MLB Then and Now: How Today's Superstars Would Have Fared Across Eras

Karl Buscheck@@KarlBuscheckContributor IIIOctober 21, 2016

MLB Then and Now: How Today's Superstars Would Have Fared Across Eras

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    Clayton Kershaw has the kind of stuff that would play regardless of time or place.
    Clayton Kershaw has the kind of stuff that would play regardless of time or place.Associated Press

    Imagine Clayton Kershaw dealing at the height of the Steroid Era or Mike Trout lining up in center field for the New York Yankees during their post-war dynasty.

    Thanks to the magic of the proprietary B/R baseball time machine, we have the good fortune of doing just that.

    We'll set the time and we'll adjust the date, as we drop five of the game's current megastars into past eras that were perfectly suited for their respective skill sets. For each of those five, we'll compare them to one of the giants of that by-gone time.

    We begin with a trip way back to the dawn on modern baseball when one of the best October aces—not just of today but in history—would have been right at home.

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Madison Bumgarner in the 'Deadball Era'

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    Madison Bumgarner threw a career high 226.2 innings in 2016.
    Madison Bumgarner threw a career high 226.2 innings in 2016.Marcio Jose Sanchez/Associated Press

    The Time Frame: 1901-1920

    The Player Comp: Christy Mathewson

    How He Would Have Fared

    Madison Bumgarner was born to pitch in a time like the Deadball Era—a period when starters consistently went all nine.

    Just remember that this is the dude who slung a five-inning save to close out the 2014 World Series after firing a four-hit shutout in Game 5.

    "I wasn't thinking about innings or pitch count," Bumgarner told the Associated Press, via the Houston Chronicle, after the clincher. "I was just thinking about getting outs, getting outs, until I couldn't get them anymore and we needed someone else."

    Bumgarner has retired plenty of outs for the San Francisco Giants during his eight seasons in orange and black. The left-hander has surpassed the 200-innings plateau in each of the past six go-arounds.

    While that's a feat that makes Bumgarner one of the most durable pitchers of the present, a 200-inning campaign was nothing back in the Deadball days.

    Christy Mathewson, who we've selected as MadBum's player comp, was also a Giant—of the New York varietyand was a historically dominant force. Mathewson owned a 2.13 ERA in his 17 big league season and cleared the 300-inning mark on 11 occasions.

    In 1908, he spun the kind of season Bumgarner can only dream about when he worked 390.2 innings, while producing a 37-11 record, a 1.43 ERA and 34 complete games.

David Ortiz in the 'Lively Ball Era'

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    David Ortiz bids adieu to the crowd at Fenway Park.
    David Ortiz bids adieu to the crowd at Fenway Park.Charles Krupa/Associated Press

    The Time Frame: 1920-1939

    The Player Comp: Babe Ruth

    How He Would Have Fared

    There's no better representative of the Lively Ball Era than one George Herman Ruth.

    While the slugger got his start with the Boston Red Sox before growing into Babe Ruth with the New York Yankees, Ortiz began his career with the Minnesota Twins before turning into Big Papi with the Red Sox.

    According to, the Lively Ball Erathe time when Ruth was at his greatestreached its summit in 1930 when the league batting average was .303 and the league ERA was 4.97. During that season, Ruth totaled 49 homers while posting a .359/.493/.732 slash line. 

    That gave Ruth a 1.232 OPSone of 14 times he would tally an OPS better than 1.000. Ortiz has done so on five different occasions. That includes the 2016 regular season, which will be his last—despite protests from around the baseball world.

    "Papi, where you going, man?" said Pete Rose, the hit king turned FS1 studio analyst. "We need you. Baseball needs you. The Boston Red Sox need you. The town needs you. Everyone needs you. Forget about the vacation. We all did that. It's not fun once you say, 'I'm done.'"

    One ugly note that can't be left unmentioned is that The Powers That Were likely wouldn't have allowed Ortiz to play in the bigs during the Lively Ball Era. The first Dominican player to step on a major league diamond was Osvaldo Virgil on Sept. 23, 1956, per Enrique Rojas of ESPN Deportes.

