April 13, 2012
The BP Wayback Machine
While looking toward the future with our comprehensive slate of current content, we'd also like to recognize our rich past by drawing upon our extensive (and mostly free) online archive of work dating back to 1997. In an effort to highlight the best of what's gone before, we'll be bringing you a weekly blast from BP's past, introducing or re-introducing you to some of the most informative and entertaining authors who have passed through our virtual halls. If you have fond recollections of a BP piece that you'd like to nominate for re-exposure to a wider audience, send us your suggestion.
Before you read too much into early-season stats, take another look at Joe's warning about small sample size, which originally ran as a "Prospectus Today" column on April 13, 2009.
Just a quick note... if you happen to run into spring, let her know that New York misses her and is very sorry for what it did, and is waiting patiently for her to come back.
I had a testy radio interview on Friday, and it's been gnawing at me all weekend. We were talking about various first-week story lines, and I kept coming back to my standard refrain: It's one week of baseball, and it doesn't tell us much, if anything. You make worse decisions by overreacting to four games than you do by minimizing them. The hosts pressed a bit, and expressed some frustration that I wouldn't move off of that point. While I'm sure it made for good radio, the segment left a bad taste in my mouth.
I know that my position isn't the most entertaining one in the world. I've been trying to find things to write about in April and May for most of a decade, so if anyone is aware of the challenges presented by that position, it's me. It would be very easy to fall into the trap and do a column today about how Cliff Lee is struggling to repeat last year's performance, killing the Indians' chance at the AL Central, and then do one tomorrow about how the Cardinals are a lot better than we thought, and then make Wednesday all about the Padres and their statement in the NL West.
Then on Thursday, I could fashion a noose and give myself sweet, sweet relief from my own idiocy.
Baseball is harder than that. Baseball is about six months, not six days. Two starts mean nothing. Losing five out of six games is meaningless-every team in baseball will do that at some point during the season. It doesn't mean more just because you started that stretch at 0-0. I can go through a full season's worth of 35 PA stretches and find a whole bunch that look like .304/.448/.870. Saying Brandon Inge has a 1300 OPS "for the season" is factually correct, but functionally irrelevant. Getting excited about a "hot start" puts far too much credence in the idea that past performance predicts future results. A guy's career doesn't tell me what his next week will be, and his last week doesn't tell me much about his next 25.
I know this makes me a killjoy. (I don't think it necessarily makes me a bad guest, but that's an eye-of-the-beholder issue.) Sometimes being right isn't all that much fun; as arrogant as it is to say this, I'm fairly familiar with the concept. Let's be clear, too, that this applies when the first week of the season confirms my biases. The Astros are a bad baseball team that probably has the worst bottom 20 roster spots in MLB; that they're 1-5 with the worst run differential in baseball doesn't tell us much more than we knew a week ago. Just because a small sample confirms your pre-season analysis doesn't make it any more valid.
This doesn't mean there's nothing to write about in the first week of the season. I think the management of bullpens around the game has been a source of hilarity, from the idiotic resource management we saw last week to the process by which some managers... some veteran managers... some veteran managers of NL Central teams... that are long-time rivals... assigned roles to their relievers and then ran away from those decisions based on two outings. I have no idea how managers do this; you spend first an offseason and then an exhibition season reaching a conclusion, and then you abandon that conclusion in less than a dozen batters faced.
Maybe Kevin Gregg should be the Cubs' ninth-inning guy. Maybe Carlos Marmol should be. To let Gregg's first two outings change your mind about the answer, however, isn't decision-making, it's panic. The same goes for Jason Motte in St. Louis, who didn't even get to blow a second save before being lifted for another reliever. To the first category of bullpen follies we can throw in Joe Girardi, who played righty-lefty games against something called Brayan Pena on his way to having Phil Coke face three straight righties with the game on the line yesterday. I assume Edwar Ramirez was trapped under something very heavy.
It's not about the answer, it's about the process, and the process by which these decisions were made stunk. That's a lot more interesting than the Red Sox being 2 1/2 games out.
Here are some other things on my mind after the first week of what is going to be a highly entertaining season: