Monday, October 1, 2007

One of these things is not like the other

Buried deep in Buster Olney's most recent blog entry at ESPN is this note:
The Marlins will consider all options this offseason, perhaps even the trade of Miguel Cabrera. Marlins executives should know Cabrera and his habits better than anyone, and they have to ask themselves this question: Do they think that the 24-year-old Cabrera will get a handle on his physical condition and expanding waistline?

If they don't believe he will, they should look to move him ASAP, while his trade value is still extraordinary. If he arrives in spring training appearing heavy and has any kind of physical breakdown in 2008, his trade value will plummet, because rival talent evaluators will attribute his problems to his conditioning.

The Marlins' working model for this situation should be Kevin Mitchell, a staggering talent who hit 47 homers and drove in 125 runs at age 27, and then was basically finished as an everyday player within two years because of his condition. Cabrera could be one of the greatest hitters of his generation, but at some point, he will need to make an adjustment.
Let me begin by saying that I do not mean to quibble with Olney's chief assertion. It is entirely possible, more so than with most Major League Baseball players, that Miguel Cabrera will eat himself out of the Hall of Fame. Furthermore, it may indeed be the right idea for the Marlins to trade him, because he would certainly fetch a ginormous bounty. I don't believe either of these events are likely, but they certainly should be scenarios of which the Marlins should be aware.

No, my quibble is with the astonishing choice of comparison for Mr. Cabrera: Kevin Mitchell. This is a very bizarre and inaccurate selection. Kevin Mitchell is nearly the poster child for an above average baseball player's career path: breaks into the majors in his mid twenties, peaks at age 27, and then slowly declines for 5 or 6 years. I will admit that I do not know the details of Mitchell's career and that the chief reason for his decline is not a decrease in his rate of production, but in his playing time.

However, to compare him to Cabrera is astonishingly foolish. Let's look at Cabrera and Mitchell year by year using WARP3:

Age: 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28
Cabrera: 2.5 6.7 9.4 11.5 10.9 ??? ??? ??? ???
Mitchell: N/A N/A -0.1 N/A 4.1 5.7 6.7 12.8 8.6

29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36
Cabrera: ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ??? ???
Mitchell: 5.3 3.8 4.8 8.0 0.3 2.2 -0.1 -0.1

Folks, Miguel Cabrera has had one of the best starts to a career ever. He broke in as a rookie for the Marlins' World Series run in 2003, serving as a huge lift and a big threat for the latter half the year. He then made himself a perennial MVP candidate by the age of 22. Simply great baseball players do not do that. Alex Rodriguez does that. Ken Griffey Jr. does that. Barry Bonds does that. Inner circle Hall of Famers do that.

Kevin Mitchell wasn't a regular until he was 24, and even then didn't play in 140 games until he was 26. Miggy has played in 150+ games since his first full season. Heading into his age 25 season, Miggy has roughly 40 WARP3. Mitchell had 4 WARP3 at that point. He had only 61.9 for his whole career.

Essentially, Kevin Mitchell is a bad comp for Miguel Cabrera. In fact, just about every ballplayer ever is a bad comp for Miggy (those named Mantle, Mays, and Rodriguez excepted). Miguel Cabrera is on track to be one of the greatest baseball players who ever lived. Kevin Mitchell was never even close to that. Ever. Busting out at age 27 is just far too common to serve as the basis for comparison to a man who put up MVP numbers at ages 22, 23 and 24.

Miggy may eat his way out of greatness, but the Marlins should absolutely not proceed like Miguel Cabrera is Kevin Mitchell. Indeed, they would be much wiser to treat him as if he were Frank Robinson, Ernie Banks, Eddie Mathews, or Lou Gehrig. Each of these players is more comparable to Cabrera than Mitchell.


die Amerikanerin said...

Is there any difference between WARP and WARP3? You don't have the latter posted under your list of terms on the side. I looked this time.

John Lynch said...

They both measure the same thing.

WARP comes in three flavors. WARP1 is adjusted for things within the season in which it was compiled. WARP2 is adjusted for these things and also adjusted for changing level of competition over time. WARP3 is adjusted for all of these things and also for the length of the season in which it was compiled. This makes WARP3 the preferred version of WARP for comparing players who played at different times.

Jack Lynch said...

It always totally amazes me that players with that kind of talent don't work their tails off to keep it going. It seems to me the height of ingratitude to the One who gave them the talent in the first place.