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Fun with similarity scores

3/13/2011

Every now and then, when I’m looking for something to do, I head over the Baseball Reference to play with some of the many tools they have on the site. I can’t even begin to describe how much I’ve been able to do on that site to satisfy the inner baseball geek inside of me. During a recent trip, I took a look at Mark Prior’s statistics and reminisced about what could have been. As I ventured down the page, I was reminded of the similarity scores and I was curious how his career compares. (If you have no idea what a similarity score is, they have an explanation.)

At age 22, with an 18-win season under his belt, the most similar pitcher to Prior was Vic Willis. I didn’t know much about Willis, so I looked him up. Turns out he started his career right before the 20th century and was inducted into the Hall of Fame with 249 wins. That’s less than Tommy John, who’s not in the Hall of Fame, but that’s another article all together. The point is that at that point in his career, things looked great for Prior. Fast forward to present day and we’re left to wonder what could have been for the boy with “perfect mechanics”.

That got me thinking about present-day guys that rank right with Hall of Fame players early in their careers. It’s by no means a career predictor, but it is kind of cool to see how you compare to the greats.

At age 22, Roger Clemens turned in a 7-5 season fresh off finishing sixth in the rookie of the year balloting the previous season. The most similar pitcher to the Rocket through age 22? Jair Jurrjens of the Atlanta Braves. (Compare Stats).

Moving over to the hitters, at age 23, Barry Bonds was just getting his feet wet with the Pittsburgh Pirates. In his second season in the league, Bonds led the team in home runs with 25. The most similar hitter to 23-year-old Barry? The Cincinnati Reds slugging right fielder, Jay Bruce. (Compare Stats).

Maybe those two examples are sour to you based on PED issues. Fine, how about one of the biggest characters the game has ever seen? At age 22, Rickey Henderson had stolen 189 bases and had a goal in mind to break Lou Brock's record. It’s hard to pin down a perfect fit for matching Rickey, but if we look at who was most similar at that age we’ll see Carl Crawford’s name. (Compare Stats).

What does it all mean? To be honest, probably nothing. It’s just fun to play around with history some times. Take a few minutes the next time you’re bored on the Internet, turn off Facebook, and immerse yourself in the numbers.

Joe Aiello writes for The View From the Bleachers blog, which is part of the SweetSpot network.