Mike Trout in the 'Yankee Dynasty Era'

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    Mike Trout has posted a .963 OPS in his first six seasons.
    Mike Trout has posted a .963 OPS in his first six seasons.Kelvin Kuo/Associated Press

    The Time Frame: 1947-1962

    The Player Comp: Mickey Mantle

    How He Would Have Fared

    To comprehend just how uniquely gifted Mike Trout is, scroll down to the bottom of the center fielder's page, and check out who's at the top of the list for similar batters through age 24.

    Here's the answer: Mickey Mantle.

    Like Mantle, Trout arrived in the bigs as a 19-year-old phenom and the Millville, New Jersey native has never looked back.

    In August of 2015,'s Lyle Spencer pointed out that Trout had just become one of four American League players to ever record four 20-home run seasons before their age-24 season.

    "I'm not really aware of those things," Trout told Spencer of being on the list that also featured Mantle, Ted Williams, Alex Rodriguez and Tony Conigliaro.

    Mantle, who arrived in New York in 1951, played during a golden era for the Yankees. The club won 10 rings from the start of 1947 to the close of 1962. Mantle was around for seven of them.

    That October resume is where Mantle and Trout's paths diverge. To this point, Trout has collected a single hit (which left the park) in three postseason games. Mantle posted a .908 OPS and collected 18 homers in 65 October contests.

Noah Syndergaard in the '2nd Deadball Era'

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    Noah Syndergaard posted the third-best ERA in baseball in 2016.
    Noah Syndergaard posted the third-best ERA in baseball in 2016.Frank Franklin II/Associated Press

    The Time Frame: 1961-1969

    The Player Comp: Don Drysdale

    How He Would Have Fared

    Thanks to the likes of Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale, Bob Gibson, Tom Seaver and Juan Marichal, the Second Deadball Era was not a fun time to be a big league hitter.

    Looking over that above list of aces, none stands out as a better comp for Noah Syndergaard than Drysdale. Like the Dodger great, who was the three-time strikeout king of the majors, Syndergaard has a knack for producing swings and misses.

    Thor struck out 218 batters in 183.2 innings of work in 2016, and his four-seam fastball averaged 98.3 mph more than 5 mph better than the league norm, per

    Also like Drysdale, Syndergaard is a towering 6'6" right-hander who would have thrived under the rules of 1960s major league baseball. As the notes, run scoring was at an all-time low in the modern era during the 1968 season. After that year, the league lowered the mound from 15" to 10".

    If Syndergaard looks imposing when he takes the hill at Citi Field these days, just imagine how much worse it would have been on those elevated mounds of the 1960s.

Clayton Kershaw in the 'Steroid Era'

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    Clayton Kershaw celebrates his recent NLDS triumph.
    Clayton Kershaw celebrates his recent NLDS triumph.Alex Brandon/Associated Press

    The Time Frame: Late 1980s - Late 2000s

    The Player Comp: Pedro Martinez

    How He Would Have Fared

    Sure. Clayton Kershaw is a tall lefty and Pedro Martinez is a diminutive righty, but this player comp makes more sense than it would initially seem.

    Per's similarity score, Martinez is Kershaw's best match through his age-28 campaign. Then there's the consideration that while the Dodger No. 1 is the undisputed king of aces in 2016, Martinez sat on that throne for much of the so-named Steroid Era.

    There's one unassailable argument for why Kershaw would have owned that time periodregardless of how chemically addled his competitors might have been. It's that soul-crushing curveballjust ask the the Washington Nationals about that hook.

    Kershaw's curve is as devastating of a pitch as it getseven for an opposing hitter with superhuman strength. In 2016, the opposition hit just .138 against the pitch, per Brooks Baseball.

    Notes: All stats courtesy of and

    If you want to talk baseball, find me on Twitter @KarlBuscheck.


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