A Connecticut Astro in Queen Elizabeth's Colony

January 21, 2021
 
You could almost do a list of comparable players named George.
 
You’d have George Bell, George Brett, George Foster – three MVP’s - George Hendricks, George Scott, George Kell, George Sisler (another MVP). High Pockets Kelly was a ‘George’, which I didn’t realize.
 
If you took all of those players and tossed them into a blender you might come out with a player profile that looks a fair bit like George Springer, the Toronto Blue Jays new outfielder. I don’t recommend doing this, of course: you’d make a terrible mess.
 
But that detail is an interesting lead-in to George Springer, who recently signed a six-year contract to play for Canada’s team. Springer is a baseball player of diverse skills: he has power like Bell or Foster, he’s a capable defensive player like Hendricks or Brett. He’s decently tall: he probably has some clothes with higher pockets than mine.
 
So let’s find a few comparable players for Mr. Springer, and see what Toronto can expect going forward.
 
*            *            *
 
Let’s start with Springer. Instead of trying to pro-rate his 2020 batting line to a full season, I’m going to just use his last four seasons, which tallies 453 games. We get these counting stats:
 
Name
G
PA
HR
R
RBI
SB
George Springer
453
2027
109
347
284
18
 
Rate stats:
 
Name
BB%
K%
ISO
AVG
OBP
SLG
George Spranger
10.8%
18.9%
.238
.278
.364
.515
 
And fWAR tallies:
 
Name
wRC+
BsR
Off
Def
WAR
George Spronger
139
-0.9
96.9
-5.3
15.9
 
That is four years of data, but we’re going to go ahead and pretend it’s Springer’s three season tally, comprising his Age-28 through Age-30 seasons.
 
To find a list of comparable players, I asked the absolutely fantastic and useful FanGraphs dataset to provide a list of qualified outfielders, and their production between Age-28 through Age-30. I limited the list to player from the past fifty years, 1970 to 2020.
 
(If you have spare money, consider purchasing a membership to FanGraphs. They need the support, and they provide a great service. And while you’re at it, consider tossing something to Baseball-Reference and Wikipedia, too.)
 
The FanGraphs database gave me a list of 423 players to cull down. I started culling.
 
I like to do this semi-blind, not really looking at whom I’m cutting until after I decide on the benchmark. This is a little bit of a gimmick exercise, in case you haven’t caught on. We’re just having fun.
 
George Springer has an Isolated Power (ISO) of .238. ISO is slugging percentage minus batting average, by the way.
 
-          I started with ISO. I cut a couple handful of players who had ISO’s of .300+. This included players like Barry Bonds, Sosa, Manny, Ken Griffey, Larry Walker…super elite hitters. I also cut a bunch of players whose ISO was under .160. John Kruk was at .159: he’s not a good parallel to Springer. That got us to 217 names.
 
-          Springer is a good defensive outfielder, though he isn’t elite. I don’t like dWAR, but I decided to cut players on the extremes of that metric: +25 defensive runs saved (Andruw Jones, Chet Lemon, Jesse Barfield, Kevin Kiermeier, etc.) and -25 (Jack Clark to Adam Dunn). I lost a few fun compares to dWAR’s hatred of 80’s outfielders (Andre Dawson, Dave Parker), but…what are you going to do?
 
-          Springer is a decent baserunner, though no one would mistake him for Vince Coleman. Springer’s BsR (baserunning runs above average) was -0.9.  I cut fifteen players who had 10+ baserunning runs (Carl Crawford, Carlos Beltran), and players who were -6.0 runs or worse (Tom Brunansky).
 
-          I then cut the lesser HR hitters: if you weren’t above 75 HR, you were cut.
 
That got us to just twenty-three names, a manageable total.
 
-          I checked on walk rate. Springer walks in 10.8% of his plate appearances. I cut two elite walkers from the list: Jose Bautista and Brian Giles. I cut six players who walked in fewer than 7.5% of their plate appearances…guys like Blackmon and Car-Go and Tony Armas.
 
-          Springer’s strikeout rate is 18.9%...I removed two slightly better contact hitters: Vlad (10.1%) and Chipper Jones (11.6%). Vladdie’s strikeout rate exactly paralleled his walk rate (10.1%) for the years were considered.
 
That’s down to thirteen players. I look at outliers in the statistical record to remove the last three. Naming names:
 
-          I chopped Gorman Thomas. Thomas was a good athlete as a young man, and he shared Springer’s big-but-agile frame. But Thomas struck out a lot relative to his era, and was heading to a permanent DH role in his early thirties.
 
