Monday, August 22, 2011

Melky Cabrera Comps

There's a post up today on the baseball-reference.com blog about players who had a 124 OPS+ or higher in their age 26 season after never having one at 96 in a full season previously. The list appeared to be inspired by Melky Cabrera, though he shares very little in common with nearly all of them. The full season is an important qualifier because the vast majority of players mentioned were highly productive before turning 26 but had never received 502 plate appearances in a season. Andy Van Slyke, for instance, had 1732 PA's between 1983-1986 and had an OPS+ above 100 every year, but he's only on the list because Whitey Herzog didn't trust him versus left-handed pitching.

Cabrera, meanwhile, has been an everyday player since the age of 21. Whether he deserved to be or not is open to interpretation. Here's his yearly OPS+ numbers.

Year Age PA OPS+
2005 20 19 14
2006 21 524 95
2007 22 612 88
2008 23 453 68
2009 24 540 93
2010 25 509 83
2011 26 563 123
The writer never suggests these are Cabrera comps, but just guys who bloomed at age 26. Fair enough, but I want Cabrera comps. So here's what I did, I searched for players since 1950 who had received 2000+ PA's before their age 26 season and had a career OPS+ between 80-89 (notice that Cabrera is firmly in the middle). The goal was to find guys that were as similar to Cabrera as possible.

Besides Cabrera, there were only 25 other players.
Rk Player OPS+ PA From To Age
1 Jose Lopez 89 2977 2004 2009 20-25
2 Jose Oquendo 89 2202 1983 1989 19-25
3 Steve Sax 89 2691 1981 1985 21-25
4 Ron Hansen 89 2038 1958 1963 20-25
5 Don Money 88 2097 1968 1972 21-25
6 Ed Kranepool 88 3217 1962 1970 17-25
7 Luis Castillo 87 2449 1996 2001 20-25
8 Rick Manning 87 3227 1975 1980 20-25
9 Bill Russell 87 2533 1969 1974 20-25
10 Kurt Stillwell 86 2342 1986 1990 21-25
11 Bill Mazeroski 86 3792 1956 1962 19-25
12 Melky Cabrera 85 2657 2005 2010 20-25
13 Leo Cardenas 85 2269 1960 1964 21-25
14 Glenn Hubbard 84 2633 1978 1983 20-25
15 Jerry Remy 84 2488 1975 1978 22-25
16 Juan Uribe 83 2337 2001 2005 21-25
17 Brian McRae 83 2122 1990 1993 22-25
18 Juan Pierre 82 2288 2000 2003 22-25
19 Aurelio Rodriguez 82 3521 1967 1973 19-25
20 Tony Taylor 82 2320 1958 1961 22-25
21 Corey Patterson 81 2335 2000 2005 20-25
22 Derrel Thomas 81 2514 1971 1976 20-25
23 Luis Rivas 80 2056 2000 2005 20-25
24 Bucky Dent 80 2512 1973 1977 21-25
25 Dalton Jones 80 2006 1964 1969 20-25
26 Mike Hershberger 80 2109 1961 1965 21-25
Next I checked every player's age 26 OPS+ to see how many managed a 120 or higher. Only two players on the above list accomplished this - Ed Kranepool and Steve Sax.


Kranepool had a 124 OPS+ in 1971, this number would end up being a career high. He posted a 110 OPS+ at 27 and would later hit 120 twice more in his career. However none of these - including his 26 and 27 years -  were accomplished in a 500 PA season. So he's not the ideal Cabrera comp since he wasn't a full time player when he busted out or after.

Sax had a 137 OPS+ in 1986, like Kranepool this would be the best season of his career. He slipped back to his career numbers at 27 when he put up a 87 OPS+ in 1987, which is weird since 1987 saw an offensive explosion. He would have just two other seasons above 100 the remainder of his career. From age 27 to the end of his career he had a 92 OPS+, which is close to his pre-26 89. This is not a comp that inspires confidence that Cabrera's emergence can be repeated.

What I think we've learned here is that Cabrera is having an improbable season, though given his career numbers entering 2011 we probably already knew that. But still, I guess I was hoping for a more significant precedent.

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