Twins Daily: ZiPS player comparisons for the starting 9 of the 2020 Twins

These comps are really fun!
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Byron Buxton

Dan Szymborski’s ZiPS Projections for the 2020 Minnesota Twins was released a few weeks ago at FanGraphs and today we’ll take a look at the player comparisons. Along with statistical predictions for each player’s 2020 season, ZiPS lists a player whose career and statistics most closely mirror the current player. The comparisons should mainly be viewed as entertainment.

I now present you with the player comparisons for the starting nine of the 2020 Minnesota Twins (in no particular order):

Miguel Sano – Jay Buhner (1987 – 2001, 22.3 fWAR)

Wait a minute…wasn’t Buhner a right fielder? The Twins aren’t thinking of…? Don’t panic! When Sano jogs out of the dugout he’ll be sure to stop at first base. Not all player comps are a match positionally. However, having spent countless hours of my youth with Buhner’s Seattle Mariners while playing La Russa Baseball on my Sega Genesis, I can confirm that Buhner wasn’t much better than Sano in right. His feet seemed to be stuck in quicksand, but if he ever got to the ball he could fling it with the best of ‘em. Those were the days, but I digress.

What we’re interested in here is the offense and I think the comparison is quite apt. Buhner was no stranger to the long ball, as he hit 40 or more home runs in three straight seasons from 1995-1997. He also took more than his fair share of walks, twice led the league in strikeouts, and battled injuries throughout his career.

Josh Donaldson – Ron Santo (1960 – 1974, 70.9 fWAR)

The further along a player is in his career, the easier it is to find an appropriate comparison, and Ron Santo seems like a good fit for Josh Donaldson. Both play third base and are great on both sides of the ball. Santo is a Hall of Famer and nine-time All-Star, while Donaldson has an MVP and has made three All-Star Game appearances. Santo burst onto the scene as a 20-year-old while Donaldson was more of a late bloomer, but Santo played his last game as a 34-year-old, which is Donaldson’s current age.

Max Kepler – Trot Nixon (1996 – 2008, 22.4 fWAR)

Like Kepler, Trot Nixon spent most of his career playing right field, but he did spend limited time in center during his peak. Nixon hit for a career 115 wRC+, while Kepler currently sits at 102 wRC+ for his career. But Kepler premiered at a younger age than Nixon and Kepler’s 4.4 fWAR in 2019 was topped only once by Nixon. While Nixon had a fine career, he had his last good season as a 31-year-old, so Kepler will certainly hope to have more longevity.

Jorge Polanco – Jorge Orta (1972 – 1987, 12.1 fWAR)

They got the name right! I don’t think anybody lauds Jorge Polanco as a great defender but he clearly brings more value than his first-name mate. Orta played all over, but mainly second base, right field and DH (his DH status should tell you he wasn’t highly regarded as a defender). He was a two-time All-Star and his 107 wRC+ perfectly matches Jorge Polanco’s thus far, but Polanco clearly has more upside. His 4.0 fWAR is 2019 tops any of Orta’s career and even if Polanco doesn’t stick at short long-term he will bring more defensive value than Orta.

Luis Arraez – Dustin Pedroia (2006 – present, 46.6 fWAR)

This is a fun comp. Both players debuted as 22-year-olds (though Pedroia had only 98 plate appearances), are small in stature, and walk about as much as they strike out. Arraez has the potential to be the better offense force, as his 125 wRC+ as a rookie tops Pedroia’s career 115 wRC+. However, if Arraez hopes to have a “Pedroia-like” career, his bat will have to carry him, as Pedroia is the superior defender at second base.

Nelson Cruz – Fred McGriff (1986 – 2004, 56.9 fWAR)

The Crime Dog makes an appearance! McGriff got off to a faster start than Cruz, but as you’d expect, their careers are strikingly similar. Both players have accumulated three Silver Slugger awards, while Cruz edges McGriff out in All-Star appearances, 6-5. McGriff has a 134 wRC+ while Cruz sits at 132 wRC+. McGriff has the edge in career home runs at 493, while Cruz has 401. Both will have finished with great careers that will likely keep them just short of the Hall of Fame.

Byron Buxton – Devon White (1985 -2001, 41.8 fWAR)

No Mike Trout? Devon White will do. White was a great defensive center fielder who had a great three-year stretch (’91-’93) for the Toronto Blue Jays when he put up 6.4, 5.9, and 5.4 fWAR respectively. White topped Buxton’s 111 wRC+ of 2019 only once in his career and Buxton can play center as well as anyone, so the potential for more is there with Buxton, but he must, of course, stay healthy.

Eddie Rosario – Garret Anderson (1994 – 2010, 24 fWAR)

Garret Anderson was about as walk-averse as Eddie Rosario, as he had just a 4.7% career walk-rate (Rosario is at 4.4%). And like Rosario, he brought some pop to the lineup, hitting 28 or more home runs four times in his career and twice leading the league in doubles. When all was said and done, Anderson was about a league-average hitter and a below-average defender, which is similar to what Rosario has been.

Mitch Garver – Steve Yeager (1972 – 1986, 18.5 fWAR)
This is my least favorite comparison (though I don’t love Polanco’s either). Part of it is due to the fact that I know very little about Steve Yeager. After I bit of research I have learned that he was a good defensive catcher, below average offensively, and had some really nice sideburns. Garver’s short career combined with his breakout in 2019 makes finding a good comparative player quite the challenge, but Garver’s 2019 topped any season in Yeager’s career and their strengths are inverted. Short of Garver reporting to Fort Meyers with some jaunty mutton chops, I just don’t see this one.

Some final food for thought:

Nick Gordon – Ron Gardenhire (1981 – 1985, 0.9 fWAR)

I didn’t make this up!

Which player comparisons do you find most compelling? Would you be happy to see this current group of players finish with comparable careers to their comps? Will Nick Gordon make a great manager? Please leave your comments below.

More ZiPS-related fun from Twins Daily:

Three Twins Takeaways from ZIPS and Steamer Projections – Matthew Lenz

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