung-Hyun Kim, or Todd Frohwirth, or even the brutally handsome Kent Tekulve . . .

Matt Clement: Willard Nixon. Duh. Obviously. I think we all saw that one coming, no? How many times have you watched Clement pitch this season and thought, "You know, he kinda looks like Abe Lincoln, and maybe a little bit like Count Von Count from Sesame Street too . . . but damn, he's just a clone of Willard Nixon!" Not once, you say? Yeah, me either. Ol' Willard could be Trot's granddad for all I know. Worth noting his Clement's comparison at his current age, 29: Jason Schmidt. Schmidt blossomed into an elite pitcher at this age, and if the same happened to The Count/Honest Abe/Willard, would any of us be totally surprised? The talent is there.

Manny Delcarmen: No comparison, for lack of data, obviously, but we'll chuck our own out there anyway. When all is said and done, Delcarmen will have a career somewhere between Frankie (I Shoulda Stayed At Shortstop) Rodriguez's and Francisco (K-Rod) Rodriguez's. So how's that for hedging a bet?

Jeremi Gonzalez: Tim Redding! You know, that bum who recently started for the Yankees! Wait. . . I need to be more specific there, don't I?

Wade Miller: El Duque. What, you didn't know young Wade and his Cuban brethren also came to the United States on a raft? We keed, we keed. Miller actually has an interesting list, with Roy Halladay fourth and Brad Penny - a pitcher extremely similar to Millar in style as well as statistics - fifth.

Mike Myers: 1. Jason Christiansen. 2. Tony Fossas. 3. Felix Heredia. 4. Alan Embree. Any questions? Didn't think so.

Curt Schilling:Jimmy Key is tops, followed by David Cone and John Candelaria. Pretty good pitchers, all three, but not quite the caliber you'd expect - at least until you study the course of Schilling's career. His list isn't as impressive as his reputation would suggest in part because he goofed off in Houston and Baltimore and wasted his early years, and then, even after he'd established himself as a bonafide ace in Philadelphia, endured a three-year stretch in the mid-'90s where he was often hurt and went just 18-23. Still, we biased folks at TATB think his stellar postseason record and his late-career dominance gets him into the Hall of Fame someday. Jimmy Key never bled through a sock, dammit.

Mike Timlin: Supposedly similar to Doug Bair, a hard-throwing, occasionally effective journeyman who pitched for my beloved Maine Guides at roughly the same age Timlin is now. Truth be told, Timlin's a better pitcher than Bair ever was. Bob Wickman, the Indians' morbidly obese closer, is No. 2, and that seems more apt.

Tim Wakefield: Pat Hentgen, Todd Stottlemyre, Darryl Kile. Not bad company for Wakes - a Cy Young winner, the dependable offspring of the most stressed-out pitching coach in the American League, and a 20-game winner who also threw a no-hitter. Prediction: Seven or so years from now, when Wake still has the knuckler dancing, a Niekro or two will be atop this list. (No, idiots - not Lance.)

David Wells: Jamie Moyer. Makes sense, but I'd have guessed Mickey Lolich, the Tigers' famously full-figured ace lefty of the late-'60s . . .

(Actually, he doesn't look so plump compared to Boomer.)

Doug Mirabelli: John Orsino. I have no idea who that is, either. Maybe he played with Rick Matula?

Jason Varitek: Eddie Taubensee? Really? That's the best we can do? Huh. I don't see it - Tek seems like he's been twice the player for twice as long. Maybe Taubensee socked A-Rod in his purple lips once or something. Otherwise, his only real claim to fame is being traded straight-up for a young Kenny Lofton in one of the most lopsided trades of the '90s. (FYI, No. 4 on The Captain's list - Rich Gedman.)

Alex Cora: Surprisingly, big (in age, not size) brother Joey doesn't make the cut. Instead, Larvell Blanks, who will forever be remembered as this site's first-ever Completely Random Baseball Card, is No. 1 here, too.

Tony Graffanino: B-R tells us it's Bill Rigney, which you old-timers can confirm. I say Graffanino is the player some dimwits around here hyped up Lou Merloni to be.

Kevin Millar: Monte Irvin. Seriously. As KFC Kevin might put it: "Well, Goddang darnit yee-hoo dang daddy-o woo, you've stumped me, buddy. Who 'n' the heck is this Monte Irvin dude, and tell me, did he like to swig his Jack?" Historians and Ken Burns groupies know Irvin as a Hall of Famer whose prime years were spent in the Negro Leagues. Unfortunately, those seasons aren't taken into account in this formula. Millar's No. 2 is Greg Colbrunn, a more understandable comparison if for no other reason than he never played in the Negro Leagues, at least as far as we know. (Millar's No. 8 is Aubrey Huff, whose name you may have heard recently.)

