What did the future once hold?

Several years ago, when I apparently had more time than I knew what to do with, I ran some young players through the old Brock2 projection system introduced by Bill James back in the day. I provided a projection for the 2003 season and also for each player’s age 27 season. Now that we know the outcomes, let’s look back and see how Brock2 did.

Adam Dunn

Projected Actual
BA OBP SLG BA OBP SLG
2003 .265 .401 .523 .215 .354 .465
Age 27 .289 .428 .617 .264 .386 .554
Comp Brian Giles Troy Glaus

Dunn had just completed his first full big-league season, hitting .249/.400/.454 at age 22. First off, here’s your list of players in the expansion era who have posted a .400 or better OBP at age 22 or younger:

That’s one Hall-of-Famer and three mortal locks, if you’re keeping score at home. Guys just don’t do what Dunn done did. Especially the bit about striking out 170 times, which probably should have provided a clue.

Dunn hasn’t touched the .400 OBP mark since then, although he’s come close a few times. The main problem is that he can’t hit even .250, which in a way makes his offensive exploits that much more impressive. Dunn has hit 40 or more homers and drawn 100 or more walks in each of the past five seasons. That makes up for a lot.

Nick Johnson

Projected Actual
BA OBP SLG BA OBP SLG
2003 .247 .335 .413 .284 .422 .472
Age 27 .270 .362 .485 .290 .428 .520
Comp David Segui Willie Aikens

Johnson actually has been better than expected—when healthy. Unfortunately, Johnson has missed most of the past two seasons due to injuries and, despite solid qualitative numbers, hasn’t really been able to get his career on track. I can’t seem to find the spreadsheet I originally used to calculate this stuff, but I’m betting that Brock2 had Johnson with more than 81 homers to his name by this point.

Felipe Lopez

Projected Actual
BA OBP SLG BA OBP SLG
2003 .256 .312 .430 .213 .313 .299
Age 27 .278 .344 .496 .245 .308 .352
Comp Miguel Tejada Jay Bell

You can disregard the Tejada comp, because it turns out he was lying about his age. In theory, though, that should have helped Lopez. Eh, go figure.

As it happened, Lopez didn’t even claim a starting job in 2003. His qualitative numbers were way off the projection, but he still had youth on his side. (Another former Reds shortstop once suffered through a brutal season at age 23, and he turned out okay.)

Lopez had one really good season, back in 2005. He hit pretty close to his peak projection (.291/.352/.486), so maybe we should give Brock2 partial credit for getting the numbers right but the year wrong. Actually, if you add two years to his age, like Tejada…

Corey Patterson

Projected Actual
BA OBP SLG BA OBP SLG
2003 .248 .275 .385 .298 .329 .511
Age 27 .282 .320 .461 .269 .304 .386
Comp Steve Finley Devon White

What we didn’t know at the time is that Patterson can’t hit. He fooled us a bit in ’03 before turning into an outmaker of Morenoesque proportion.

White isn’t a fair comparison—Patterson would kill for a career .306 OBP (come to think of it, even Omar Moreno managed that much). It’s a testament to the power of being a former first-round pick that Patterson remains in the big leagues today.

Carlos Pena

Projected Actual
BA OBP SLG BA OBP SLG
2003 .257 .336 .486 .248 .332 .440
Age 27 .270 .351 .544 .235 .325 .477
Comp Shawn Green Jay Buhner

Here’s an interesting name. It’s easy to forget that Pena was a rising star (well, sort of; he’d hit .242/.316/.448 in 2002 at age 24 and already been traded three times) before falling off the proverbial radar and finally emerging with Tampa Bay several years later. It’s good to see someone rewarded for persevering. Too often life isn’t like that.

The ’03 projection is fairly accurate, but Pena’s actual age 27 performances pales in comparison to what Brock2 predicted. Right about then, he was looking like the new Travis Lee.

Of course, Pena went on to hit .282/.411/.627 in 2007, at which point Brock2 and my head both exploded. What can I say? Stuff happens. That’s why we keep watching. (Because sometimes players do unexpected things, not because someone’s head might explode—just want to be clear on that.)

Albert Pujols

Projected Actual
BA OBP SLG BA OBP SLG
2003 .329 .405 .609 .359 .439 .667
Age 27 .350 .431 .702 .327 .429 .568
Comp Manny Ramirez Jimmie Foxx

Did you ever think that comparing a player to Manny Ramirez might not do a guy justice? I mean, Ramirez is a sure-fire Hall-of-Famer, but Pujols is… just ridiculous.

The age 27 projection looks particularly bad because that’s the one year Pujols didn’t break a .600 SLG. That effort was sandwiched between a .331/.431/.671 line and a .357/.462/.653 line so we’ll cut him some slack. The point is, his projected numbers don’t seem implausible. If you didn’t know better, and I slipped that line in amongst his others, you probably wouldn’t object.

All seven of Pujols’ most similar players through age 28 that are eligible for the Hall of Fame are in it. Ken Griffey Jr. and Vladimir Guerrero will be there, too, one day. That leaves Juan Gonzalez, who is so easily the weakest player on the list that he probably doesn’t even belong on it.

Alfonso Soriano

Projected Actual
BA OBP SLG BA OBP SLG
2003 .283 .314 .497 .290 .338 .525
Age 27 .311 .347 .588 .290 .338 .525
Comp Jeff Kent Raul Mondesi

Notice anything unusual? I’ll give you a hint: His actual 2003 and age 27 performances are identical, but the projections are not. The problem, as you may recall, is that Soriano aged a couple years one offseason. (In his defense, getting traded to the Rangers will do that to a guy.)

If he were still the age we thought he was, and if he could still play second base, he’d be in the midst of a borderline Hall-of-Fame career. In real life, Soriano is a fine player who has a fat contract and who would seem a decent candidate to see his game deteriorate at any moment.

The similarities between Soriano and Mondesi at this stage in their respective careers are kind of creepy:

G BA OBP SLG OPS+ HR SB
Alfonso Soriano 1205 .282 .329 .518 116 270 248
Raul Mondesi 1450 .276 .333 .491 115 264 229

Mondesi hit .272/.343/.484 in his age 32 season and then hit .225/.291/.367 over parts of the next two seasons before retiring. Yeah, this is only one data point and no two snowflakes are alike, but it’s hard not to be a little nervous.

Vernon Wells

Projected Actual
BA OBP SLG BA OBP SLG
2003 .292 .325 .477 .317 .359 .550
Age 27 .310 .351 .541 .303 .357 .542
Comp Preston Wilson Carlos Lee

Wells broke out in a big way in 2003. Actually, it looks like he may have peaked then, at age 24. Then again, his numbers have been all over the map, so it’s hard to say for sure. Either way, that age 27 projection is pretty spot on.

Amusingly (or not), Mondesi shows up on Wells’ list of comparables through age 29 at Baseball Reference. Oh, and for grins, here’s how Wells and Wilson stack up for their careers (both of which have spanned 10 years to this point, although Wilson’s appears to be over):

G BA OBP SLG OPS+ HR SB
Vernon Wells 1078 .283 .332 .480 109 177 67
Preston Wilson 1108 .264 .329 .468 103 189 124

I’d say that’s a reasonably solid match.

Conclusion

None, really; we’re just having some fun. Still, some closure would be nice. Okay, then, here’s your conclusion: Apparently I still have too much time on my hands…

References & Resources
Baseball Reference, as usual. The spreadsheet used for calculating Brock2 projection is available at Sean Lahman’s Baseball Archive.

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