There’s this thing people have done historically with player comps in which, accidentally or otherwise, white guys are compared to other white guys, black guys with other black guys, Latinos with other Latinos and Asian players with other Asian players. The “he reminds me of a slightly faster ____” or “he’s like ____ but with less power” kind of conversations baseball people engage in almost always break down along racial lines.
It’s not necessarily born of some bad impulse, of course. It’s part of how comps and the human mind works. You’re trying to put some idea in someone’s head and, honestly, you have less heavy lifting to do if you use a similar-looking player. Ultimately, however, most good scouts and player development people will tell you that comps are of extremely limited utility and can actually be misleading, so the better practice is to not use comps for much if anything at all. You can read old scouting reports with lots of them, but comps are far less relied on today.
At least among scouting professionals. They’re still used in the media and among fans way too much. Often pretty spuriously. Take this column from Kevin Kernan of the New York Post:
To call this column, which tracks the headline pretty accurately, a “comp” in the scouting sense is a major stretch. It’s basically “Cespedes is a big star kicking butt right now, Puig is a disappointment” set over 800 words. The putative justification for the comp is that the Mets are playing the Dodgers at the moment, and I get that, but otherwise a Puig-Cespedes comparison here is kind of pointless. One is much older. Cespedes wasn’t even in MLB when he was Puig’s age. They have different skills and strengths. They’re on very different contracts. The common denominator is that they’re both Cuban and both pretty famous. It’s like comparing Todd Frazier and Mike Trout because they’re both from New Jersey.
Don’t get me wrong: I don’t think Kernan’s column is somehow racially problematic or anything like that. But I do think that it’s using the most superficial of basis to make a fundamentally pointless comparison, likely for the means of saying nice things about one guy by slamming the other under the pretense of some sort of legitimate comp which is anything but legitimate.
And it makes me ask: is it not possible to tell a story about how good one player is doing without slamming another? Or to be critical of one player for legitimate reasons rather than by simply saying “you’re not as good as the other guy?”