Red Sox

Statistically speaking, which players in baseball history do these Red Sox resemble?

Stephen Strasburg is loaded with talent but has been hindered by injuries.


Answer me this one, Fellow Lifelong Baseball Fan. Think a lineup that included these players in their prime or in the vicinity of it would be any good?

Miguel Tejada, Jim Edmonds, Joe Torre, a selected DiMaggio brother, and 1992 World Series MVP Pat Borders, with a pitching staff that included Orlando “El Duque” Hernandez and Stephen Strasburg?

Yes? No? Maybe? Who cares, we’ll never see it?

Well, in a certain way we kind of are seeing it, with the shiny new 2022 edition of the Boston Red Sox. The aforementioned players, and several others of, frankly, lesser renown, are the top historical statistical matches for certain Red Sox players at their current ages.

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The information comes from baseball-reference.com’s similarity scores, a formula developed by Bill James in the 1980s. It might be my favorite feature on the site, and I write this column every other year or so in an attempt to … well, mostly to have fun with the surprisingly unpredictable comparisons, but also hopefully to offer some context about where specific Red Sox players are in their careers and where they might be headed.

This time around, I kept it to the regular lineup and starting pitchers, since the Red Sox have a short bench and way, way too many nondescript relief pitchers.

Let’s hit those comparisons. And, yes, I’ll admit it: The comparison is to Vince DiMaggio …

Lineup

· Kiké Hernández

Comps through age 29: Jack Howell, Derek Dietrich, Trevor Plouffe

Howell, a third baseman who hit .239 with a .742 OPS and 108 home runs in 11 seasons primarily with the Angels, is actually Hernández’s top comparison at each age from 26 to 29. But remember, this is offense only. Hernández is a much better defender and baserunner than Howell ever was, which is one reason Hernandez’s Wins Above Replacement last season alone (4.9, per baseball-reference) was more than half of Howell’s career total (9.7).

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· Rafael Devers

Comps through age 24: Eric Chavez, Bob Horner, Ryan Zimmerman

Devers has been so prolific at such a young age that I thought a few of the bold-type names in baseball history might show up on his list — perhaps, oh, Frank Robinson, or if you want to go with a third baseman, Chipper Jones.

But don’t mistake this for bad company. Chavez hit at least 29 home runs in a season four times, received MVP votes every year from 2002-05, and was right there with Scott Rolen and Adrian Beltre among the best defensive third basemen of his era before a back injury derailed his career.

· Xander Bogaerts

Comps through age 28: Joe Torre, Vern Stephens, Hanley Ramirez

Uh oh, does this mean Bogaerts is going to end up as a wise, likable-despite-the-rivalry Yankees manager someday? Torre found his way into Cooperstown after winning five World Series in the Bronx, but he was fringe Hall-worthy as a player, leading the National League in batting (.363) and hits (230) in 1971 and finishing his 18-year career with 252 home runs and a .297 average.

· J.D. Martinez

Comps through age 34: Jim Edmonds, Ryan Klesko, Tim Salmon

Am I the only one who forgot that Martinez led the American League in doubles last season with 42? He’s still a potent hitter, if a spot or two down the batting order from elite. He is a logical fit at this point in his career with those three players, all .285/.290-hitting types who would mash around 30 homers. Salmon, forever relegated now to being the second-best fish-themed outfielder in Angels lore, is a particularly fitting match.

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· Alex Verdugo

Comps through age 25: Terrence Long, Rip Repulski, Dmitri Young

Long was an adequate (career adjusted OPS: 90) center fielder for those mashing A’s teams of the early 2000s; Red Sox fans probably best remember him for robbing Manny Ramirez of an apparent walkoff home run with a leaping catch in front of the bullpen in 2002. We have not forgiven, Terrence.

Verdugo, who has basically replaced Andrew Benintendi’s production in two years with the Red Sox, has the talent to end up in better company than this.

· Trevor Story

Comps through age 28: Miguel Tejada, Javier Baez, Troy Tulowitzki

Interesting to see Tulowitzki, his de facto predecessor as the Rockies’ slugging shortstop, as a statistical parallel. Surprising, at least to me, is that this is a more impressive comp list than Bogaerts’s.

Tejada wasn’t really regarded as part of that A-Rod/Nomar/Captain Jeets vortex, but he put together some monster seasons for the A’s, winning the AL MVP in 2002 (.861 OPS, 34 homers, 131 RBIs) and driving in 150 runs in ‘04, when he finished fifth in the balloting.

Ninth on Story’s list, by the way, is Stephen Drew. You don’t have to tell me. I know he was your favorite.