-          I cut Raul Mondesi because he wasn’t actually very good. FanGraphs credits Springer as posted a 15.9 WAR, while Mondesi is at 6.0. His numbers look similar, but it was a high offense moment, and Mondesi wasn’t really in the same class as Springer as a hitter.
 
-          I cut Justin Upton. Just too many strikeouts (28.6%).
 
So that left us with a list of ten players. Counting stats first:
 
Name
G
PA
HR
R
RBI
SB
Matt Holliday
453
1968
77
296
300
51
George Foster
437
1881
122
289
367
10
Jim Rice
408
1822
80
227
285
2
Cliff Floyd
403
1663
77
266
250
36
Carlos Lee
476
2041
100
290
329
43
G. Springer
453
2027
109
347
284
18
Ray Lankford
414
1754
77
275
266
80
Nelson Cruz
360
1473
84
199
241
46
An. McCutchen
466
2010
75
266
263
28
Reggie Jackson
439
1831
92
265
288
70
Jeromy Burnitz
444
1848
98
264
313
34
 
So one of our George’s - the Big Red Machine’s George Foster – makes the list. We have two Hall-of-Fame players in Reggie and Rice, and a decent candidate in Andrew McCutchen. Springer, given a little extra playing time, comes out ahead of the group a little, but a lot of that is extra plate appearances from being a leadoff hitter in Houston.
 
Rate stats:
 
Name
BB%
K%
ISO
AVG
OBP
SLG
Matt Holliday
10.9%
15.1%
.213
.315
.397
.528
George Foster
10.1%
18.6%
.280
.301
.375
.582
Jim Rice
7.7%
15.1%
.200
.301
.358
.501
Cliff Floyd
11.2%
16.4%
.247
.300
.385
.547
Carlos Lee
8.3%
11.7%
.227
.290
.348
.517
G. Springer
10.8%
18.9%
.238
.278
.364
.515
Ray Lankford
13.5%
21.0%
.244
.282
.378
.526
Nelson Cruz
8.1%
21.4%
.256
.278
.338
.534
An. McCutchen
11.9%
19.5%
.192
.275
.367
.467
Reggie Jackson
11.3%
18.9%
.237
.272
.356
.509
Jeromy Burnitz
12.8%
21.3%
.264
.271
.372
.534
 
From a slugging perspective, Foster and McCutchen are the two poles in an otherwise close-knit group. Holliday has a little distance from the pack on on-base percentage and batting average. Maybe that’s a Coors effect.
 
Name
wRC+
BsR
Off
Def
WAR
Matt Holliday
144
9.8
116
-6.3
17.5
George Foster
157
-1.2
123.8
3.4
19.6
Jim Rice
132
-1.6
65.3
-1.8
12.7
Cliff Floyd
140
9.6
94.8
-24.8
12.3
Carlos Lee
119
1.3
50.6
-24.5
9.2
G. Springer
139
-0.9
96.9
-5.3
15.9
Ray Lankford
135
4.4
82
20
15.4
Nelson Cruz
124
1.8
44.6
-4.2
9.4
An. McCutchen
124
-2.5
55.5
-15.9
10.7
Reggie Jackson
151
6.5
108.3
-12.4
16.6
Jeromy Burnitz
130
-1.9
70.2
-3.2
12.4
 
Again, Springer tends to lie in the middle here, which is just what you’d want to see. And…just image-wise…there is no one who seems like a poor match. They’re all good players, and most of them were hard-working, hustling players. No one was a clubhouse malcontent (unless I’m missing something).
 
Springer was a first-round selection. Do you know how many of the ten players were first-round picks?

Half. Rice, Floyd, McCutchen, Reggie, and Burnitz were first-rounders. Foster (3rd round), Lankford (3rd), and Holliday (7th) were lower selections. Cruz and Lee were international draftees.
 
Before we go forward, we should ask what we’re looking to answer through this exercise.
 
We are not looking for a calculation: I don’t want to say "George Springer can be expected to hit about 130 homeruns for Toronto," or "George will provide about 15 WAR over the duration of the contract."

Instead, what we’re looking for is a reasonable range of outcomes. Taking ten players who are like George Springer, what are some potential outcomes? What is a best-case scenario? What is aworst-case scenario? What is the middle?
 
