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CAL 2.0: Digging in deeper with hitters

After the initial roll out, CAL digs deeper into hitter classifications, looking at some surprising finds.

Richard Mackson-US PRESSWIRE

Two weeks ago I rolled out a shiny new analytic – a player classification system I dubbed CAL, or Comparison And Likeness. The quick overview of it is quite simple: CAL is based off of Bill James’ Similarity Scores, but uses a litany of differently weighted statistics to compare prospects against each other.

Well, after the rollout some of the initial feedback asked if I could tweak the system to show player comps for multiple seasons, not just one year at a time in hopes to paint a more complete picture, and as the guys that run the Steamer Projections can attest, systems like this are always evolving. (Steamer is in its sixth iteration.)

So, I hunkered down for the past two weeks, spending close to sixty hours and much of my remaining patience, and retooled CAL to determine a player’s top comps based on three years of data, not just one.

First, a few things to note:

• The closer the CAL scores to 1000 the better.
• CAL was run for the below examples when a player has at least 200 plate appearances for a single level unless otherwise noted.
• I was originally using James’ positional values – 240 for catcher, 12 for first base, 132 for second base, etc… – but after a thorough research-and-development portion I determined CAL is more effective for multiple seasons using different values.
• Finally -- and most importantly -- remember that’s it’s crucial to examine the group as a whole, not just cherry pick. For example, Joey Votto comes up as the top comp for Jackie Bradley, but the other four players suggest something entirely different. My interpretation of this is quite simple: this is CAL's way of displaying a prospect's volatility, perhaps highlighting a projected ceiling and floor. The more consistent the top five are, the more likely the player is to reach that level of production. And likewise, the more scattered the top five, the less likely the player is to reach his projected ceiling.

Now, the examples: Below I’ve provided 41 instances of CAL – both proving its accuracy (and usefulness) and explaining why CAL failed in certain comparisons. (It’s a bit lengthy, so feel free to bounce around.)

Mike Moustakas:

Comparison CAL
Dayan Viciedo 931.17
Wilmer Flores 915.54
Josh Vitters 914.07
Jedd Gyorko 908.14
Brett Wallace 907.24

Moustakas batted .311/.362/.588 during his stints in Class AA and Class AAA – numbers that came against competition that averaged at least three years his senior. But despite the robust production, CAL lumped him in with a group that included Brett Wallace, another fellow draft bust in Josh Vitters, who was coincidentally chosen directly after Moustakas, a disappointing international free agent, and a player that looks absolutely lost this season. Career production in terms of wRC+: 91 (Gyorko), 93 (Wallace), 95 (Viciedo), and 84 (Moustakas).

Brandon Wood:

Comparison CAL
Jerry Sands 896.79
Alex Liddi 894.52
Sean Rodriguez 886.30
Luke Hughes 878.35
Pedro Alvarez 877.84

Wood’s another big time prospect bust. To best show CAL’s effectiveness, I ran the algorithms based on his production between the ages of 21 and 23 – a time in which he was ranked among the top 20 prospects each season by some of the most well respected analysts and media outlets. Wood hit .281/.356/.546 and slugged 79 home runs during those 332 games.

Well, only one big league regular, Alvarez, topped the league average offensive production (barely) in his career. And Rodriguez, the only other player to carve out a lengthy big league career, has posted a 90 wRC+ in a super-utility role.

Andrelton Simmons:

Comparison CAL
Ozzie Martinez 955.49
Josh Harrison 952.34
Mark Hallberg 949.02
Joe Panik 947.21
Eduardo Nunez 947.18

Let’s play a game. Match the players’ offensive WAR per 600 plate appearances during their respective big league careers. Player A: 1.66 WAR/600PA. Player B: 2.34 WAR/600PA. Player C: 1.73 WAR/600PA.

The answers (in order from A through C): Andrelton Simmons, Josh Harrison, and Eduardo Nunez. Remember, CAL doesn’t look at a player’s defensive contributions, only his offensive abilities. And while Simmons is an elite, elite defender (a potential Hall of Famer solely based on that ability), he’s been 12% below the league average offensive production in his big league career, something CAL had pointed out despite his hitting .299/.352/.397 in the minors.

Dustin Ackley:

Comparison CAL
Jose Pirela 947.93
Johnny Giavotella 932.27
Matt Antonelli 927.11
Adrian Cardenas 921.98
Jemile Weeks 920.59

Ackley, another #2 overall pick, was viewed as the premium collegiate bat in 2009’s draft class and a potential cornerstone to Seattle’s rebuild at that time. CAL grouped him with two players that couldn’t hack it in the big leagues, Giavotella and Weeks, another top prospect bust in Antonelli, and a career minor leaguer (Cardenas).

