What might have been: Projecting 10 MLB interrupted careers

KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 10: Players observe a moment of silence for deceased pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 prior to the Royals 2017 home opener against the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium on April 10, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MO - APRIL 10: Players observe a moment of silence for deceased pitcher Yordano Ventura #30 prior to the Royals 2017 home opener against the Oakland Athletics at Kauffman Stadium on April 10, 2017 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /
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(Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
(Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images) /

Tony Conigliaro

A rising star in the Boston Red Sox outfield, Conigliaro was only 22 when he was laid low by a Jack Hamilton beanball in the heat of the 1967 pennant race.

As a result of the injuries, which included several fractures near his eye, Conigliaro was sidelined for the remainder of the 1967 season as well as all of 1968. He returned for all of 1969 and 1970, but never overcame his eye injury and was not the same player.

Following experimental stints with the Angels in 1971 and Red Sox in 1975, Conigliaro was released, batting just .123 at the time. He suffered a crippling heart attack in 1982 and lingered for eight more years until dying at age 45 in1990.

Projecting Conigliaro is an interesting exercise because his two closest comparables during his productive age years – 20 through 22 – are both major current stars. They are Juan Soto and Bryce Harper. The problem with using either is that since their careers are ongoing, there’s no sufficient database to project Conigliaro onto.

That reduces us to projecting what a healthy Conigliaro might have done based on what he actually did prior to his beaning.

At the time of his injury, Conigliaro had appeared in 80 percent of his team’s 1967 games. Assuming that same ratio, he would have made about 36 more starts that season, gotten about 150 more plate appearances, and finished with a total of approximately 140 base hits, 27 home runs, and 90 RBIs. Let’s start there.

We going to apply some broad, star-level performance variations to project Conigliaro going forward: performances improvements in the range of 1 to 3 percent annually through his age 27 season, followed by a four to five-season steady peak, followed by declines in the same range through age 35.

When we do that, we discover a healthy Tony Conigliaro ranking among the all-time Red Sox greats. The numbers work out to 2,573 base hits, 501 home runs, and 1,622 runs batted in.

Here’s where those totals would rank him.

  • Hits: Third all-time behind Carl Yastrzemski (3,419) and Ted Williams (2,654).
  • Home runs: Second all-time behind Williams (521).
  • Runs batted in: Third all-time behind Yastrzemski (1,844) and Williams.