This past week, baseball immortal statistician Bill James made a rare “blogging” entry on his website where he analyzed the merits of whether to draft either Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda or former Reds great Vada Pinson for a Ballpark baseball simulation league he plays.

Both entered the league in 1958, Cepeda as a slugging, high average 20-year-old who won the Rookie of the Year Award and finished 9th in the MVP vote. Pinson started slowly as a 19 year old and then finished the season well, then became an all-star as a 20 year old in 1959, finishing 15th in the MVP vote. Both players started exceptionally well, and both were seemingly on their way to Hall of Fame careers. Pinson finished in the top 18 in the MVP votes in five of his first six seasons with the Reds. Cepeda finished in the top twenty MVP balloting in four of his five seasons, before winning the award with the Cardinals in 1967.

So, the Ballpark “manager” has to decide which one to draft. The player won’t play exactly as they had in real life; there would be some variance. Both players played very well in the majors very early in their careers with is a typical harbinger of more special things to come.

It’s a contrast in player skills. The expected “peak” seasons of players (hitters’ peak seasons are usually from ages 26-29) is really a moving target. One other thing to add…while “speed” can’t be taught, it’s also the skill that usually vanishes first. There’s a reason power and walks are often called “old players” skills. Power hitters often peak later than speed players.

I found the contrast interesting. We don’t ordinarily think of Cepeda-Pinson when it comes to comparisons, but it’s a great study in considering the impact of players. I’ve always compared Cepeda, the “Baby Bull,” to Tony Perez (Big Doggie), and Pinson to Steve Finley in their styles of play. lists Cepeda’s most comparable players to be Andres Gallaraga, Jim Rice, and Ellis Burks. Pinson’s most similar players are Finley, Roberto Clemente, and Al Oliver (hey, I guessed right on Finley).

However, guess who’s on Cepeda’s most similar list at age 20? He was most similar to none other than Pinson at that age. In fact, Cepeda’s first three comparables at age 20 were all Reds: Pinson, Frank Robinson, and Dick Hoblitzell. And, the comparison is somewhat reciprocal. Pinson’s most similar player at age 20 was Mickey Mantle, followed by Al Kaline, and then Cepeda. Next is another former Red, Ken Griffey, Jr., and Frank Robinson shows up a little later, too. One odd career similar player shows on both list: Steve Garvey.

Back to the blog…James analyzes them season by season and finds them quite close. James converts their seasons to “winning percentage” (you’ll have to subscribe at James’ website to understand), and finds that through 1965 they were offering pretty much equal value to their respective teams. Cepeda’s career win percentage was .693 to Pinson’s .677. However, Pinson had earned more “win shares” (another James measurement), outscoring Cepeda, 162-153.

I thought about this for a moment…Cepeda was always in the shadow of Willie Mays. Willie McCovey was coming into his own during this time. Their pitching staff was anchored by Hall of Famer Juan Marichal. Cepeda didn’t always get the spotlight. Pinson, meanwhile, was always in the shadow of Frank Robinson. Pete Rose was coming into his own and the Reds had slugger Deron Johnson, and an ace pitching staff led by Jim Maloney. Pinson didn’t always get the spotlight either, but contributed enough to be regularly mentioned on league MVP ballots.

Pinson faded early, having his best seasons before age 27 and with a few more good seasons to boot. Cepeda was productive through age 32 before beginning to fade. Cepeda’s career win percentage is .646, Pinson’s is .575. Cepeda had a longer, more productive career, and ended up in the HOF. Pinson is still on the outside, looking in.

Cepeda found some late career success, even finishing 15th in the MVP balloting as a DH for the 1973 Red Sox. Pinson played through 1975, but only twice in his last seven years did his OPS+ cross 100, or better than average during that time.

Pinson finished his career with 2757 hits, 256 homers, and a .286 batting average. Keep in mind, he played during the baseball’s harshest offensive environment. Even the 1906 Cubs of the dead ball days scored more runs than the baseball teams of the 1960’s. He has the most hits of any player not in the Hall of Fame. At the bottom of the, there’s a Hall of Fame statistics section which shows how each player ranks against those enshrined into the Hall of Fame. Pinson doesn’t surpass any of the benchmarks that show the average player, but he’s close. He wouldn’t be the worst player in the HOF.

Cepeda surpasses some of the benchmarks, but not all. More or less, it says that Cepeda often finished in the top ten in league categories, but didn’t finish first very often.

What stands out for me is the need to watch which skills a player has developing and which ones are in decline. In my mind, a great talent scout should be able to detect changes in physical abilities and alert the coaching staff of changes. These changes may not be apparent to someone who sees the player every day; they may be easier to spot by someone who sees the players sporadically and keeps good notes. This is also a spot where statistical analysis comes into play in measuring a player’s statistical history can lead to projections for the players.

As they aged their “similar player” lists by age evolved. Cepeda’s similar players at different ages(chronologically) include Pinson, Robinson, Hank Aaron, Ken Griffey, Jr., Eddie Murray, Rafael Palmeiro, Jim Rice. Pinson’s similar players were Mickey Mantle, Cesar Cedeno, Al Kaline, Roberto Clemente.

Keep this in mind when it comes to whom the Reds should acquire and keep in building their teams….and we haven’t included the salary/profit management side of the story yet.