Dayan Viciedo:

Comparison CAL
David Winfree 961.80
Josh Vitters 958.86
Brett Wallace 958.16
Joel Guzman 952.02
Jonathan Schoop 950.70

Viciedo, who’s failed to top the league average production in each of his three full big league seasons, hit .283/.331/.450 during his trek through the minor leagues. Pretty much the same comps as Moustakas, which shouldn’t be surprising. All fringe big leaguers with the exception of Schoop, where the jury’s still out.

Yan Gomes:

Comparison CAL
Welington Castillo 941.60
J.P. Arencibia 924.06
Travis Scott 918.71
Cody Puckett 918.18
Travis D'Arnaud 917.88

Gomes was pretty much a nondescript player when Cleveland acquired him as part of the Esmil Rogers trade with Toronto in late November 2012. Immediately following the trade, Tribe beat writer Paul Hoynes wrote that, "[GM Chris] Antonetti said Gomes will go to spring training with a chance to make the team either as a second or third catcher."

Since then, however, he’s been the fifth best offensive catcher in baseball – a shock to some, though not entirely so to CAL.

Castillo topped the league average offensive production by 5% from 2012 to 2013 en route to tallying 3 WAR last season; d’Arnaud has long been considered a top offensive catching prospect and is finally starting to figure things out at the big league level (he’s hit .264/.304/.465 since June 24) and Arencibia has slugged 71 career home runs.

The point: Based on his comps, CAL thought there was a strong chance that some big league value could be extracted from Gomes and it was right. It just didn’t think Gomes would be this good, but who did?

Mike Trout:

Comparison CAL
Jason Heyward 974.74
Byron Buxton 970.92
Justin Upton 946.34
Colby Rasmus 922.24
Manny Machado 899.33

No shock here, really. Trout’s top CALs have been some of the best prospects, and subsequently young stars, in baseball.

Jay Bruce:

Comparison CAL
Adam Jones 920.33
Oswaldo Arcia 854.96
Wil Myers 843.39
Chris Davis 840.38
David Winfree 839.79

An impressive trio of names to be linked with: Jones, Davis, and Myers. And Arcia has been a league average performer through his age-23 season with Minnesota.

Alcides Escobar:

Comparison CAL
Danny Santana 961.38
Marcus Lemon 960.40
Hernan Perez 955.99
Adeiny Hechavarria 954.00
Justin Sellers 952.36

Another top prospect letdown, Escobar’s CALs shouldn’t be all that surprising given his lack of offensive punch at the big league level: a group of light hitting infielders. Escobar, by the way, hit .293/.333/.377 in his minor league career, but owns a career .261/.298/.346 line at the big league level and much of his value comes from the defensive side of the ball.

Jason Heyward:

Comparison CAL
Colby Rasmus 954.06
Jonathan Schoop 944.21
Freddie Freeman 942.20
Mike Moustakas 912.70
Mike Trout 907.28

There were only two stops for Heyward that CAL could effectively run – his 2008 in low Class A and 2009 in high Class A (remember: I only use sample sizes of at least 200 PA). But despite the lack of data, CAL still linked him with three regulars in Trout, Freeman, and Rasmus. The Moustakas comp is pretty scary though, perhaps highlighting his floor.

Matt Kemp:

Comparison CAL
Nick Franklin 911.67
Oswaldo Arcia 879.55
Michael Saunders 876.63
Felix Pie 876.51
Chris Lubanski 865.09

This was a major miss by CAL, comparing Kemp with two busts and three good, not great big leaguers. However, there were just 426 minor league plate appearances CAL could use in analyzing Kemp, which should be considered a small sample size considering that three years of data was the original goal.

Kris Bryant:

Comparison CAL
George Springer 885.98
Pedro Alvarez 865.58
Miguel Sano 852.02
Anthony Rizzo 847.00
Ryan Lavarnway 842.83

This one shouldn’t really be surprising either. CAL compares the game’s top prospect with three impact bats (Springer, Sano, and Rizzo). The Alvarez tie-in would seem to indicate a potential issue with Bryant’s contact ability, as his strikeout percentage is hovering around 27% in Class AAA. Again, an incredibly small sample size for CAL.