*            *            *
 
We can say some things at the start: all ten players declined defensively, and nine of the ten declined as baserunners, with only Cliff Floyd continuing to be a positive baserunner.
 
That’s what you’d expect for Springer, and certainly the Canucks aren’t paying him with an expectation that he’ll outpace Whit Merrifield in stolen bases this year. He’s a capable centerfielder, but he will likely shift to a corner in a couple years. Maybe Cavan will follow in his father’s footsteps and shift to centerfield.
 
So it’s really about offense. And there are three possibilities:
 
Scenario 1: Springer has a great mid-thirties run, gets a candy bar named after him.
 
Name
G
HR
R
RBI
SB
AVG
OBP
SLG
wRC+
WAR
Reggie!
806
183
472
562
45
.280
.372
.527
148
21.2
Holliday
761
115
436
458
18
.283
.374
.476
137
17.9
N. Cruz
889
217
499
591
23
.279
.348
.528
137
19.8
 
Jackson, Holliday, and Cruz were all productive in their mid-thirties, hitting lots of dingers, making All-Star teams, and collective MVP votes during most of their seasons.
 
More notably, Jackson and Holliday were key cogs on winning baseball teams, which is what the Blue Jays are hoping they have in Springer. He doesn’t have to be the best player on the team – and it is unlikely that he will outperform Bichette or Guerrero – but he can be a reliable contributor to the offense.
 
Scenario 2: Springer ages like a 70’s superstar, gets a few decent seasons before crashing.
 
Name
G
HR
R
RBI
SB
AVG
OBP
SLG
wRC+
WAR
Lankford
616
97
322
317
57
.272
.370
.494
123
11.4
G. Foster
835
133
405
506
9
.263
.327
.443
115
12.7
Jim Rice
755
106
426
497
9
.285
.344
.449
113
11.9
J. Burnitz
905
176
501
526
31
.247
.334
.469
103
11.3
 
Foster and Rice, league MVP’s in 1977 and 1978, each managed a third-place finish in the MVP vote during their thirties. Foster had a strong swan song in Cinncinati, hitting 23 homers over the strike-shortened 1981 season, while Rice finish 3rd in the 1986 AL MVP vote, on the strength of a .324 batting average and 110 runs driven in.
 
Ray Lankford has perhaps the best season of his career at thirty-one, topping 100 RBI for the only time in his career. But the Cards were a third-place team, and most of the attention that year was on McGwire’s chase of the homerun record.
 
These are six-year totals, which means that we’re looking at players who produced about two WAR a year. Much of that production is clustered towards each players’ younger years: by the tail of these contracts, these players were struggling to produce at a replacement level. Jeromy Burnitz bucked the trend a little: his best year was his fifth year, when he went to Colorado and received some down-ballot MVP votes for a 37-homer season.
 
In this scenario, Springer’s value to Toronto hinges more on the immediate future. The Jays are certainly aiming to contend in 2021, so it’s not impossible that a Springer-following-Foster pays out for the team. That said, the Jays are still a team more promising than promise keeping: if they need a little longer to grow into contenders, this version of Springer will be more of a hinderance than a help.
 
Scenario 3: Injuries and time take their toll, and Springer is something of a bust.
 
Name
G
HR
R
RBI
SB
AVG
OBP
SLG
wRC+
WAR
Cliff Floyd
558
83
257
289
30
.265
.350
.455
109
6.2
Carlos Lee
896
137
405
581
29
.283
.337
.466
112
8.0
 
Carlos Lee’s production isn’t drastically far from the group ahead of him: he gets dinged by one season that FanGraphs rates as being -1.7 WAR, but he’s not far off from Foster or Lankford.
 
And Cliff Floyd got injured: we’ve looked at nine players so far: it’s not unfathomable that at least one of them would get injured. Like Lee, Floyd would probably rate with the tier above them if he has stayed health.
 
The Undecided one
 
The oddball…the comparable I should have probably cut from the list…is Andrew McCutchen.
 
I thought McCutchen was thirty-five or thirty-six years old, but he’ll actually be entering his Age-34 season this year, so we don’t quite know where he’ll settle, among this group.
 
We don’t know, but we can guess: McCutchen had a solid start to his Phillies career in 2019, but he struggled in 2020, and it seems unlikely that he has another good year left in the tank. I hope I’m wrong: there aren’t many players who are easier to root for than Cutch.
 
