Who Does Astros LF Chris Carter Look Like?

Bob Levey

A comparison of Chris Carter to several historical high-strikeout hitters, with the purpose of identifying whose career he has most closely followed to this point.

Premise

The other day, TCB reader KarlPopperFan introduced the names of a couple of players to compare with Astros' 1B/LF/DH Chris Carter. Aside from sending me on a tangent to research Karl Popper and his philosophies (always a topic that grabs my attention), it prompted me to think about Carter as well.

Everybody loves a good comp. Is Bryce Harper the next Hank Aaron? Is Mike Trout the next Joe DiMaggio? Is Willy Taveras the next Pete Rose?

Comparisons are even more fun with players who have one or two great skills and one or two comparatively crappy ones, because they're infinitely debatable. Love 'em or hate 'em, player comps are one of the great things about baseball - due to historical stat keeping going back to the 1800's, we can always put our favorite or least-favorite players into context.

Cast of Characters

KarlPopperFan suggested that Carter compares to Gorman Thomas (Outfielder, 1973-1986) and Dave Kingman (1B/OF 1971-1986). These are great comps, as they both were low average, high strikeout, high walk hitters who absolutely mashed baseballs.

So I asked the esteemed panel of TCB staff: Who else can I look at as a possible Carter comp? Here is our list, though doubtless many other hitters could qualify:

Gorman Thomas
Dave Kingman
Mark Reynolds
Rob Deer
Ryan Howard
Russell Branyan
Adam Dunn

All of these guys whiffed a ton, walked a ton, and hit lots and lots of home runs. But who has Carter most resembled to this point in his career?

Method

The trickiest part of comparing players across eras is that baseball has changed. For example, the strike out has become less of a stigma than it was in, say, 1921, and so the rate of strikeouts league-wide has increased. Likewise, walk rates and slugging rates have increased as well.

Overtime_medium

Given that, I decided to look at four stats in this comparison: Batting Average, Isolated Power (ISO = SLG% minus AVG), Strikeout Rate, and Walk Rate.

I looked at historical data for every five years (1975, 1980, 1985, etc), and determined the standard deviation among the sample for each stat for that year. (Standard deviation of ISO in 1975 was 0.054, for example). I then determined how many standard deviations away each player's each stat was for the year closest to their prime.

Sorry, that's hard to explain.

Example: For Kingman, I determined that his career ISO of .242 was 2.037 standard deviations different from the average ISO in 1975, which was .132. So, .242 minus .132 divided by 0.054 = 2.037. Got it?

After that, for each of the four stats, I subtracted the resulting number of standard deviations from Carter's (compared to 2013 average). For ISO, comparing Carter to Kingman, that would be 1.242 (Carter's) minus 2.037 = -0.79

I'm asking:

  1. How much better or worse is Carter at a particular stat than his peers?
  2. How much better or worse is (whoever) at that same stat than his peers?
  3. How close are those differences to each other?

Caveat

This article attempts to identify which player's career numbers have matched closest to Carter's so far during his major league career. This does not account for what Carter could be if he continues to improve, nor does it project future success or failure as a major leaguer. This also does not take into account defense; nor should it, since these guys play different and/or multiple positions.

Category Matching

Favorable stat comparisons:

  • In Batting Average, Carter compares most favorably to Dave Kingman
  • In Isolated Power, Carter compares most favorably to Russell Branyan
  • In Walk Rate, Carter compares most favorably to Gorman Thomas and Rob Deer
  • In Strkeout Rate, Carter compares most favorably to Dave Kingman
Unfavorable stat comparisons:
  • In Batting Average, Carter compares least to Ryan Howard
  • In Isolated Power, Carter compares least to Dave Kingman
  • In Walk Rate, Carter compares least to Dave Kingman
  • In Strikeout Rate, Carter compares least to Russell Branyan

Best Comps

Overall, here is the list of players that Carter compares best to, sorted by average stat standard deviation difference (which I will hereby dub ASSDD).

  1. .004 - Gorman Thomas - really dang close!
  2. .030 - Russell Branyan
  3. .056 - Rob Deer
  4. .073 - Mark Reynolds
  5. .171 - Adam Dunn
  6. .191 - Dave Kingmann - interesting...most like Carter in 2 stats, least like in 2 stats
  7. .229 - Ryan Howard - not nearly as similar as some of us thought he might be.

Looks like KarlPopperFan hit the nail on the head by citing Thomas as a good comp for Carter. It remains to be seen if Carter will continue on a similar career path, in which Thomas made an all-star team, led the league in strikeouts twice, home runs twice, and garnered MVP votes twice, or whether Carter will improve beyond that level or regress to a less successful career.

Here's hoping for the best! Either way, fans should rejoice in what Carter does well, while still taking him to task for improvements that can be made. But don't lose sight that to this point of his career, Carter has played on the same level as some very good historical hitters.

If any reader wants to suggest other players to compare, leave the name in the comments and I will plug them into my spreadsheet.

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