Billy Hamilton:

Comparison CAL
Shane Peterson 953.41
John Andreoli 947.17
Daryl Jones 939.31
Jefry Marte 936.05
Reymond Fuentes 935.38

Since Hamilton’s hot spell cooled, his production has been 7% below the league average. His top CALs are all fourth outfielder types. The difference is his plus-plus-plus speed, which CAL had trouble sniffing out. Hamilton could hover around the 90 wRC+-mark and still be a three- or four-win player because of his defense. His subpar year in Class AAA did him in with CAL, though.

Giancarlo Stanton:

Comparison CAL
Miguel Sano 931.02
Jay Bruce 918.86
Travis Snider 895.94
Jaff Decker 894.51
Anthony Rizzo 880.20

The Stanton-Sano-Bruce-Rizzo quartet is pretty reasonable. Decker’s grouped in because of his numbers in the lower levels of the minor leagues, which increasingly worsened as he moved up the ladder. And, well, Snider never really panned out.

One additional thing to note: Stanton’s comps were thrown off a bit because his production cratered in his first stint in Class AA (.231/.311/.455), but I still included it in the CAL calculations instead of his low Class A numbers because I didn’t want to skew the comps to help convince people of its usefulness.

Billy Butler:

Comparison CAL
Logan Morrison 941.21
Wilmer Flores 920.58
Ji-Man Choi 919.92
Daric Barton 895.35
Freddie Freeman 886.54

Of Butler’s top five CALs, no one has topped 30 home runs in a season. Prior to this year, Morrison owned a 108 wRC+ and Butler a 120. And the Morrison-Barton-Choi trio are all power-deficient first basemen.

Ben Revere:

Comparison CAL
Ender Inciarte 963.78
Todd Cunningham 951.91
Justin Bass 949.76
Bridger Hunt 947.29
Brandon Roberts 942.95

There's not a whole lot that separates Revere, the starting center fielder and faux leadoff hitter, and Revere, the slap-hitting, serviceable fourth outfielder. He doesn’t walk much or hit for any power; it’s empty batting averages and stolen bases. His top two CALs, Inciarte and Cunningham, are the basic fourth/fifth outfielders. And through his first 1830 plate appearances, Revere owns a career 84 wRC+.

Mark Trumbo:

Comparison CAL
Brock Peterson 986.55
Alex Dickerson 978.21
Erik Lis 975.15
Chad Tracy 974.98
Allen Craig 972.58

Trumbo does one thing pretty well: hit for power. Otherwise, his overall production (109 wRC+) is certainly bordering on mediocrity, especially for his position, and one that doesn’t suggest a lengthy big league career as an everyday type guy – pretty similar to that of Chad Tracy. Outside of Craig, it’s a handful of bench bat options.

Carlos Santana:

Comparison CAL
Matt Wieters 902.29
Buster Posey 885.29
Yasmani Grandal 870.03
Tyler Flowers 861.32
Javier Brito 859.84

At least in the local media (I live in Cleveland), Santana is constantly hounded for his low batting averages, but even in a down year like 2014 – he’s hitting .231/.369/.433 – his overall production has topped the league average by 31% thanks to his power/patience combo.

Career wRC+s: 112 (Grandal), 128 (Santana) and 137 (Posey), and Wieters has certainly flashed thump in his offensive game.

Joey Gallo:

Comparison CAL
Miguel Sano 669.47
Giancarlo Stanton 600.55
Chris Carter 599.31
Telvin Nash 557.51
Cody Johnson 547.94

Gallo’s registered the lowest CAL scores that I’ve seen at this point – and probably will ever see. Basically, there’s no reasonable comp for him; he’s a one of a kind. He’s swings-and-misses a ton, has gobs of power, and walks. But he’s also shown a drastic improvement in his K-rate, followed by a massive step backward.

Jed Lowrie:

Comparison CAL
Steve Tolleson 983.98
Josh Johnson 978.70
Zelous Wheeler 974.63
Ryan Khoury 973.29
Jake Lemmerman 967.16

This is another one of CAL’s bigger misses: not one MLB-worthy guy in the bunch. The problem: Lowrie had one truly great season (2007) followed by two average-ish stints in the minors. Again, I chose not to run the comparison using Lowrie’s 177 plate appearances in Class AAA in 2007 so as not to skew CAL in his favor.

Justin Upton:

Comparison CAL
Colby Rasmus 958.07
Christian Yelich 957.50
Nick Delmonico 952.22
Jason Heyward 949.58
Mike Trout 948.93

Again, not very surprising.