*            *            *
 
That’s a quick-and-dirty effort to give us some expectations: there is a chance that Springer will perform at an All-Star for most of the next six years, but it’s more likely that the Jays will get one or two years of excellence, and then solid production. I think it’s unlikely that he will flame-out: McCutchen and Floyd feel like the two least convincing comparables from this sorting exercise.
 
Do I like the deal?
 
I am on the fence. I like Springer and root for him, and I like Toronto and I’m rooting for the team. And I understand the team’s motivation: the Jays were looking for an impact player to add this offseason, and Springer certainly ticks that box.

But investing in a corner outfielder entering his thirties is the kind of move that has limited upside. Springer is safe safe bet - his range of skills means that he will continue to be an effective player if some of his skills decline a tad – but he isn’t likely to have better seasons going forward. He has the potential to swing the Blue Jays fortunes somewhat, but he isn’t locking up the pennant. That work is on the kids.
 
 
David Fleming is a writer living in western Virginia. He welcomes comments, questions, and suggestions here and at dfleming1986@yahoo.com.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

COMMENTS (6 Comments, most recent shown first)

evanecurb
It's a great deal for 2021-22; we'll see about the tail end of the contract. The Boo Jays can make a run while the Red Sawx are back on their heels. It's a good move for them. They will score a lot of runs this year and next. Not sure who's going to pitch.

But let's talk about what really matters - how this affects the Orioles....It doesn't, really. The O's are still three years away from contending. By that time, Guerrero and Bichette might be playing for the Dodgers and Angels, and Springer will be in his mid thirties.

So here's to a Blue Jays-Twins ALCS and a Toronto-San Diego World Series! I like it when teams decide to go for it. I just hope their fans are allowed into the ballparks to enjoy it.
11:41 AM Jan 22nd
 
bhalbleib
I think Bill somewhere on here recently suggested that the kind of behavior that Martin exhibited in the BIG blowup with Reggie was ending right about then. I cannot remember what manager he was talking about (Leo Durocher maybe?), but he essentially said that in the 70s, managers stopped publicly humiliating their players. When Martin pulled Reggie off the field and then berated him on the top step of the dugout in June of 1977, that was kind of a last hurrah for that type of managerial behavior. And I think Reggie absolutely had a right to be super angry at that type of behavior from his manager. BTW, if you watch the clip I saw on YouTube all the way through, it's Billy who has to be restrained from physical assault, not Reggie. Reggie pretty reasonably just walks away and then Billy has to be restrained by Elston Howard, Dick Howser and Yogi Berra.
9:46 AM Jan 22nd
 
DaveFleming
While Jackson enjoyed the limelight and didn't get along with Martin, he was a hard worker who never had a poor season. And the Yanks reached three World Series (and another ALCS) during Jackson's five-year stint in the Bronx: I think the malcontent thing was mostly a) a personality clash between him and Martin, and b) a story that sold papers.

But I'd be interesting to hear from people who were on the scene. As an aside, there's a very underrated Spike Lee movie about the Son of Sam killer which has a lot of Reggie Jackson in it. At one point a character theorizes that Reggie is SOS because the bullets were .44 caliber, and Jackson wore number 44.
8:54 AM Jan 22nd
 
StatsGuru
Reggie Jackson might reasonably be seen as a poor clubhouse guy.
6:11 AM Jan 22nd
 
tickeno
As a Jays fan I wonder what they are gonna do with four outfielders. Grichuk is hopless but the Jays owe him a ton of money and seem to think he can help the team. Lourdes Gurriel and Teoscar Hernandez are interesting players, neither is a CF, and Grichuk isn't either, so Springer will probably get the job. Rowdy Tellez leaves a lot to be desired, I love the name and the power, the fielding and strike zone knowledge are lacking. Maybe Springer will play 1B, at least against lefties. I like Springer so we will see.
2:51 AM Jan 22nd
 
doncoffin
FWIW, Baseball Reference has these 10 guys as Springer's closest offensive comps through age 30 ("similarity scores" in parentheses; I don't regard any of the similarity scores as being really high):

Eric Davis (953.5)
David Justice (951.0)
Tony Conigliaro (947.0)
Jay Buhner (945.7)
Kevin Mitchell (945.7)
Richard Hidalgo (943.2)
Kirk Gibson (942.0)
Wally Post (936.8)
Reggie Sanders (935.1)
Jim Edmonds (929.5)
9:34 PM Jan 21st
 
 
©2021 Be Jolly, Inc. All Rights Reserved.|Powered by Sports Info Solutions|Terms & Conditions|Privacy Policy