MLB Players: The Value of Being Consistent, an Analysis

ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 31: Nomar Mazara #30 of the Texas Rangers rounds the bases after a three run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the fourth inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on August 31, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images)
ARLINGTON, TX - AUGUST 31: Nomar Mazara #30 of the Texas Rangers rounds the bases after a three run home run against the Minnesota Twins during the fourth inning at Globe Life Park in Arlington on August 31, 2018 in Arlington, Texas. (Photo by Ron Jenkins/Getty Images) /

We baseball fans are fortunate because we get to follow two sports in one. First, the game on the field, and second, the fun of analyzing the statistics generated by MLB players.

Khris Davis is known for being quite the standout, both for seeing his home run totals increase each year from 27, to 42, to 43 and finally 48 last year. But in each season he’s managed to hit exactly .247. Clearly, this is an anomaly and fun to track, (note he is hitting .251 this year).  Yet it made me wonder if MLB players worth is valued upon his consistency.

In the stock market, there is a term called Beta, which loosely defined means how the stock price moves in relation to the market as a whole.  The reason a stock is often seen as more valuable with a higher Beta is because as the stock goes up and down, it gives investors a greater opportunity to buy something at a low price, and then sell it at a higher price; simply because it’s stock price moves more than the rest of the market does.

Early in his career, Bret Saberhagen was known for being great in odd-numbered years, and not to great in even-numbered years. When compared to a player such as Jimmy Key, you can decide which pitcher was more ‘valuable’.

Brett Saberhagen                       Jimmy Key

W/L    ERA                         W/L      ERA

1985    20-6   2.87                       14-5     3.00

1986    7-12    4.15                      14-11   3.57

1987    18-10   3.36                     17-8     2.76

1988    14-16    3.80                    12-5     3.29

1989     23-6    2.16                      13-14  3.88

1990       5-9     3.27                      13-7    4.25

1991     13-8   3.07                       16-12   3.05

TOTAL   100-67  3.19                   99-63   3.35

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Key was clearly more consistent than Saberhagen, yet during this period Saberhagen won two Cy Young Awards (Key finished second to Clemens in 1987). Saberhagen is considered one of the best pitchers to not be in the Hall of Fame, but when you hear the name Jimmy Key he’s merely considered to be a solid pitcher for his era.

Yet their career numbers are strikingly comparable.

Consistency is a very valuable thing in sports because it’s another word for reliability. It poses a question of whether it’s better to have a player who does great one year, then declines, then improves, then declines, or one who puts up consistent statistics every year.

When comparing Bryce Harper and Anthony Rizzo, it’s not debatable which player had a better season since 2015.   It’s equally not debatable which player has had the worst seasons.

Anthony Rizzo                                          Bryce Harper

Year        BA/OBP/SLG    HR                    BA/OBP/SLG      HR

2015      .278/.387/.512    31               .330/.460.649     42

2016      .292/.385/.544    32               .243/.373/.441    34

2017      .273/.392/.507    32               .319/.413/.595    29

2018      .283/.376/.470    25               .249/.393.496      34

Does this mean Bryce Harper is more valuable than Anthony Rizzo?

If both were free agents and both demanded the same money, I would think 90% of General Managers would take Harper because of the potential for him to have a massive season somewhere in the near future, whereas you know what you will get out of Rizzo.

And that’s the point I’m trying to make. Consistency or “reliability”, should be valued more or at least equal to the potential of a player having a couple of MVP-type seasons.

With that being said, I performed a statistical review of the most consistent and inconsistent MLB players since 2015, and the player that has shown the ‘most’ consistency over the most recent 4 and a half seasons is Adam Jones, which shouldn’t be a surprise.

Through 12 Major League seasons (including 2019), Jones’ batting average has never been below .265, nor above .287 and his OBP has been between .310 and .335.   Not many would say Jones is in the category of a superstar, and he likely won’t get much of a look from Cooperstown, but unlike the stock market, his low Beta IS what makes him valuable.

A player who at one point was considered a superstar, and whose career numbers are similar to Jones has actually had his career halted by inconsistency.   Whether it be injury or effort or some other reason, Matt Kemp is not considered as reliable as Adam Jones, and thus Kemp is on his 6th team since 2014.

2B      HR       AVG     OBP    SLG

335     281    .285    .337    .485   (Matt Kemp)

327     279    .277    .318    .457   (Adam Jones)

Oddly, a player who has been very inconsistent is Christian Yelich, but for a good reason.  He just keeps getting better…. So it’s hard to be consistent when you’re on his kind of trajectory.

Other MLB players just have general inconsistency since they fluctuate from solid seasons to poor ones. Examples are Ryan Zimmerman, Jose Ramirez, Yonder Alonso, Mike Zunino, Dexter Fowler and the biggest mystery of them all, Rougned Odor.

Year       BA/OBP/SLG       HR

2015      .261/.316/.465    16

2016      .271/.296/.502    33

2017      .204/.252/.397    30

2018      .253/.326/.424    18

2019      .177/.253/.350    10

Though a handful of MLB players have improved consistently in recent years, such as Matt Chapman, Alex Bregman, and Whit Merrifield, only two players have improved annually since 2015.   Javy Baez and Mike Trout…. Big freaking surprise.

However, there are two MLB players who have notably declined each year since 2015.   One is Chris Davis, who is now a consistent .167/.260/.290 player (I can’t even call him a ‘hitter’ anymore).   But the other is Jason Kipnis who has seen his OPS drop each year … .823, .811, .705, .704, .686.

Because I believe of value in consistency, a favorite of mine to follow is David Peralta of the DBacks whose slash line since 2017 is:

Year        BA/OBP/SLG         HR

2017      .293/.352/.444      14

2018      .293/.352/.516      30

2019      .293/.356/.489         9

Not bad for a former pitching prospect for the Cardinals who made a comeback in the Indy leagues as an outfielder.   Yet since I’m pushing the concept of value in consistency, I’m giving the crown to Rougned Odor’s teammate Nomar Mazara.   Though his career started in 2016, no one has been more consistent since he joined the league.

Year        BA/OBP/SLG         HR

2016      .266/.320/.419    20

2017      .253/.323/.422    20

2018      .258/.317/.436    20

and thus far in 2019

2019      .278/.329/.473    10

Next. Cardinals: Trade candidates to be their new closer. dark

As he is 24 years old, he should begin to be a bit more inconsistent, meaning he’s likely to get a lot better. Give me guys like Adam Jones, Michael Brantley and Mazara over Marcel Ozuna, Ian Desmond, and Jason Heyward and the many other inconsistent MLB players. It may not be sexy but there’s definitely more value in consistency.