Anthony Rizzo:

Comparison CAL
Jerry Sands 934.45
Adam Jones 911.67
Nick Evans 906.58
Jay Bruce 901.51
Wil Myers 888.06

The Sands and Evans groupings are the outlier (obviously). Both absolutely mashed throughout their respective minor league careers. But the Bruce, Jones, Myers comps are reasonable. CAL had some reservations about Rizzo's ability to reach his potential—clearly.

Charlie Blackmon:

Comparison CAL
Alejandro De Aza 994.35
Kevin Thompson 982.86
Alex Presley 980.50
Jeff Salazar 980.41
Cole Gillespie 978.77

A lot of fringe everyday-type guys and solid, useful bats. The 994.35 CAL score for De Aza suggests a high comparison. Career wRC+s: 93 for Blackmon and 97 for De Aza.

Byron Buxton:

Comparison CAL
Bryce Harper 940.40
Mike Trout 927.23
Christian Yelich 910.89
Ryan Westmoreland 910.27
Colby Rasmus 906.29

There’s really nothing more to add, truthfully.

Nick Castellanos:

Comparison CAL
Jonathan Schoop 888.82
Edinson Rincon 886.31
Matt Dominguez 883.75
Lonnie Chisenhall 872.31
David Winfree 872.28

It’s way too early to determine Castellanos’s ceiling, but outside of one stint in high Class A in 2012 he’s never really dominated at the minor league level. Dominguez and Chisenhall are solid league average regulars, which Schoop has a chance to be too, and they seem like reasonable comps. Castellanos, by the way, is hitting just .258/.309/.404 in his rookie campaign.

Mookie Betts:

Comparison CAL
Jose Altuve 976.62
Marcus Semien 953.44
Wilmer Flores 950.42
Devon Travis 950.09
Nick Franklin 947.01

I chuckled when Altuve jumped out at the top of Betts’s list, because it’s the one I was suspecting. Smaller middle infield bats with pop.

Corey Seager:

Comparison CAL
Jay Bruce 925.63
Javier Baez 916.62
Xander Bogaerts 914.68
Alen Hanson 907.37
Addison Russell 903.26

Pretty nice comps for a middle infielder: four former top prospects and one who has a chance to be a decent regular.

Cameron Maybin:

Comparison CAL
Brett Jackson 979.54
Michael Saunders 962.49
John Tolisano 959.33
Slade Heathcott 944.73
Josh Bell 944.55

OK. Let’s play another game. Guess the effectiveness of Cameron Maybin’s bat. Has he been 11% below the league average, 11% above the league average, or right at the league average?

The answer: he’s been 11% below the league average in nearly 2000 plate appearances. His reputation has basically been coasting off of his 4-win season from 2011, which has been the only time he’s topped the league average (and that was just by 5%).

For his CALs, I used his 2007 through 2009 minor league numbers -- each year he topped the league average production by at least 25%. But CAL suggested one major bust (maybe two), one league average performer, and Tolisano. CAL could have been useful in the Miguel Cabrera deal for Miami, huh?

Oscar Taveras:

Comparison CAL
Wilmer Flores 982.78
Matt Kemp 967.38
Preston Tucker 944.14
Stephen Piscotty 943.13
Gregory Polanco 943.03

Taveras has long been among the game’s better prospects, so it’s not surprising to see him linked with Kemp, Polanco, and Piscotty. Flores and Tucker have both handled themselves well in the minor leagues, though each have yet to prove it in the bigs. CAL hasn’t been impressed by Taveras’s Class AAA numbers.

Elvis Andrus:

Comparison CAL
Odubel Herrera 922.50
Leury Garcia 915.66
Juniel Querecuto 911.58
Jose Pirela 908.02
Oscar Tejeda 906.22

Now six full seasons into his big league career – and an eight-year, $120 million contract in his pocket – Andrus has been a well below-average hitter, posting a career wRC+ of 84. Average-ish walk rate, speed and little pop isn’t exactly a recipe for stardom, so it’s not surprising to see Andrus linked with five light-hitting middle infielders. Andrus’ above-average defense has helped buoy his WAR totals.

Xander Bogaerts:

Comparison CAL
Nick Franklin 918.25
Arismendy Alcantara 899.26
Jonathan Schoop 891.35
Manny Machado 882.47
David Winfree 876.18

Franklin, Alcantara, and Machado are all promising, reasonable comps. Schoop has been talked about previously. And Winfree flamed out. Perhaps Bogaerts isn’t quite a lock for stardom?

