Don't Kill The Mellinger

What happened to other players who looked like Mike Moustakas at his age

Updated: 2014-02-06T18:45:08Z

By SAM MELLINGER

The Kansas City Star

There is an inherent danger in putting too much into comparisons, into thinking that because this player today has done X and Y and also Z that his career will turn out like this other player a decade ago, who more or less did X and Y and also Z at a similar age.

There is some of the old line in here about how numbers will say whatever you want if you torture them long enough.

I had some fun last year, for instance, when Royals manager Ned Yost basically said Mike Moustakas (and Eric Hosmer) were on the career track of George Brett, Andre Dawson, Robin Yount, Barry Larkin, Mike Schmidt and Ryne Sandberg. The conclusion: Ned’s definition of " you’d be amazed how relatively close the numbers are" is very different than mine.

Anyway, Moustakas is such a key player for the Royals, not only this year but also symbolically as (technically) Dayton Moore Inc.’s first draft pick. The stories of Moustakas being in better shape are interesting, if teetering on the cliché for this time of year.

If Moustakas, who turned 25 at the end of last season, becomes the player the Royals envisioned he provides an enormous boost at a critical time. If he continues as the hitter we’ve seen — .244 with .296 on-base and .385 slugging percentages — he’s more like an anchor.

So, whatever, with all the disclaimers and context out of the way, I wanted to see what happened to players who looked like Moustakas at the same age. There are different ways to do this, of course, but for our purposes I looked at guys with at least 1,200 plate appearances (Moose has 1,493) through age 24 (last year is considered Moose’s age-24 season) with an OPS+ of 90 or below (Moose is at 85).

I cut off the search at 1994. Thirty-one players, including Moose, popped up.

The good…

Aramis Ramirez: although at age 23, Ramirez, also a third baseman, went .300/.350/.536 for the Pirates in 2001. So he’d put it together for a full season (655 plate appearances) in the big leagues. Ramirez was later traded to the Cubs and became one of the game’s better hitting third basemen.

Jose Guillen: well, I don’t know how many of you will call him good, but he did go .286/.343/.489 (119 OPS+) over five seasons from ages 27 to 31.

Melky Cabrera: this would be a better example if not for, well, you know.

Johnny Damon: I’d forgotten how much Damon struggled his first few years up. This is probably the best comp for optimists. At age 25, in 1999, Damon had his first really good season: .307/.379/.477. Then, of course, he became too expensive.

Jimmy Rollins: he made two All-Star teams by this point in his career, leading the league in triples his first two years and in stolen bases as a rookie. Playing shortstop makes this a stretch comp at best.

The rest of the comps are a mixture of good players who probably are not applicable to Moose for various reasons (Yadier Molina, Rafael Furcal, Carlos Gomez and, ahem, Alcides Escobar), total bombs (Angel Berroa, Peter Bergeron, Luis Rivas) and interesting trivia points (two different Alex Gonzalez-es made the list).

The Johnny Damon career path is, by far, the best-case scenario for the Royals. We won’t have to wait long to see.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365, send email to smellinger@kcstar.com or follow twitter.com/mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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