One of the main White Sox related plot lines on Jack’s Twitter Machine this off-season is who everyone likes in the free agent pool to fill the Chicago Winter sized Pot Hole in Right Field. There’s a contingent that likes Nick Castellanos, but for all intents and purposes, the mob (more accurately “the Outfit” as this is Bridgeport after all), believes that he’s not in Jerry Reinsdorf’s fiscal plans.
The reasons for each player range far and wide. The various explanations also span from hilarious to pure fantasy. Regardless, both are reasonable choices and I’d personally be happy with either. So why the consternation about either of these men becoming the new White Sox Right Fielder. Even Ryan McGuffeyis a little nervous about Michael Conforto.
I LIKE TO THINK,
THAT I KNOW WHY
WHITE SOX FANS ARE UNEASY…..
The issue here is Dread Risk. What’s dread risk? See below.
Now the luminaries Nomar Mazara and Adam Eaton basically gave the White Sox zero and that fucking sucked, but they didn’t sink the Titanic so to speak on the White Sox playoff hopes. But as the Detroit Tigers have started to show some signs of life, it’s not out of the question that in the short term, making another critical error in solving Right Field won’t yield catastrophic results.
My man Nassim Taleb says that this sort of concern is a survival mechanism in humans. As a fan of a sports team, I think it is also a reasonable approach to thinking through our main two choices for Right Field. Let’s do that…
What’s the approach? I went to Baseball Reference and ran some comparables based on each players career numbers. Let’s see what the old Stathead database pulls out…
Let’s BRef our way to an answer…Conforto first
I just took a spread on Michael Conforto’s current stats through his 28 year old season and extended the comp cut-off to age 30. This list is from 1978 to today. A few quick notes. I should’ve added a qualifier for batting average, as a lot of these players are higher batting average players, while Conforto is not. He hit .232 last year and only has a .255 career average, so let’s eliminate anyone in this group ,275 or over.
That eliminates all but 4 players. One more qualifier. George Springer is more Center Fielder than Right Fielder in his career up to this point. He only played Right Field that often because Houston would often use Center Field to put in a speedster, no bat player.
So we got our comparable players. Now Conforto is going to sign with someone (possibly the White Sox) starting with his age 29 season. Let’s look at how these players do in their age 29 and after seasons. We’ll use 3 total years to mirror a likely contract.
Burnitz spent his age 29 season (and 30 and 31) in Milwaukee. It was 1998 and he whalloped 38 HR 125 RBI to go along with an .838 OPS and 118 OPS+. His age 30 season was even better from a rate perspective, he hit 33 HR while sporting a .402 OBP .939 OPS and 143 OPS+ (that’s 43% above league average). His age 31 season, he smacked over 30 home runs again (31 to be exact) while his rate stats fell some, .818 OPS and 106 OPS+. Still above average, no real collapse here.
What about Nick Swisher?
Swish spent his age 29 thru 31 seasons with the New York Yankees and he was incredibly fucking consistent. He exceeded 80 runs scored and 80 RBI in every one of those seasons, while posting OPS+ totals of 129, 120, 125 (remember 100 is league average and every point above is a % higher than league average). Very good seasons. He also hit 29, 23 and 24 home runs. No collapse.
Jay Buhner last…Frank Costanza was correct. Jay Buhner was a got-damned monster in his age 29-31 seasons….see below.
Mercy! Well, once again, no collapse in these very similar hitters. Let’s move along to Marte.
Let’s BRef our way to an answer…Marte Now
The first thing that hit me very hard when running Marte’s query is that he’s a very special player. That’s right. Two specific-ish comps in the last 43 years. I know in the modern game players don’t run that much and Marte’s stolen bases (296 career) set him apart. But this is ridiculous. I ran his peer group query as players with & 250 stolen bases and that clearly created this small group but to hit like he’s hit AND steal bases like this, he’s quite the weapon.
Even more insane is that Marte stole 47 bases in his age 32 season. I don’t think these guys stole that many after 31 years old combined. So maybe Marte is essentially peerless at this point, but let’s dig in anyways.
Carlos Beltran is a very likely hall of famer and he’s the first Starling Marte comp I want to tackle. Since Marte will sign somewhere (possibly with the White Sox) in 2022 at age 33, I figured it makes sense for us to review Beltran’s 33, 34 and 35 year old seasons.
Beltran actually missed a fair amount of time in his age 33 season to injury (with the Mets), still turning in an above average performance at the plate, but a subpar Beltran-like performance. Beltran’s age 34 season (splitting the season between the Mets and Giants), he was excellent, posting a .910 OPS, 154 OPS+ (that’s monstrous). His age 35 season was also well above average in St. Louis in which he banged 32 HR 97 RBI with an .828 OPS and 128 OPS+. Another outstanding season.
I remember Ray Lankford. I can’t say I would’ve ever thought I’d be writing a White Sox blog that contained ol’ Ray, but here we are.
Lankford’s 33 year old season (in St. Louis) and 34 year old season (split between the Cardinals and Padres) were very solid Lankford type seasons, with power and on base skills and OPS+ of 117 and 120 respectively. However, he only made 472 and 459 plate appearances respectively. His age 35 season was even less plate appearances, presumably due to injury and a severe drop off in performance, 88 OPS+. His career was over 2 seasons later.
So who should the White Sox choose?
The analysis would seem to lead to Conforto as being a “safer” bet to not totally collapse, but then again, Marte is coming off a total ass-kicker season and Conforto not so much, so who knows? Marte also appears to be a very special player given his limited comps and the type of things he’s still doing at his age 32 season.
My honest thought is that I don’t think we should have much dread risk with either choice. That’s a nice feeling. Let’s get one of these done Rick.