Chris Carter:

Comparison CAL
Jerry Sands 945.79
Pedro Alvarez 941.41
Kala Ka'Aihue 933.99
Koby Clemens 931.64
Cody Decker 922.76

Carter absolutely mashed during the 21- to 23-year-old seasons which CAL analyzed, as he posted an OPS of at least .930 in each one. But CAL was quite hesitant, linking him with just one big league regular, a pair of Quad-A types, and two flame outs. Carter owns a career .222/.312/.459 line with a 113 wRC+. This was sort of half-win/half-loss for CAL.

Pedro Alvarez:

Comparison CAL
Jerry Sands 912.68
Chris Carter 904.93
Brandon Wood 891.50
Matt Clark 890.93
Marvin Lowrance 886.03

This sort of falls into the same category as Carter: Alvarez was grouped with Carter (no surprise) and a bunch of career minor leaguers. Again, sort of a half-win/half-loss for CAL; it recognized that Alvarez was overrated as a prospect, but only linked him to one reasonable big leaguer. Alvarez, by the way, was named among the game’s top 10 prospects.

Michael Brantley:

Comparison CAL
Cedric Hunter 944.59
Adrian Cardenas 939.21
L.J. Hoes 930.73
Jacoby Ellsbury 920.72
J.B. Shuck 914.32

Brantley has been arguably the biggest surprise in baseball this season, tying Andrew McCutchen, Yasiel Puig, and Jason Heyward with 4.6 fWAR. Brantley’s already nearly doubled his power output and has posted a ridiculous 156 wRC+.

Prior to this year, though, he was basically a fringy league average bat, something that matched his minor league numbers (he’s a career .303/.388/.377 MiLB hitter). CAL linked him with four backup types and one All Star. You can draw your own conclusions from that.

Adam Eaton:

Comparison CAL
Jose Pirela 949.41
Sean Henry 930.42
Jamie Hoffmann 927.79
Jacoby Ellsbury 925.98
L.J. Hoes 925.88

Basically, it’s a similar list of comps as Brantley.

Javier Baez:

Comparison CAL
Jay Bruce 999.70
Brandon Wood 972.71
Sean Coyle 949.31
Bobby Borchering 948.86
Adam Jones 941.75

The Jay Bruce and Adam Jones comps bookend two prospect busts and another underrated minor leaguer. CAL’s obviously skeptical of Baez’s swing-and-miss tendency. And Baez’s slow start in AAA this season certainly skewed his overall comps.

Jackie Bradley:

Comparison CAL
Joey Votto 953.54
Preston Tucker 953.24
Mike Carp 951.56
Eric Thames 950.79
Brock Peterson 945.73

The Votto comparison is incredibly promising, but looking at the group as a whole the overwhelming majority of the evidence suggest that Bradley’s headed for below average offensive production (role player-dom). The fact that he’s hitting .208/.284/.303 through his first 142 games would seem to back that up.

Joc Pederson:

Comparison CAL
Brett Jackson 890.60
Michael Saunders 877.87
Kirk Nieuwenhuis 873.88
Nick Weglarz 862.80
Wil Myers 860.25

I’ve long been on the Joc Pederson bandwagon, twice naming him among the game’s top 100 prospects (2013 and 2014). But, man, four of those five CALs are downright scary. The lone hope is Myers, but the evidence is suggesting Pederson quite doesn’t live up to the hype.

Freddie Freeman:

Comparison CAL
Jason Heyward 947.24
Edinson Rincon 937.41
Kyle Blanks 933.89
.Daniel Vogelbach 931.69
Matthew Sweeney 931.42

This would be another miss by CAL. Yes, the Heyward comparison is quite promising, but outside of that it’s a mixed bag

Francisco Lindor:

Comparison CAL
Jose Pirela 979.16
Tyler Pastornicky 965.66
Reegie Corona 955.68
Justin Sellers 950.14
Luis Sardinas 940.37

As a Clevelander, I find this downright depressing. But Lindor’s always performed just slightly above the league average in terms of offense, so the fact that he’s linked to light-hitting middle infielders isn’t shocking. If his plus-plus defense is as good as the reports suggest, Lindor could be another guy in the Elvis Andrus mold, who also had several of the same CAL players.

Desmond Jennings:

Comparison CAL
Shin-Soo Choo 956.03
Eric Patterson 954.84
Christian Marrero 947.21
Adron Chambers 944.17
David Murphy 944.09

This one bounces around a ton: going from the likes of All Star-type production to league average regular to role guys. Jennings’ offense slides somewhere in between.

All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs and Baseball-Reference.

For more analysis check out Joe Werner's site: You can follow him on Twitter at @JoltinJoey