Bill Mueller: Mark Kotsay - now that's an excellent analogy, and one we've made in this corner of cyberspace before. Plays the game with passion and intelligence, outstanding defender, hits in the clutch - basically, he's the Mueller of outfielders, and hell, yeah, we're very relieved the Yankees didn't get him earlier this season when that rumor was floating around. No. 3 on Mueller's list is old friend Todd Walker, and Billy Ballgame also has three age similarities to Chris Stynes, which tells you for the 329th time that stats don't measure everything.

John Olerud: The Splendid Helmet is in some sweet-swinging company: Will Clark (1), Cecil Cooper (2), I'm Keith Hernandez (3), Don Mattingly (4), and Edgar Martinez (5). Couldn't be more appropriate.

Edgar Renteria: Mark Grudzielanek is his first match, with another Sox shortstop, Rick Burleson, sliding in at No. 3. It's not exactly Nomar and Tejada there, but decent company nonetheless. Worth noting: Through ages 22 through 28, the player most similar to Renteria was Alan Trammell. The Tigers' great aged well. From what I've seen this year, I'm not so sure Renteria will.

Jose Cruz Jr.: Mike Cameron. So if you're scoring at home, the Sox would have acquired a player much like Kevin Millar (Huff) and a player exactly like Jose Cruz Jr. (Cameron) for a player somewhat similar to Willie Mays (Manny). Instead, they traded a couple of cracked bats for Cruz Jr. and kept Manny. Yeah, I'd say it worked out for the best.

Johnny Damon: Damon is quite unlike any other player our eyes have ever seen - he's tall, ripped, swings like he's playing cricket yet still can jack the ball out of the park, throws like Tanner from the "Bad News Bears," runs with the grace of a sprinter - yes, it's fair to say Johnny Damon Superstar is a unique ballplayer, and his eclectic list reflects as much. The top 3: 1) Gregg Jefferies (damn good hitter despite not living up to the burdensome New York hype); 2) Lonnie "Skates" Smith (NO! DON'T LOOK AT KNOBLAUCH! HE'S DEKING YOU! AAAAAAAHHHH!) 3) Dom DiMaggio (played the same position as Damon for the Sox, which is about all they have in common, I suspect). And the list of 10 players most similar to Damon at age 30 is even more wide-ranging and obtuse, from Claudell Washington (1) to Pete Rose (8) to Roberto Clemente (9). Similarity scores don't quite know what to make of Damon.

Gabe Kapler: No. 1: Chris Singleton, who used to play for the A's. No. 8: Jay Payton, who has turned into Mickey Mantle for the A's.

Manny Ramirez: Here's a mild surprise: Albert "Don't Call Me Joey, If You Know What's Good For You *$#@#$#" Belle, Manny's teammate on those fearsome Indians squads of a decade ago. Because his career was aborted by a hip injury and he was completely, frighteningly insane, you sort of forget what a menacing hitter Belle was in his brief heyday. (He had consecutive seasons of 48, 50, and 49 home runs.) Manny is the better pure hitter, though, and if you look at his comparisons through his current age, you get a truer, far more impressive perspective on his place in history. Among those similar to Manny at age 32: Willie Mays (6), Ted Williams (8), Frank Robinson (9), and Flaxseed Barry (10). Company doesn't get much more exclusive than that.

Trot Nixon: Now this one we found fascinating. Nixon's most similar player is former Cincinnati and Los Angeles outfielder Kal Daniels (pictured at the top). If you don't remember him, that's a shame, though totally excusable. With the Reds in the late-'80s, Daniels looked like he was going to be a perennial All-Star, and maybe something greater. In '87, he batted .334 with 26 homers in 368 at-bats at the age of 23. But his knee problems were already chronic then, and injuries derailed and eventually ended his career. Barely able to run in his final seasons, he was out of the big leagues for good at 29. Considering Nixon's increasingly fragile body, you have to worry that his career may end sooner than it should, too. Curiously, J.D. Drew is second on Nixon's list - one more supremely talented player who just can't seem to stay on the ballfield.

David Ortiz: Who's like Papi? Nope, not Mo Vaughn. Nope, not Reggie Jackson. Nope, not Florida Evans. Nope, not the Lord Almighty himself. Give up? Papi's No. 1 is . . . Brad Fullmer. Yeah, that Brad Fullmer - the one you forgot about. Worse, Ortiz's most similar player at age 28? Tony Clark. Yeesh. It's like the last two seasons never happened or something.

Maybe this comparison stuff isn't all it's cracked up to be. Somehow, a top of the order featuring Damon, Renteria, Papi and Manny sounds a whole lot better to me than Gregg Jefferies, Mark Grudzielanek, Brad Fullmer and Albert Belle.

All right, and I suppose Yankees fans can justify taking Captain Intangibles over Ray Durham, too.

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As for today's Completely Random Baseball Card:

Paul O'Neill, True Red?