Thursday, April 15, 2004

I’ve been trolling around trying to find a good comp for Garret Anderson. Garret’s career progression is very strange; after a good three-quarter rookie season (with a 121 OPS+), he proceeded to rack up a career 99 OPS+ through age 29. He had a decent average, and his position in the order led to RBIs, but his lack of walks and power really limited his value.

However, at age 30 the power kicked, and he’s put up two straight seasons of 130 and 137 on the OPS+ scale. Value-wise, he’s a completely different player. What does this say about his future?

Let’s look at some hitters who have undergone similar transformations.

Bruce Bochte came up with the Angels. Through age 27, his career OPS+ was 108. The next two years, he blossomed, posting marks of 134 and 128. In both seasons, this was mainly driven by a surge in his isolated power (extra bases per at bat), along with hitting peaks in batting average.

At age 30, Bochte dropped back to a 104, and the power and the peak were gone. He did manage a 127 OPS+ at age 34, again driven by power (his third-highest SLG) and a bit more average. His next season was his last.

Bochte drew walks more frequently than Garret, so they were not identically statistically, but their offensive performance had similar value.

Through age 29, Bill Buckner had been around for over 10 years and had a career OPS+ of 98. He walked and struck out infrequently, but in the era his good batting averages did not lead to gaudy RBI numbers.

The next three years, ages 30-32, Bucker put up OPS+ of 119, 130, and 116. He had a high average and what were, at that point, the three highest slugging percentages of his career. His unintentional walk rate was mostly unchanged.

Buckner reverted to a 101 OPS+, following it up with seasons of 91 and 106. Decline and injuries set in, and he retired six years later with a 99 mark.

Buckner did not have the extreme power upsurge that Garret has enjoyed, but his value as a hitter was strikingly similar.

Dante Bichette was another free swinger. He had a career OPS+ of 106, but put up a 130 at age 31. This was his only season near such a level. As he only posted one, and not two seasons at this level, it’s hard to say that he’s a proper comp for Anderson. However, the way he reverted to his career norms after the 1995 season demonstrates how difficult and rare it is for a player like Garret to sustain that early-30s improvement.

Brady Anderson had a career OPS+ of 108. By age 32, the highest he had ever achieved was a 128 at age 28. Then at age 32, he had a ridiculous, home run-powered 157. He maintained a 128 the next year, then dropped to 103 before posting a 125. That was pretty much it, he put up a 106 before finding the cliff.

B. Anderson had much more value walked up in walks than G. Anderson (as well as speed, but I’m looking strictly at hitting here), so he is not a good comp stylistically, though their value was similar.

Doug DeCinces, through age 29, had a lifetime OPS+ of 111, powered mostly by a 149 season at age 27. Following that up with two seasons of 100 and 98, his OPS+ from age 30 through 36 were: 128, 149, 126, 110, 105, 112, 95.

DeCinces had more walks and a lower batting average than Garret, but their isolated power was very similar. However, Garret has never shown what DeCinces did in that age 27 season. But he is like Anderson in that he maintained a sustained peak in his early 30s.

There are certainly other comps I couldn't think of. The similar players listed at Baseball-Reference are not very similar in value, thanks to changes in various eras.

But looking at these other players, I would not be surprised if, over the course of his four years, Garret Anderson:

-- has one season with an OPS+ around 130;
-- has one season slightly lower, in the 120 range;
-- and has two seasons below 110 and closer to his career mark of 106.

Which makes him look even more overpaid than I thought. From the Angels' perspective, his contract is frontloaded; he should be at his best near the beginning, when he is the cheapest. He will likely be vastly overpaid by the end of his contract. I don't think it will hurt the team, so this doesn't bother me, but it certainly wasn't the best option.

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