The Pharoah's Contemporaries

How do you find comps for a middle infielder who's good enough to start (with an OPS+ of 98 through ages 25-28), but lucky enough to play for a really good team in the process of developing Howie Kendrick, Erick Aybar, Alberto Callaspo, Alexi Casilla, Sean Rodriguez and Brandon Wood? Well, you can't, really -- it's vanishingly rare for a SS/2B who hits that well and doesn't suck defensively to remain stuck in a utility role during his prime years. Usually he gets traded.

So let's run the numbers on Maicer Izturis and see what we come up with. For the purposes of this exercise (whose methodology is explained in this post), I required the hitters to have played at least 10% of their games at each of 2B, SS, and 3B through their age-28 year. Bring on the utilities!

#comps: 16
topper: .254/.338/.355, 96 OPS+ Tony Phillips
middle: .267/.324/.396, 91 OPS+ Brendan Harris
ourboy: .278/.343/.393, 93 OPS+ Maicer Izturis
bottom: .259/.309/.326, 84 OPS+ Bobby Valentine

Note: As I mentioned in my first post of this series, I take mild liberties in choosing people in the above categories. For instance, Pete Kilduff is truly the toppermost of the poppermost here, with an OPS+ of 98 through his age-28 year, but A) who the hell is that?, B) it's a dude whose career started during WWI, and C) there was a very recognizable guy in the number-three slot.

Top-125 Rankings in Bill James' 2001 Historical Abstract? Tony Phillips 67 (RF), Jerry Lumpe 76 (2B), Tommy Helms 99 (2B), Danny O'Connell 117 (2B), Vance Law 121 (3B).

Any other interesting people on this list? What, Tony Phillips and Bobby Valentine weren't interesting enough for you? Specs Toporcer was, it says here, the first major league position player to wear glasses while playing. He later became blind. Johnny Burnett hold the record for base hits in a Major League game (9). But you knew that.

In your heart, you know this comp is right: Brendan Harris. Born three weeks earlier than Izturis, essentially the same career numbers, the same resume (filling in at SS/2B/3B when Plan A falls through), and the same current job (4th infielder deluxe on a playoff perennial). They both played for Montreal's AAA affiliate Edmonton in 2004 (Izturis at short, Harris at third), and both got called up to the big club late in the season. Still, Harris is a good deal bigger (listed at 6'1", 205), hits right-handed, and is a native New Yorker; and both his stat lines and playing time are declining in a way that Izturis' are not (OPS+s of 106, 94 and 77 the past three years; number of games 137, 130, 123). Macier had 730 plate appearances through age 25, Harris 120. There are similarities, but not in the way that Kelly Gruber jumps out as a comp for Brandon Wood. Omar Infante, another contemporary player, is a decent match for Izturis, as well. Those two, Harris, Christian Guzman, and Felipe Lopez might be the best backup infielders in the game right now.

To get to Maicer's age with his hitting ability, yet with only the equivalent of 3+ years of full-time at bats, invariably means that something went wrong. Either injuries cut you down (Bobby Valentine), inconsistency took a bite out of your prime-years playing time (Tony Phillips, Mark Loretta), the depth chart was unusually deep at your position (Jerry Lumpe on the 1950s Yankees, Felix Mantilla on the '50s Braves, Bob Johnson on the '60s Orioles, Tommy Helms on the '60s Reds, Infante on the recent Tigers), some flaw in your game prevented you from impressing or sticking until a comparatively advanced age (Jose Hernandez, Vance Law), or there was a combination of most of the above (Pete Kilduff). Maicer is very unusual in this group in that both his playing time and output has been pretty stable so far, and likely will remain so the next three years. This is a testimony both to the depth of the Angels' talent, and the infrequently appreciated bedside manner Mike Scioscia has with players who are good enough to start, yet don't.

Other interesting facts about this group? Because of the various reasons described above, plus some unknowable X factors, a whole hell of a lot of these guys had career years that positively dwarfed their second runners-up, particularly in the power category.

Take Felix Mantilla best two seasons, in an 11-year career:

1964 29 133 425  69 123 20 30  64  0/1  41 .289 .357 .553 144  19
1965 30 150 534  60 147 17 18  92  7/3  79 .275 .374 .416 119  15

In only one other season did Mantilla hit as many as 11 homers.

Or look at how many career highs Mark Loretta put up in 2004, his age-32 year. The second line represents his second-best totals in each of those categories. 

108 208 47 16  76 58 .335 .391 .495 138  33   
 93 185 34 13  72 54 .314 .372 .441 120  24

Jose Hernandez, too, peaked at the unusual age of 32 (120 OPS+ and 19 Win Shares, compared to 100 and 16 in his second-best season). You can pull a Loretta-like exercise with Jerry Lumpe's age-29 season, too:

 PA  AB  R   H  2B 3B HR RBI   BA  SLG OPS+ WS
700 641  89 193 34 10 10  83 .301 .432 104  19
688 624  81 167 29  9  8  59 .293 .392  97  18

Tony Phillips played 18 seasons, yet his two highest home run totals both came in his mid-30s, in seasons shortened by strikes: 1995 (when he hit 27 at the age of 36), and 1994 (19, at 35). His 3rd highest total (17) came at 32, and 4th highest (15) at 40. It may be hard to imagine now, especially considering that the 1995 season was for the Angels, but all the way through age 31 Tony Phillips was *less* -- not more, *less* -- a power hitter than Maicer Izturis is right now.

Does any of this indicate that we're about to see a power surge from Mighty Maicer? I don't think so, no. Phillips' transformation coincided almost precisely with the league-wide power spike, which began in 1994, accelerated through two waves of expansion and the biggest turnover in ballparks in ML history, and has long since flattened out. Mantilla's career went from artificially blunted in Milwaukee, to artificially goosed in Fenway. Lumpe's age-29 year was a peak, not a GTF outta here spike. Loretta, well, I don't know what the hell happened to him.

Maicer seems like a good bet to hit .290/.350/.410 for the next three years of infield freakout insurance, which is a luxury not a single other Major League team can claim. Not bad.

Previously in this series: Mike "Tom Haller" Napoli, Kendry "Big Cat" Morales, Howie "Vidro" Kendrick, Erick "Chico" Aybar, and Brandon "Kelly Gruber" Wood. On to the outfield!

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