Juan Rivera: Like an Atlanta Falcons Safety?

Let's see, where were we? Yes -- comparing current Angels to their historical positional counterparts who produced roughly the same value. Methods explained here; most recent exercise was for Maicer Izturis. On the infield, I've posited the following comps:

Mike Napoli: Tom Haller
Jeff Mathis: Eli Marrero
Kendry Morales: Andres Galarraga
Howie Kendrick: Jose Vidro
Erick Aybar: Chico Carrasquel
Brandon Wood: Kelly Gruber
Maicer Izturis: Brendan Harris

Since the infield is all guys entering their primes, these made for the most speculative fun (though we'll also have some giggles with the equally young rotation). The outfield, on the other hand, is filled with more settled guys. Well, except for the weirdly shaped career of Juan Rivera.

For Juancho, my search terms here required 40% of your games either in RF or LF, since there isn't an option on Baseball Reference's Play Index that produces "X% of your games in either of the corner outfield spots." From that list I weeded out those who hadn't played more than 50% of their games total in the corner outfield spots, since there's no reason for us to be talking about Al Bumbry or Elston Howard here. Finally, since searching in the usual band of +/- 10 percentage points of our subject brought forth 94 results, I tweaked it to +/- 7. This makes sense, if you think about it -- the more a player plays, the less likely he's going to deviate from his career path. Enough talk, more rawk!

#comps: 55
topper: .265/.360/.467, 114 OPS+ Jayson Werth
middle: .283/.330/.455, 108 OPS+ Brian Jordan
ourboy: .285/.331/.470, 107 OPS+ Juan Rivera
bottom: .264/.317/.413, 100 OPS+ Junior Felix

Top-125 Rankings in Bill James' 2001 Historical Abstract? Out of those 55 players, around 9 had their salad days after James' book. So of the 46 remaining, just 6 made his cut, and barely: Dante Bichette 90 (RF), Jim Lemon 97 (RF), Jimmy Slagle 101 (CF), Bake McBride 107 (RF), Charlie Hemphill 118 (CF), Roy Johnson 125 (LF). Two sluggers, three singles hitters, and one in between (Hemphill). Juan most resembles Lemon/Bichette.

Any other interesting people on this list? Three of the players were involved in three of the worst trades in Angel history -- Dante Bichette (who was given away for the bloated corpse of Dave Parker), Junior Felix (who was brought over to peter out while Devon White blossomed in championship Toronto); and Chuck Hinton, who was brought in at age 34 to hit .195 for a season of utility work in return for 24-year-old starting center fielder Jose Cardenal, an already quality player with 1600+ more hits in his bat. This latter was, I think, the worst trade in Angel history.

Other Angels on this list include Lou Clinton (the prize for coughing up Lee Thomas), Bo Jackson; and a personal fave of mine LeRoy Stanton, who came over in the best trades in history, Jim Fregosi for Nolan Ryan.

In your heart, you know this comp is right: Check out how similar Brian Jordan's career was to what Juan Rivera's has been. Look at their per-162 game stats (which includes the second, very productive half of Jordan's career):

JR 162 533 69 152 29 23 86 2/4 37 .285 .331 .471 107
BJ 162 574 84 162 30 20 91 13/5 39 .282 .333 .455 104

Really damned similar, no? Rivera hits for a tad more power, Jordan had more speed (a lot more speed, actually, given that he played safety in the NFL), though the visible advantages on counting stats are limited to a modest number of stolen bases, runs, a handful more triples, and a few less GIDPs. In terms of that curious new thing called "batters box offense," the two are clones.

There are some anecdotal similarities too. Both players had a helluva time winning starting jobs, long after their talent would have suggested. Both exacerbated that problem with some severe injuries. Jordan didn't get enough plate appearances to qualify for a batting title until age 28; Rivera (incredibly) did so for the first time last year, at age 30. Both broke into the big leagues under Manager Joe Torre, who was a major reason they couldn't get a start in edgewise. (Though the early 2000s Yankees were a much better team than the early '90s Cards, Rivera actually has a bigger beef on this front than Jordan -- he was a much better hitter than the football player in the minor leagues, and the Yankee outfielders Rivera toiled behind on the depth chart included such unproductive has-beens as Raul Mondesi, Rondell White, Shane Spencer, and John Vander Wal. Jordan? He was a late-bloomer who happened to be the exact same age as a productive Cardinal outfield of Ray Lankford, Bernard Gilkey, and Mark Whiten.) I have a whole rap about how Mike Scioscia's usage of Juan Rivera cost the Angels the division in 2006, but I'll save it for now.

More similarities: Rivera hit .307 at age 25, and still couldn't get a job; Jordan hit .309 at 26, and ditto. Rivera hit .310 with power at 27, then missed most of the next year with a major injury. Jordan .310 with power at 29, then missed most of the next year with a major injury. Both topped out at 25 home runs and threw out more than 10 baserunners three times, though Juan could certainly pass both of those (especially if his 31-35 stretch at all resembles Jordan's). Rivera was once traded for a moody, temperamental and talented right fielder who had worn out his welcome for a Southern California team; Jordan was once traded for a moody, temperamental and extraordinarily talented right fielder who had worn out his welcome for a Southern California team, and so on.

The $9.5 million question: Can we expect Rivera to mimic Jordan's quality early-30s run? I would guess not quite, though the next two years should be some of the more cost-effective slugging in baseball. Jordan was still a great athlete at 31, stealing 17 bags (against 5 caught stealing), hitting 7 triples, batting .316, scoring 100 runs, and playing widely acclaimed right field (plus 33 games in center). Now, uh, imagine Juan Rivera playing CF.... Athleticism isn't the only thing, certainly, and judging by that 800-foot home run in Toronto the other day, Juan's power advantage over Jordan appears to be holding up. So I'd put Juan at maybe a 5 percent discount next to Jordan, though let's not pretend any of this is scientific.

Other interesting facts about this group? It's definitely a "type," usually quality hitters hobbled by a fatal flaw or run of bad luck. Something was just off about Leon Roberts. Wally Westlake was delayed by military service. Jim Lemon, Bill James wrote, "should have hit 400-500 homers in his career, but didn't get to play more than a few gams until he as almost 30 because of military service, bad luck, and the very visible holes in his game." Henry Rodriguez got a late start, raked for 4 or 5 years, then went away, a common pattern in this group. Phil Plantier. Gary Redus. Marty Cordova. Hopefully Juan will transcend those guys a bit.

Next up: You can Hula, and maybe you can Dula, but can you Hula Dula, the Domino Rula?

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