· Bobby Dalbec

Comps through age 26: N/A.

I’m not sure what baseball-reference uses for parameters in providing similarity scores — I’m assuming it’s 1,000 plate appearances, or perhaps two full seasons — but the Red Sox slugging first baseman doesn’t have any matches yet. (The same applies to Tanner Houck as a pitcher.)

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But here’s another way to look at where he stands. At age 26 last season, he hit 25 home runs with a .240 batting average and a .792 OPS. Similar seasons by 26-year-old first basemen include 1987 Glenn Davis (27 homers, .251 average, .769 OPS), 2004 Carlos Pena (27 homers, .241 average, .810 OPS), and 1968 Boog Powell (22 homers, .249 average, .748 OPS in the “Year of the Pitcher”).

· Jackie Bradley Jr.

Comps through age 31: Vince DiMaggio, Nate McLouth, Eric Hinske.

In other words, what we have here is the Don Swayze of the DiMaggio brothers, the 27th-place finisher in the 2008 NL MVP balloting, and an obscure member of the ‘07 Red Sox champions. I think I’ve said this every year I’ve done this piece, and I’ll say it again: Isn’t JBJ the Paul Blair of his time?

· Christian Vázquez

Comps through age 30: Pat Borders, Toby Hall, Greg Myers

I thought he might have some higher-profile players here (Sandy Alomar Jr. is a few spots down his list), but Borders, who hit .253 with a .663 OPS in 17 seasons, is a reasonable match. Did you remember that he was the MVP of the Blue Jays’ win over the Braves in the 1992 World Series? I sure didn’t, and as someone who was quasi-raised on TBS, I was fairly invested in the Braves then.

Starting pitchers

· Nate Eovaldi

Comps through age 31: Jason Vargas, Carl Pavano, Jake Westbrook

I’d say the uncommon shape of Eovaldi’s career — injuries limited him to modest success in his 20s, but he turned into a trustworthy front-of-the-rotation starter after turning the corner into his 30s — makes it challenging to find his ideal comp. Vargas was a soft-tossing lefty who peaked when he led the AL with 18 wins at age 34 for the 2017 Royals.

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Also, something to ponder: Alvin (Texas) High School has sent two players to the big leagues: Eovaldi and Nolan Ryan. Wonder what the third-hardest thrower in the history of the school did with his life.

· Chris Sale

Comps through age 32: Stephen Strasburg, Adam Wainwright, Johan Santana

Given Sale’s recent injury history, you could have told me his top three comps were the Black Knight from “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” a discarded crash-test dummy, and “Out of Service” Pervis Ellison and I might have nodded like, “Yep, makes sense.” But Strasburg, a supremely talented pitcher who was limited to 26⅔ innings over the past two seasons, fits all too well.

· Nick Pivetta

Comps through age 28: Vince Velasquez, Willie Banks, Claudio Vargas

Pivetta and Velasquez were actually teammates on the Phillies from 2017 until part way through the ‘20 season. Pivetta went 19-30 with a 5.50 ERA in 396⅓ innings in that stretch; Velasquez was 19-28 with a 4.99 ERA in 370 innings. No wonder neither is still there.

Pivetta won over Red Sox fans with his fiery demeanor and excellent postseason pitching (2.63 ERA in 13⅔ innings). But it might be a reach to expect a pitcher with a career 5.17 ERA to pitch steadily as the No. 2 starter.

· Michael Wacha

Comps through age 29: Aaron Harang, Scott Baker, Homer Bailey

Being the second coming of Harang isn’t such a bad thing. The guy did win 128 games and make approximately $60 million in 14 big league seasons. But what happened to the pitcher who was touted as the second coming of Adam Wainwright during the ‘13 World Series?

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· Rich Hill

Comps through age 41: Orlando Hernandez, José Contreras, Jim Turner

Wouldn’t have guessed that Hill’s top two comps were the Yankees’ pair of Cuban righthanders from the late ‘90s/early ‘00s heyday of the rivalry with the Red Sox, but it makes some sense. Both pitched well into their 40s and, like Hill, had unusual career patterns. Turner pitched for three teams from 1937-45. No, Turner and Hill were never teammates.

· James Paxton

Comps through age 32: Kenta Maeda, Hyun Jin Ryu, Chris Young

That’s a pretty decent trio of pitchers right there. A little deeper into Paxton’s comps, though, and a Red Sox fan might shiver. No. 5 is Erik Bedard, who made eight mostly forgettable starts for the Popeye’s-scarfing 2011 Sox. No. 9 is Garrett Richards. At least it’s a low bar.

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