Remember the old days, before the COVID-19 virus froze the baseball world (and just about everything else) in place? Back when were pondering such simple things as whether Andrew Benintendi would bounce back from a mediocre season, and Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers would repeat their career years, and how the Red Sox would replace the darned-near-irreplaceable Mookie Betts?
It wasn’t even a month ago at this writing, but it feels like so much longer. And if I recall correctly, we weren’t all that optimistic about their chances.
We still have no answers as to how this Red Sox roster might have fared, and we may not for a long time. But thanks to baseball-reference.com’s similarity scores — and a whole lot of free time — we can go back to the actual old days to find comparisons for each established Red Sox player.
The scores provide a top-10 list of all-time players most similar statistically to a player at his present age. It’s a fun exercise, and one that does offer some insight about a player’s career trajectory, and perhaps even a broader look at just how talented overall a particular team might be.
For instance, the 2017 Red Sox featured players whose comps were Ryne Sandberg, Duke Snider, and Craig Biggio, all Hall of Famers. The 2020 Red Sox? Well, the comps aren’t quite as impressive, unless you happen to believe Chet Lemon, Tim Salmon, and Vern Stephens are legends of the game.
While we hope they get a chance to prove us wrong at some point, here’s a look at the top statistical player comp for each veteran member of the 2020 Red Sox.
Comp through age 24: Chet Lemon
Let’s admit it: Based on reasonable expectations, Benintendi had a lousy season in 2019. He did manage 40 doubles, but his .774 OPS was his lowest in three-plus seasons as a regular, and his 13 home runs left him in a tie for 104th place in the American League.
He should be better than that — and there’s some encouragement to be found on his comp list. Lemon was an excellent player in a 16-year career with the White Sox and Tigers (55.6 career WAR). But there are more enticing comps in Benintendi’s top 10, including Andrew McCutchen, Reggie Smith, Harold Baines, and — this one pops — Christian Yelich.
▪ Rafael Devers
Comp through age 22: Ryan Zimmerman
Zimmerman has been the grand old man of the Nationals for so long that it’s easy to forget what a dynamic player he was in his youth. As a 21-year-old in 2006, he delivered 70 extra-base hits and drove in 110 runs, finishing second to Florida’s Hanley Ramirez in Rookie of the Year balloting. He received MVP votes in three of four seasons from ages 24-27 and was also a superb defensive third baseman.
But you know what? Devers, if he stays healthy, is going to be better. Much better. Devers’s No. 6 comp is Adrian Beltre. There’s only one Beltre, but Devers has a shot to put up similar numbers.
▪ Xander Bogaerts
Comp through age 26: Vern Stephens
This one is for you old-timers, and I kind of love it. One might expect Bogaerts’s comps to be contemporaries such as Francisco Lindor or Carlos “Bang The Trash Can Slowly” Correa, or perhaps excellent shortstops from recent generations such as Nomar Garciaparra, Derek Jeter, or Robin Yount.
Bogaerts, who had a monster 2019 season in which he hit a career-high 33 homers with a .939 OPS, does have a couple of ‘80s legends in his comps in Cal Ripken Jr. and Alan Trammell. But Stephens, who spent five (1948-52) of his 15 seasons with the Red Sox, is a cool old-school comp. He made eight All-Star teams, finished in the top 10 in MVP voting six times, and led the league in RBIs in ’49 and ’50 with the Red Sox, including 159 in the former season.
▪ J.D. Martinez
Comp through age 31: Tim Salmon
Martinez has been one of the elite hitters in the majors for five years now. His 162-game average from 2015-19 is 44 home runs and 120 RBIs, with a .307 batting average and .961 OPS.
But because he was a late bloomer — he owned a .251 career average and 24 homers in 252 games when the Astros released him as a 25-year-old after the 2013 season — his comps aren’t the elite, but instead either guys who belong in the Hall of Very Good (like the super consistent Salmon, who hit 299 homers in a career spent entirely with the Angels) and second-tier sluggers such as Ryan Klesko and Danny Tartabull.
Perhaps the most fitting comp on Martinez’s list is George Foster, who hit 52 homers for the ’77 Reds and 40 the following season and led the National League in RBIs three times.
▪ Michael Chavis
Comp through age 23: none
Baseball-reference doesn’t provide a comp yet for Chavis, who has played just 95 major league games. But with the help of a little research through the site’s Play Index, which allows searches for just about anything one can imagine, I did find a couple of players who had very similar age-23 seasons to Chavis’s (he hit .254 with a .766 OPS and 18 homers in 382 plate appearances while striking out 127 times).
