The U Files #33: Past Players/Future Projections

The Mets were a popular favorite after a blizzard of trades and signings remade the team before the 2002 season. However, new additions Roberto Alomar and Jeromy Burnitz were total failures and the team was the biggest dud in baseball. After the fact looks at similarity scores indicate that some decline should have been expected. Here we will look at the future of 2003 newcomer Tom Glavine.

Similarity scores are a method invented by Bill James that finds players similar to a given player. The system gives past players points for statistical similarities with a given player. The points are added up to compile a list of the past players most similar to the player on trial. The careers of these similar players can then be used to give insight into the possible future of a player.

A look at Tom Glavine's ten most similar players courtesy of puts him in good company. Catfish Hunter, Juan Marichal, Whitey Ford, and Jim Palmer are Hall of Famers. The list also includes Vida Blue (Cy young award winner in 1971), Orel Hershiser (Cy Young award winner in 1988), and Luis Tiant. But, we already know Glavine is a great pitcher. He is also 36 years old. We should be looking out for him to decline soon. How much longer is he likely to last? Lets see…

Of Glavine's comparables, Vida Blue (#2) pitched his last season at age 36, Catfish Hunter (#3) didn't pitch past the age of 33, and Charlie Buffinton (#10) pitched his last season at age 31. They're of no help.

Bob Welch (#1) pitched until the age of 37, but worked just 68.2 innings to an ERA of 7.08. He had been in decline since his age 33 season.

Juan Marichal also pitched his last season at 37 and was in decline since his age 33 season. Marichal's 1971 was the last time his ERA was lower than the league average, and his innings fell from 279 to 165 to 207, and then below 100 for good.

Billy Pierce (#8) pitched his last baseball at the age of 37. His innings fell steadily from his age 32 season on, though he remained slightly above average except for his age 36 season.

Jim Palmer remained effective through his age 36 season, but fell off a cliff thereafter. His age 37 and 38 seasons totaled less than 100 IP, and he posted ERAs of 4.23 and 9.17. He was out of baseball for good after that.

Orel Hershiser (#4) pitched until he was 41. He remained above average through his age 38 season. At age 39 he pitched 202 innings, 8 percent higher than league average in ERA for the Giants. At age 40 he pitched 179 innings to an ERA+ of 96 for the Mets (four points worse than average). At age 41, he pitched just 24.2 innings.

Luis Tiant (#6) pitched until he was 41. He remained above average through his age 38 season. Tiant pitched 212.1 innings to an ERA+ of 125 at age 37, and 195.2 innings to an ERA+ of 105 at 38. Thereafter, his innings and performance fell off sharply.

Another list has Glavine's 10 most comparable pitchers through age 36. Blue, Welch, Palmer, and Marichal are on this list as well. The third pitcher on the list, Roger Clemens, is active and still going strong.

Jack Morris (#4) held on until he was 39, but wasn't the same after his age 36 season. At age 37, he pitched 240.2 innings, but was just about average. The next two years he came in below 200 IP each and was below average by 29 and 16 points.

Burleigh Grimes (Hall of Famer, seventh on the list) pitched up to the age of 40 but worked his last good season at age 37. After that season, he fell off in both innings and ERA.

Warren Spahn (HOFer, # 8) is a beacon of hope. He pitched until the ripe old age of 44. More to the point, he was effective through his age 42 season, after which he fell off.

Jim Kaat also stuck around until he was 44, but not with the success of Spahn. At age 37, he was just about average in pitching 227.2 innings. Past that age, he was no more than a stopgap.

Bob Gibson (HOFer, #10) lasted to the age of 39. In his age 37 season, he was 32 percent above league average. In his last two yeas, he was below average.

With the exceptions of Clemens and Spahn, there are few encouraging signs among Glavine's most similar pitchers. It is reasonable to expect a good showing in 2003, but we should expect that by the third year of his contract that Glavine will be a strain on the team.

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