Do Early Numbers Matter?
With games just now getting underway, Ray Flowers looks back and tries to determine how much weight to give to early season numbers.
Greatness does not happen overnight. We'd like to think it does, that a fairy sprinkles some magic dust on our heads while we sleep and we magically awake the next day with the mysteries of the universe explained (maybe I need to watch a little less Once Upon A Time?). Not how it works folks. Similarly, people often think that if a player has a hot/cold spring or a hot/cold month of April the dye is cast on that player for the totality of the season. I don't believe that. This isn't going to be some long drawn out historical abstract to show why I don't believe it, but hopefully the random data points I'm going to throw out there will help to illuminate why I hold the position I hold – we often make too much out of the start of a season without letting the whole thing play itself out.
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BASEBALL HQ STUDY
Baseball HQ did a study – it's in their excellent Baseball Forecaster – that suggested two key data points.
(1) Slightly less than 50 percent of all April surgers were able to maintain that pace over the season.
(2) Three of four hurlers who earned $10 less than projected in 2013 really struggled in April. Slow starts matter a bit more for pitchers than hitters it seems.
SAMPLE SIZE MATTERS
Check out my review of this topic in Sample Size Questions where I suggest given players some room to breather, maybe 150 at-bats and 10 or so starts with pitchers.
This is important. Small sample sizes can make a mountain out of a molehill, make a softie look like a star, make a star look like he's washed up. It's not always that simple. Baseball is a long season and we need to make sure, just like with a fine bottle of wine, that we let it breath a little before taking it all in.
This is extremely important when we talk Spring Training numbers. Two mains reasons why follow.
(1) Spring Training is often something like 50-60 at-bats and 20-25 innings pitched. Is that enough of a sample size to draw any lasting conclusions? I would suggest it isn't.
(2) Are the numbers from Spring Training “real?” Was the lineup filled with half big leagues and half minor leaguers aiding the hurler? Was the hurler only working on his offspeed stuff aiding the batter? Context matters an in this case we really don't have a good handle on it.
SPRING TRAINING 2013
Here are some numbers from last Spring Training, and yes I'm cherry picking (remember this is a cursory overview and not an in-depth study so I'm allowed). Any of these guys end up having a great regular season?
Rick Porcello had a 0.75 WHIP.
Phil Humber – check out his ratios: 1.73 ERA, 0.77 WHIP.
Jonathon Niese had a 1.23 ERA and 1.05 WHIP.
Brandon Maurer posted a 1.50 ERA and 1.25 WHIP.
Lucas Harrell was a stud with a 2.25 ERA and 1.04 WHIP.
Not a one of that group did squat of note last year.
What about those guys that struggled in Spring, was their regular season doomed?
All four of those guys rebounded for pretty good efforts in 2013, no?
Here are some of those fellas who had killer Aprils in 2013 only to slide back as the long, and I mean long, season wore on. Again cherry picking, but trying to make a point.
Nate McLouth wit .346 with eight steals He finished the year at .258 with 30 steals.
John Buck blasted nine homers with 25 RBIs. He finished the year with 15 and 62.
Mark Reynolds hit .301-8-22. He finished at .220-21-67.
What about slow starters who finished strong or rebounded substantially?
Matt Cain had a 6.49 ERA in April. He finished the year at 4.00.
Gio Gonzalez went from a 5.34 ERA in April to a final mark of 3.36.
David Price dropped nearly two runs off his April ERA 5.21 (he finished at 3.33).
Julio Teheran went from 5.08 in April to 3.20 by seasons end. By the way, he killed it in Spring Training 2013 with an ERA of 1.04 in 26 innings. Sample size matters.
Oh, and remember the HQ study I mentioned above? Take a look at the top-10 in ERA last April and note how many went on to have solid seasons.
The only real miss was Westbrook who went from a 0.98 ERA in April to being retired 12 months later. He finished 2014 with a 4.63 ERA.
Freddie Freeman had 1 homer last April. He finished with 23.
Salvador Perez hit .267 in April. At the end of the year that mark was .292.
Billy Butler hit .257 in April. At the end his season long mark was .289.
Jayson Werth had a bad April..265/.314/.408. Didn't matter much by the end though when he had one of the best slash lines in the game (.318/.398/.532).
SPRING TRAINING 2014
So does that mean we forget about the guys who had a good spring? Not necessarily. Here are four guys who did have success this year that might be primed for solid seasons in 2014. Notice I used the term “might.”
Brad Miller went .417-4-10 in 20 games.
Dustin Ackley went .394-2-16 in 23 games.
Logan Schafer hit .379 with five steals.
Denard Span is healthy and he hit .370.
Adam Eaton .368 but he only had four steal attempts in 19 games.
Alex Wood had roughly an 8.0 K/BB ratio with a 0.45 ERA in 20 IP.
Erasmo Ramirez had a 1.14 ERA, 0.85 WHIP, and roughly 10 K/BB mark.
Marco Estrada had a 2.16 ERA, 1.04 WHIP an about a 7 K/BB ratio.
CC Sabathia had a 1.29 ERA, 0,76 WHIP and 5:1 KBB ratio.
FINALLY... MIKE MOUSTAKAS
Yes Mike Moustakas had a great spring this year. Actually he had a stupendous one. Here are the numbers.
.426/.522/.759 with four homers and 18 RBIs
That obviously means he's “figured things out” and he's about ready to emerge. Or does it? Do you know what his numbers were in Spring Training 2013?
.394/.429/.718 with five homers and 16 RBIs
At the end of the 2013 season Moustakas hit .233 with 12 homers an a .651 OPS.
Be very careful with overestimating hot and cold starts with a player.