Two of the Most Similar Pitchers in Baseball by Michael Francis January 15, 2017 In baseball analysis, we often use comparable players or “comps” to discuss what we think the player is likely to do in the future. Prospects are the most comped players because the general baseball public does not know much about minor leaguers. Comparing these young players to major leaguers allows fans to imagine what these prospects could someday become. Comps are also often used in projection systems. Data analysis has found that similar players often perform similarly throughout their careers. Thus, using former players who compare well with current players aids projection systems in forecasting what a particular player is likely to do in the coming years. Comparable players are also used in contract negotiations and arbitration battles. Players at similar ages with similar careers can expect to get roughly the same contract. In fact, the arbitration process is almost solely interested in comparing similar players and their wages. Sometimes, players aren’t viewed as being similar when in reality they are actually quite alike. Recently, I found that Julio Teheran and Jose Quintana top each other’s similarity score lists on Baseball Reference. I had usually thought of Quintana as one of the game’s best pitchers and a true ace, while Teheran was at least a rung below that and probably more of a number 2 or 3 starter, so I did some research and found that these two pitchers are more alike than many probably realize. Both pitchers are from Colombia and they were actually born only miles apart. Colombian-born baseball players are actually quite rare as there have only been 19 such players in MLB history, and this includes at least one set of brothers and a set of cousins. In fact, just this past season Teheran and Quintana became the first Colombian-born pitchers to ever start against each other in the same game. The two are apparently also quite good friends off the field and even work out together in the offseason. They each have also decided that they will pitch for Colombia in the upcoming World Baseball Classic. That will make for a formidable 1-2 punch for the Colombian pitching staff and will be hard for any other team in the tournament to match up against. These two pitchers also match up quite well statistically, as their numbers look quite similar in a multitude of categories. Player bWAR ERA+ ERA FIP xFIP WHIP H/9 HR/9 BB/9 K/9 K/BB GB% HR/FB% Julio Teheran 4.8 129 3.21 3.69 4.13 1.05 7.5 1.1 2.0 8.0 4.07 39.1% 10% Jose Quintana 5.2 125 3.20 3.56 4.03 1.16 8.3 1.0 2.2 7.8 3.62 40.4% 9.5% You might be able to find two pitchers with more similar numbers, but it wouldn’t be easy. They were both virtually 5-win pitchers according to Baseball-Reference, and the difference there likely comes from Quintana throwing a few more innings than Teheran. Their ERA, FIP, and xFIP are all almost identical and they both achieved their numbers in similar ways, too. Neither pitcher allows many baserunners, and they both strike out about eight batters per nine innings. In 2016, they both also had nearly identical ground-ball rates, and they suppressed homers to the same degree. Both pitchers had incredible seasons in 2016 and were both deserving All Stars, and while Jose Quintana did have a slightly better year and has been the better pitcher for the past several years, Julio Teheran has considerably closed the gap on his fellow statesman. After seeing how closely the two pitchers’ 2016 stats aligned, I wanted to see how closely their styles of pitching matched up as well. While the approaches are not quite as similar as the statistics, you can see by the pitching styles how the stats could end up so similar. Using PITCHf/x data from Brooksbaseball.com I found that the biggest similarity in their repertoires is their four-seam fastballs. They both rely heavily on this pitch while throwing them about as hard and with similar amounts of movement. Player Four Seam Usage Four Seam Velocity Four Seam Horizontal Movement Four Seam Vertical Movement Julio Teheran 46.4 92.0 -5.1 8.2 Jose Quintana 41.1 92.6 4.6 9.5 These fastballs are not particularly special for two pitchers with such pedigree. They are each thrown with just average velocity and with roughly an average amount of downward and horizontal movement. They produce roughly the same amount of ground balls as the average pitcher and miss about as many bats as the average fastball. The most unique aspect of either of these pitchers’ fastballs is that Jose Quintana induces an exorbitant amount of pop-ups, which are basically as good as a strikeout. This allows his otherwise average fastball to play up better than the average starter. After the four-seamer, their repertoires begin to deviate quite a bit. Quintana relies heavily on his sinker and his curveball as secondaries and mixes in a changeup occasionally. He throws his sinker just as hard as his four-seamer, but he gets more movement from the sinker. Julio Teheran uses his slider as his main secondary, throwing it over 26 percent of the time, while he mixes in a sinker, a changeup, and a curveball as his tertiary offerings. His slider is a plus pitch and he uses it to miss bats, while the other pitches are basically used as change-of-pace offerings to keep hitters off of his fastball and slider combination. Both of these guys get by with just average or better stuff, but command of their arsenal coupled with their mastery of the art of pitching have made them two of the upper-echelon pitching talents in the game. It would only make sense that two players this similar would have similar contracts, but these contracts go way past similar — they are borderline identical. They are each under team control for the next four years. Teheran will make $37,300,000 and Quintana will make just a few hundred thousand more at $37,850,000, assuming that their respective option years are picked up, which is a pretty safe bet. Their yearly salaries are basically identical as well: Year Julio Teheran Jose Quintana 2017 $ 6,300,000.00 $ 7,000,000.00 2018 $ 8,000,000.00 $ 8,850,000.00 2019 $ 11,000,000.00 $ 10,500,000.00 2020 $ 12,000,000.00 $ 11,500,000.00 Total $ 37,300,000.00 $ 37,850,000.00 Neither player’s salary ever deviates more than just a few hundred thousand dollars in any year under these current contracts. It only makes sense that two players with so many similarities would be compensated so similarly, but should they actually be valued the same? Probably not; while they did have virtually the same season statistically this year, Quintana’s track record for this level of success is longer. Teheran does also have a successful track record, but he did struggle in 2015, and Quintana just seems to be the surer bet at this point. Steamer projects Quintana to be worth over a win more than Teheran in 2017. However, I do believe that their values should be a great deal closer than public perception. Teheran is two years younger than Quintana and could just be hitting his prime, he is signed to the same contract as Quintana, and his stuff may actually be better. Quintana is currently being aggressively shopped and the asking price is said to be roughly the same as the Chris Sale package. Julio Teheran is not worth that kind of package, but it might be closer than you think.