One is Pedro Alvarez, who hit .256 with a .788 OPS, 16 homers, and 119 strikeouts for the 2010 Pirates. The other? The legendary Wily Mo Pena, who hit .254 with a .796 OPS, 19 homers, and 116 strikeouts for the 2005 Reds, which was enough to convince Theo Epstein to trade Bronson Arroyo for him.
▪ Christian Vazquez
Comp through age 28: Gerald Laird
It’s telling that even after a breakthrough offensive season in 2019 (23 homers, .798 OPS), Vazquez’s comps remain players who were never really known for their offense. Laird played for five teams in a 13-year career, never hitting more than nine homers in a season and finishing with a career .658 OPS.
Others in Vazquez’s top 10 include Toby Hall, Yorvit Torrealba, and the player who must have had the easiest time of anyone signing autographs, Ed Ott.
If Vazquez has another strong offensive season, his comps list surely will include more impressive names. But at 29 years old, there should be some skepticism that his fine season is repeatable.
▪ Jose Peraza
Comp through age 25: Ron Hunt
The Red Sox’ new second baseman has been hit by 29 pitches in his five-year, 520-game career. Hunt, who played 12 years in the majors (1963-74), was hit by 50 pitches alone in the 1971 season, a bruising achievement that remains a major league record. Hunt led the league in getting drilled by baseballs seven straight years from 1968 through ’74.
When Hunt actually hit the ball rather than vice versa, he was often productive, most notably in 1973 for the Expos, when he hit .309 with a .418 on-base percentage.
▪ Jackie Bradley Jr.
Comp through age 29: Drew Stubbs
I’ve always thought of Bradley as a modern-day Paul Blair, the dazzling defensive center fielder for those great late ‘60s and early ‘70s Orioles teams whose offensive contributions were a bonus. But Blair, who hit .250 with a .684 OPS in a 17-year career, doesn’t show up on Bradley’s top 10.
Stubbs, who played for seven teams in a nine-year career and once struck out 205 times in a season (with the 2011 Reds), doesn’t feel like the ideal fit, either. You know who does? Bradley’s No. 8 comp, former Rangers, Indians, and Braves outfielder Oddibe McDowell, who like Bradley was a legendary college player who was inconsistent but productive as a big leaguer.
▪ Kevin Pillar
Comp through age 30: Terrence Long
Red Sox fans will remember Long, the A’s center fielder in the early 2000s, for two scenes: a phenomenal game-ending catch to rob Manny Ramirez of a potential walkoff home run in August 2002, and, in a more satisfying outcome, striking out looking with the bases loaded against Derek Lowe for the final out of Game 5 of the 2003 American League Divisional Series.
Pillar is a much better defensive outfielder than Long. One note: Though Pillar and Bradley — similar players to be sure — aren’t on each other’s comp lists, one player does show up on both: Vince DiMaggio.
▪ Chris Sale
Comp through age 30: Cole Hamels
We’ll include him even though he has a fresh scar on his elbow and probably won’t pitch a meaningful inning again until the summer of 2021.
Hamels is Sale’s most similar pitcher not just at age 30, but also through ages 27 and 28. (Sale’s most similar at age 29? Old buddy David Price.) Hamels has had a terrific career, though to me, at least aesthetically, he’s much more reminiscent of Jon Lester.
Hamels has never been as dynamic as peak Sale, but he’s been much more durable, making at least 30 starts in 10 seasons. Sale’s top 10 includes more dazzling pitchers such as Stephen Strasburg, Max Scherzer, and perhaps the most fitting, Johan Santana.
▪ Eduardo Rodriguez
Comp through age 26: Wade Miller
Miller was an excellent pitcher in his youth with the Astros. In 2001-02, he went 31-12 with a 3.35 ERA, striking out 327 batters in 376⅔ innings. But arm problems derailed his career, and Red Sox fans will remember him as one of Theo Epstein’s reclamation projects that seemed like a good idea in theory but didn’t work out. (See: John Smoltz, 2009).
Miller went 4-4 with a 4.95 ERA for the 2005 Red Sox. He never won another major league game after that season. E-Rod, with his smooth lefty delivery, should have a better fate.
▪ Nate Eovaldi
Comp through age 29: Kris Benson
Benson was the No. 1 pick out of Clemson by the Pirates in the 1996 MLB Draft, a can’t-miss kid who found lucrative mediocrity, going 70-75 with a 4.42 ERA in nine major league seasons while pulling in $39.3 million in salary for his efforts. He was probably best known for the antics of his tabloid-courting wife.
