Erick Aybar: Is Chico the Man?

By now you should be familiar with the comp-exercise; read all about it in the Napoli/Mathis entry, and check out K-Mo and Howie Doubles when you're done. On to the Angels' slashy shortstop and leadoff hitter, Erick Aybar.

#comps: 28
topper: .264/.311/.370, 90 OPS+ Gene Alley
middle: .280/.319/.365, 87 OPS+ Julio Franco
ourboy: .285/.324/.383, 85 OPS+ Erick Aybar
bottom: .252/.328/.320, 74 OPS+ Ricky Gutierrez

Top-125 Rankings in Bill James' 2001 Historical Abstract? Dave Bancroft 28, Julio Franco 46, Eddie Joost 54, Freddie Patek 73, Greg Gagne 79, Scott Fletcher 84, Chico Carrasquel 89, Gene Alley 91, Craig Reynolds 112. If James made a new list in 2010, Miguel Tejada would almost certainly be top-25.

Any other interesting people on this list? Dave Bancroft's in the Hall of Fame, though he doesn't deserve to be. And Eddie Joost -- now there's an interesting career (what was it about late-1940s infielders named Eddie who only figured it out by around their 30th birthdays and then just walked and walked like bastards, a half-century before Michael Lewis thought to write about baseball?).

In your heart, you know this comp is right: Oh, don't think I wasn't tempted to say Julio Franco. After all, take another gander at their stat lines above; there's no one within shouting distance of that dead-ringer similarity, and it's always nice to discover that the numerical comp just so happens to be a guy who ended up with 2586 hits and played until he was 53 years old. But here's the problem: I remember well when Julio Franco came up. Whereas Erick Aybar is a lethal, angular whippet, doing most of his slash-and-burn from the left side of the plate, Franco was a right-handed menace of steel-cable rope-muscle, ready and willing to thump you silly with his big-ass bat. The only question about Aybar coming up was whether he could hit; the only question about Franco was whether he could field. This comp just won't do.

Surprisingly, given the position, neither do many others. When you think of "Erick Aybar type," does Dale Sveum come to mind? Greg Gagne? Kevin Elster? And it's not just the Anglo/Latino, or 2000s/1980s divide, either -- I'm not getting the Aybar vibe from Orlando Cabrera, Alex Cintron, and Yuniesky Betancourt, either. Maybe Julio Lugo, in terms of being a super-fast SOB with sharp elbows, but Lugo always seems like he's looking for the quickest exit out of the stadium, while Aybar acts like he owns the damn baseball field (and don't even get me started on the showers).

Let's try another tack: How about players who, like Aybar, progressively got better while progressively getting more opportunity so that by the time they were 25 they were pretty damned good? That leaves us with basically Miguel Tejada (who hit 21 home runs at age 25) and Gene Alley. Still not seeing it.

In looking for a great glove man who competed like a bastard and surprised you a few years with his hitting, all signs point to just one shortstop: Chico Carrasquel. Same OPS+ as Aybar through his age-25 season, though he got there with more walks and less power (.273/.347/.347). Like Aybar he was from the Caribbean (Venezuela instead of the D.R.), like Erick he had an older relative who paved the way before him (Uncle Alex instead of Brother Willy). Like Aybar, Carrasquel was probably ready for a full-time job by age 23, but had a good player on a great team ahead of him (Pee Wee Reese on the 1949 Dodgers, O-Cab on the 2007 Angels), in organizations crawling with future big-league shortstops of the same age (Rocky Bridges, Bobby Morgan, Buddy Hicks, Sean Rodriguez, and Brandon Wood, for starters). The Dodgers traded Chico to the White Sox for a pile of money; the Angels made room for Erick by trading Cabrera to the White Sox for one year of Jon Garland and a #48 draft pick.

Carrasquel, who would be known as "Alfonso" if he was playing in our less-racist country today, was the first Latino to make an All-Star team, which he did four times (he also received MVP votes in two years, and was the 3rd place Rookie of the Year in 1950). He scored 100 runs once, made a couple of Top-10s in doubles, drew as many as 85 walks and hit as many as 12 home runs. Never had an OPS+ higher than what Erick Aybar did last year, and in fact I think it's reasonable to expect Aybar to do everything just a bit better than Carrasquel except draw walks. That, and hopefully he'll still be playing baseball at age 34.

Other interesting facts about this group? After Robin Yount moved to center field, the Brewers' starting shortsops were, in succession: Ernie Riles, Dale Sveum, Bill Spiers, and Pat Listach. All four are on Erick Aybar's comp list.

Next up: The biggest question of all, Brandon Wood!

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