Wait, so the Red Sox could have a lineup this season that includes Ryne Sandberg, Duke Snider, Craig Biggio, and even Willie Mays Aikens?
Well, no. That’s absurd. That would be a very old and rickety team. Not to mention that Snider, the Brooklyn Dodgers legend, is no longer with us, having gone to the Great Ebbets Field in the Sky in 2011.
What I meant to say is that the Red Sox will have a lineup this season that includes players who are strikingly similar statistically to Sandberg, Snider, Biggio, Aikens (a personal favorite), and many more.
Explanation: One of my favorite features of what is indisputably the single most important invention of the late 20th century — right, baseball-reference.com — is the similarity scores section near the bottom of each player’s page. This feature offers, among other insights, a top-10 list of the historical players most similar to this individual statistically through his current age.
For example, Biggio, the Astros’ Hall of Fame catcher/second baseman/outfielder, is the third-most similar player numbers-wise to Dustin Pedroia statistically through their age-32 seasons (Pedroia’s current age). David Ortiz’s most similar player at age 40 was Frank Thomas. J.D. Drew’s most similar player at 27 was Babe Ruth multiplied by Willie Mays plus Roberto Clemente squared. OK, it was Bobby Higginson. You get the gist.
It’s always fun to take a look at Red Sox players’ comps before a season begins, mostly for amusement, but occasionally for context, too. They don’t just confirm what a player has done so far, but sometimes they supply a clue about where players are headed.
With that in mind, here’s a look at the top three player comps for each Red Sox batter that looks like he might end up on the Opening Day roster. I’ll do the same with the pitchers Wednesday.
Comps through age 32: Michael Young, Joe Mauer, Craig Biggio.
Not bad company, huh? Among them, this trio has four batting titles (three for Mauer, one for Young) and a Hall of Fame plaque. Pedroia would retire a Hall of Fame lock if he can even approach Biggio’s longevity — he played at least 141 games in every season from age 35 to 41.
Comps through age 21: Not enough data available.
He has 381 plate appearances above Single A, and he may end up batting third more than occasionally for a team that led the majors in runs last season by more than 100. If that doesn’t tell you that the Red Sox are convinced he’s a future superstar — and in the near future — I’m not sure what would.
Comps through age 23: Duke Snider, Grady Sizemore, Tommy Davis.
Sizemore, who was the most well-rounded young player in the American League a decade ago before injuries derailed his career, is a spot-on comp for Betts’s skill set. Davis hit .346 with 230 hits and 153 RBIs for the 1962 Dodgers as a 23-year-old. But the most interesting comp here is Snider, because he is not the first iconic ’50s center fielder to whom Betts draws heady comparisons. Willie Mays might be the greatest ever to play. He’s as close as it gets to incomparable. Yet there he is, 10th on Mookie’s list and perhaps first stylistically. Can the Red Sox please give him a blank check and a 10-year-deal already?
Comps through age 32: David Wright, Ryne Sandberg, Miguel Tejada.
A first-ballot Hall of Famer (Sandberg), a former MVP (Tejada), and rarest of the rare, a superstar Met who also happens to be wholly likable (Wright). Ramirez’s career has occasionally been dotted with self-inflicted controversies and frustrating injuries, but these comps serve as a reminder of the high-level company he keeps on most days. When he’s right, he’s a truly great hitter.
Comps through age 23: Fred Carroll, Jim Fregosi, Jose Reyes.
The players with whom we most associate the Red Sox’ charismatic shortstop (and the Netherlands’s selfless third baseman) are his contemporaries, fellow next-generation dynamos such as Houston’s Carlos Correa and Cleveland’s Francisco Lindor. So it’s somewhat surprising to see a pair of old-schoolers show up atop his similarity list. Carroll isn’t just old school, actually. He’s ancient-school. He led the league in OPS as a 24-year-old while playing for Pittsburgh in ’89. That’s the Pittsburgh Alleghenys, in 1889. Fregosi is of somewhat more recent vintage, having received Most Valuable Player votes in eight consecutive seasons (1963-70) as the Angels’ shortstop. His greatest contribution to the franchise came with his departure when he was dealt to the Mets before the 1972 season for erratic fireballer Nolan Ryan.
JACKIE BRADLEY JR.
Comps through age 26: Mike Cameron, Nick Esasky, Josh Reddick.
Forget the 37-year-old version of Cameron the Red Sox brought in a year or three too late back in 2010. This is a perfect comp for Bradley. Cameron won three Gold Gloves, hit 20-plus homers eight times, and struck out over 140 times in eight seasons. Have to say, I did not expect to see one-year Red Sox wonder Esasky show up on this list. Here’s hoping JBJ never gets vertigo.
Comps through age 29: Wil Cordero, Tim Wallach, Jim Tabor.
At 29, Wallach, a stellar third baseman for the ’80s Expos, hit .298/.343/.514 with 26 homers, 42 doubles, and 123 RBIs. I’d take that batting average and half of that production from Sandoval this season and call it a success. I’m just going to ignore that Cordero comp, thanks.
Comps through age 30: Bob Robertson, Dick Gernert, Willie Mays Aikens.
In 2015, Moreland hit 23 homers with an 812 OPS in 471 plate appearances. If he can come close to that after hitting .233 with a .720 OPS last year, the Red Sox will have a very useful player, especially if he continues to defend at a Gold Glove level. He’s never been the hitter Aikens was, though.
Comps through age 27: Not enough data available.
His out-of-nowhere .310/.369/.476 slash line last year brought his career numbers up to .254/.319/.362. The latter seems like a realistic expectation for his production this year. If he hits .300 again this year, I’ll douse his left shin guard in balsamic vinaigrette and eat it for a Tuesday afternoon snack.
Comps through age 32: Mike Cameron, Ruppert Jones, Jose Cruz
Hey, another Cameron comp. So I guess this is who Jackie Bradley Jr. eventually becomes.
Comps through age 28: Marv Owen, Marlon Byrd, Jim Bucher.
If you prefer the symmetry of comparing him to another former Red Sox utility guy, Steve Lyons is seventh on his list.
Comps through age 27: Frank Parkinson, Brendan Harris, Billy Martin.
If he ever sucker-punches a marshmallow salesman, this comp will make more sense. Marco Hernandez, who is battling Rutledge for a backup spot, has just 51 MLB at-bats and doesn’t have a comp yet.
Comps through age 25: Not enough data available.
But any Molina brothers in the non-Yadier division work for me.
Follow Chad Finn on Twitter at @GlobeChadFinn.