Here’s a more interesting Eovaldi comp through a Red Sox prism: Bronson Arroyo, who ranks seventh in similarity. His results were similar to Eovaldi’s, but he was one of the most durable pitchers of his time. That has not been said about Eovaldi.
▪ Martin Perez
Comp through age 28: Scott Karl
Karl was a generic lefty who had double-figure wins four times (1996-99) for the Brewers, but finished his career with a 54-56 record and a 4.81 ERA. Perez, who also has four double-digit-win seasons, currently owns a 53-56 record and a 4.72 ERA, so, yeah, this one lines up pretty well.
▪ Ryan Weber
Comp through age 28: Sean Lowe
One of the more interesting, if minor, plots that would have been worth following early this season was trying to figure out why the Red Sox seem so high on Weber. His record — he has a 5.04 ERA in parts of five seasons with four teams — suggests he’s roster-filler at best, but Sox management seemed oddly comfortable with slotting him into a meaningful role.
His comps — led by Lowe, who had a couple of decent seasons with the White Sox but finished with a 4.95 career ERA — don’t offer inspiring clues.
▪ Brandon Workman
Comp through age 30: Mike Armstrong
Armstrong was a middling receiver for four teams in the ‘80s (career 4.10 ERA) who was probably best known for looking like he was wearing a mustache-and-glasses disguise. His career might average out similarly to Workman’s, but Workman’s career arc is distinct: rookie postseason relief ace in ’13, a few seasons lost to or affected by injury, then an unexpectedly superb 2019 season in which he allowed just 29 hits in 71⅔ innings, or 3.6 per nine innings. I’m not sure there really is a comp for Workman.
▪ Matt Barnes
Comp through age 30: J.J. Hoover
Barnes doesn’t get as much respect from Red Sox fans as he deserves, probably because of occasional bouts of wildness. But he’s been a valuable setup man on a championship team, and over the past three seasons, he’s struck out 289 batters in 195⅔ innings, an average of 13.3 per 9 (including 15.4 last year). Hoover flamed out after four pretty good seasons with the Reds.
▪ Heath Hembree
Comp through age 30: Heath Bell
Hembree, a fairly reliable reliever in low-leverage situations, would do quite well for himself to have Bell’s career. Bell spent 11 years in the big leagues, with his best stretch coming in 2009-11 when he saved 132 games for the Padres and made three straight National League All-Star teams. Bell even made the 2020 Hall of Fame ballot, though he didn’t receive a vote.
▪ Austin Brice
Comp through age 27: Jose Capellan
Capellan, best known as a Brewer, is one of several have-fastball-will-travel types on Brice’s list. Among the more notable journeyman are Blaine Neal, who was a brief disaster with the 2005 Red Sox, and Jay Baller, who walked 10 and gave up five homers in 11 innings for the ’92 Phillies.
▪ Brian Johnson
Comp through age 28: Bob Schultz
Johnson’s comps are mostly old-timers, including Schultz, who went 9-13 with a 5.16 ERA for the Cubs, Pirates, and Tigers from 1951-55. To me, his comp should be Abe Alvarez, a low-ceiling college pitcher whom the Red Sox drafted too high.
▪ Alex Verdugo
Comp through age 23: none
Verdugo doesn’t have enough big league time to draw a comp. But a little digging shows his career stats (.282 average, 14 homers, .784 OPS in 443 at-bats) are pretty similar to Matt Holliday’s in his age-24 rookie season with the Rockies (.290 average, 14 homers, .837 OPS in 400 at-bats).
▪ Mitch Moreland
Comp through age 33: Paul Sorrento
Among Moreland’s comps, J.T. Snow — another smooth-fielding, decent-hitting first baseman who had a flicker with the 2006 Red Sox — seemed most fitting stylistically. But Sorrento, a Somerville native who hit 166 homers in 11 big league seasons, is a reasonable match too.
▪ Jonathan Lucroy
Comp through age 33: Terry Kennedy
Lucroy is new to the Red Sox, but he’s an accomplished player, as was Kennedy, who made four All-Star teams in a 14-year career and finished 10th in the 1983 National League Most Valuable Player balloting after knocking in 98 runs for the Padres.
▪ Kevin Plawecki
Comp through age 28: Gary Allenson
Remember Muggsy? That was Allenson’s nickname during his early ‘80s stretch as the Red Sox’ backup catcher. Like Plawecki, he was once a highly regarded prospect, even winning the 1978 International League MVP award with the PawSox, but never found sustained success in the majors.
Other Red Sox with not enough major league service time to compare: Josh Taylor, Darwinzon Hernandez, Ryan Brasier, Marcus Walden, Chris Mazza, Tzu-Wei Lin, Jonathan Arauz.