Not a day goes by that I don't spend a few minutes looking at baseball-reference.com. If you're into the history of the game, it's pretty addictive.
One cool feature of the site are the similarity scores. It's a Bill James-created concept that assigns a numerical value to every player in history, so as to allow easy comparisons. The site has a pretty clear explanation of how it works, but basically it involves subtracting points from a beginning number of 1,000 based on statistical differences. There are three columns for each offensive player: similar batters, similar batters through a player's current age and similar batters by specific season-by-season age.
Take Nationals' face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman, for instance. The top three similar batters, career-wise, are Corey Koskie, Whitey Kurowski and Chris Sabo. None of those names are likely to show up on a plaque in Cooperstown, but let's keep in mind that Zimmerman has had two seasons in which injuries forced him to miss in excess of 50 games. The top three similar batters through age 26 are Harlond Clift, Scott Rolen and Eric Chavez. (By the way, if you're not familiar with names like Kurowski or Clift, look 'em up. Both pretty solid players in their day.) Chavez and Clift also show up in the similar batters by specific age, covering the last two seasons. For his first four seasons, he's most similar to Ken Keltner, a third baseman for Cleveland from 1937-49 that many consider Hall-worthy.
We can all agree that Jayson Werth had a disappointing first season in a Nats uniform. Put aside the size of his contract for a moment and ask yourself what players he resembles historically. According to Baseball-Reference, the top three are Chet Laabs, Jeffrey Hammonds and Tony Conigliaro. Hammonds, the former Oriole and National, is also on the similar batters through age 32 with Mack Jones and Brad Hawpe, a list that also includes ex-Senators slugger Jim Lemon. In the season-by-season column are Ricky Ledee (26), followed by Gates Brown, Glenallen Hill, Craig Wilson, Brad Hawpe and Mack Jones.
Most observers look at Ivan Rodriguez as a future Hall of Famer, but do any current Hall members show up in his similarity scores? No. 1 on his list of similar batters is another "Pudge," Carlton Fisk. Further down that list are two other catcher inductees, Gary Carter and Yogi Berra.
Here's the rub, from my perspective: The player who matches up with Rodriguez most closely between 22 and 34 - his prime years - is Ted Simmons. Simmons, a switch-hitting catcher who played 21 seasons in the big leagues, has solid credentials, and it's a mystery as to why he's not already in the Hall of Fame.
It's a fun exercise if you've a working PC with Internet access and hours to waste. Or like me, you just can't will yourself to fall asleep some nights.