There's been some discussion lately of Mark Teixeira and his greatness — whether he's been great, is great or will continue to be great over the life of an eight-year deal, as he is likely to receive.
Baseball-Reference is a help in this, as it posts similarity scores for players that, while having lots of problems, at least give us something off which to work. Let's take a look at some ways of comparing Teixeira to these 10 players.
The 10 players, ranked in order from most to least similar to Teixeira through age 28, are:
- Carlos Delgado
- Kent Hrbek
- Fred McGriff
- Jim Thome
- Will Clark
- Jeff Bagwell
- Willie McCovey
- Richie Sexson
- Shawn Green
- Paul Konerko
Not a bad group. When it's all said and done, there could be as many as four Hall of Famers on that list, plus Fred McGriff and Will Clark, who were no slouches with the stick for lengthy periods of time.
B-R already does some nifty things with this group, averaging out their performance through any age you so desire, and after any age you so desire, then using that average and applying it to Teixeira and guessing at how his career will finish out.
For the record, here's what it says:
- Teixeira through age 28: .290/.378/.541, 203 HR, 676 RBI, 442 BB, 694 K, 134 OPS+
- 10 players through age 28: .287/.378/.520, 181 HR, 588 RBI, 447 BB, 673 K, 134 OPS+
- 10 players from age 29: .279/.383/.512, 216 HR, 698 RBI, 593 BB, 768 K, 130 OPS+
So far, his 10 comparable players have averaged eight seasons played after age 28 — a bit misleading since four are still active.
The five listed retired players (Shawn Green hasn't been updated as a retired player yet) average nine years played with a line of .283/.387/.505 for an OPS+ of 133. They range from McCovey's 14 years at a 147 OPS+ to Hrbek's six years at a 122 OPS+.
Some of these players have more similar career arcs than others, however. Let's look at the respective careers by OPS+, year by year, for Tex and his top five comps:
Asterisks are seasons that were more than 80 but fewer than 100 games. I didn't list seasons of fewer than 80 games.
So there's a bit of a gamut to be run here. Four of the five peaked quicker than Teixeira, posting an OPS+ better than 120 at age 23 and 145 or better at age 24. Delgado was also a bit of a slow starter, breaking out at age 26, before maintaining a 145 or better level from essentially then on until age 32, where he settled more or less into a 125-130 range. Hrbek was rookie of the year candidate and stayed at essentially the same level from his debut until age 29/30, after which he dropped off the table.
McGriff was a lot like Hrbek in that he broke out early, then maintained that level for some time, but his level was in the 150-160 range through age 30, then instead of falling off a cliff, he tailed down to a 110-120 level with some flashes thrown in for nearly another decade. Thome was even better, posting a 157 in his first full season, then ranging between 150 and 170 almost uninterrupted through age 32. Since then he's still been between 140-155 more often than not. Clark had a solid first season and immediately jumped to a 150 or better level through age 28, then hovered between 120 and 130 through the end of his career.
None of them really has the arc of Teixeira, who had a league-average rookie season, then ramped up to a 130-140 range, then further ramped to 150. Delgado seems the closest. Regardless, only Hrbek failed to finish his age 36 season, though McGriff did have some mediocre (for him) years in between 28 and 36, as well and Clark tailed off before resurging late.
What does that tell us? Frankly, I don't know. It shows how different players who overall appear similar on paper actually can be in real life. Teixiera is listed at 6-2, 215, roughly the same as Delgado (6-3, 220) and McGriff (6-3, 215), lighter than Hrbek (6-4, 235) and bulkier than Clark (6-1, 190) or Thome (6-4, 220, which strikes me as pretty laughable).
Sometimes I go into little studies like this with an idea of what the data will show me. I didn't have any idea what the data would say going into this one. Unfortunately, coming out of it, I'm not sure either.
There's very little to suggest Teixeira will suddenly fall apart like Hrbek; his incline is more gradual than Hrbek's and he's in better shape. That he could be merely a good player going forward instead of the great one he's been — like Clark — is a more realistic fear, but Clark was on the way down by age 28; Teixeira just posted his career-best OPS+. Conversely, Thome was already much better than Teixeira by now and continued that for quite a long time.
Delgado and McGriff seem to be the best matches for what Tex is doing now. One of them inexplicably stopped producing at age 30 and became a good-not-great player. The other maintained a high level of production in a gradual downward pattern as he drew closer to 40. Both players also have the same listed body types as Teixeira.
The $160 million (or thereabouts) question is which one will he become?