When is enough, enough? Is three cars enough or do you need one for each day of the week (I'm looking at you hoops players)? Is that 5th Long Island enough to send you off to happy time or do you need to order one more on a Friday night? Is sleeping with enough people to fill up your hands and toes satisfactory, or do you need to shoot for triple-digit notches on your bed post? Obviously everyone reading this has had plenty of “cuddling” in their lifetime because what is more sexy than telling someone you're in nine fantasy baseball leagues? That alone makes up for not having a huge bank account. Those are real world issues dealing with when is enough, enough. How does this apply to the world of fantasy baseball? But the real center of this article, now that I've totally led you astray for an entire paragraph, is how to employ sample sizes to baseball players.
Sunday night on Fantasy Sports Tonight (my show on SiriusXM Fantasy Sports Radio, 7-10 PM EDT) I talked a lot about sample size issues. I've put those spoken words into written form. Here we go.
BATTERS – BASICS
For batters I'd like to see 150 at-bats or roughly two months of work before I panic. In truth, this isn't nearly enough time to make any lasting decisions on players, but it's enough work that we can start to at least outline the picture we're attempting to construct. Of course, caveats.
* Players with an established track record, in most cases, get at least a half season of at-bats to prove themselves. Things tend to even out if the sample size is large enough.
* Rookies/youngsters get less rope. You stink for 150 at-bats and I'm looking to move on.
* Players that start off hot, more often than not, have strong seasons even if their final couple of months don't match the production they posted on a per at-bat basis earlier in the year.
* Players that start off cold, I'm talking really chilly, are unlikely to reach their full predicted value for the season. That doesn't mean they can't be picked up after the cold start and produce at their expected per game levels. It's just that their season long numbers won't reflect the in-season improvement.
* Be reasonable. No player is going to post a .425 BABIP for a season, and it's pretty impossible for an established hitter to go a whole year with a mere 13 percent line drive rate. Filter out the obviously unsustainable numbers an act accordingly.
PITCHERS – BASICS
I'd recommend you give pitchers about 10 starts or two months of starts before drawing any lasting conclusions.
* Same as with batters, if an established pitcher struggles out of the gate give him some leeway. A hurler who hasn't established himself, at least for me, carries a bit more risk as we just don't have a good feel as to how long it will take him to pull out of his slump or how much rope a club will give him.
* A study from BaseballHQ, from 2010-12, suggests that pitchers that start off hot have a good chance to end the year at better than expected levels. Over the three years of the study 88 percent of hurlers who had an April ERA that was two runs lower than their career mark ended that season with an ERA that was indeed under their career level. That same study suggested that 67 percent of pitchers who ended April with an ERA that was two runs higher than their career level finished that season with an ERA worse than their career mark.
* Avoid reading too much into the ratios of relievers especially early in the year. An outing or two with poor results can have a devastating effect on relievers early season numbers. In fact, one of those four runs while recording only one out type of outings can actually torpedo a relievers season long numbers a good deal.
* Be honest with the numbers. A top-25 arm isn't going to end the year with a BABIP of .352 is he? If the guy has a career walk rate of two per nine but is walking four per nine that isn't likely to continue (unless he is hurt).