What did we learn about various players and teams this month? Less than we'll learn in the next one.
Early season baseball is full of articles about “What we’ve learned so far” after a week, or two weeks, or a month of play. You can’t really blame the sportswriters and TV sports producers and podcast hosts who come up with these pieces. They have to talk about something, and there aren’t any pennant races or awards competitions to discuss in April.
As Russell Carleton has demonstrated, though, most measures of baseball performance take far longer than a week or three to stabilize. Drawing conclusions from a 10- or 20-game sample is akin to statistics problem sets involving drawing balls from an urn. A really, really big urn. With lots and lots of balls in it. When you draw a few balls from a really, really big urn with lots and lots of balls in it, you don’t get a good picture of what’s really in the urn.
We can look at the relevance of April numbers by correlating them to players’ full-year figures, and comparing the correlation in April to that of May, June, July, August, and September. (Throughout this analysis, April includes a few days of March play in the relevant years, and September includes a few days of October games.) To do this, I selected batting title and ERA qualifiers from each of the past 10 seasons and compared their monthly results to their full-year results. I had a sample of 1,487 batter seasons with corresponding monthly data in about 87 percent of months and 850 pitcher seasons with corresponding monthly data in 86 percent of months.
Admittedly, there’s a selection bias in April data, and it applies mostly to young players. Since I’m comparing monthly data to full-year data for batting title and ERA qualifiers, I’m selecting from those players who hung around long enough to compile 502 plate appearances or 162 innings pitched. If you’re a young player who puts up a .298/.461/.596 batting line in April, as Joc Pederson did last April, you get to stick around to get your 502 plate appearances, even though 261 of your plate appearances occurred during July, August, and September, when you hit .170/.300/.284. On the other hand, if you bat .147/.284/.235 in April, as Rougned Odor did, you do get a chance to bat .352/.426/.639 in 124 plate appearances spread between May and June, but you get them in Round Rock instead of Arlington. So there’s a bias in this analysis in favor of players who perform well in April (giving them a chance to continue to play) compared to those who don’t (who may get shipped out). This shouldn’t have a big impact on the overall variability of April data, though, since the presence of early-season outperformers like Pederson who get full-time status on the strength of their April is canceled, to an extent, by early-season underperformers like Odor who don’t.
So is April more predictive than other months? Here’s a chart for batters, using OPS as the measure, comparing the correlation between batters’ full-year performance and that of each month.
Trevor Story can't stop hitting home runs, Vince Velasquez nearly pulls off a no-hitter, and Bartolo Colon resurrects the panache of Willie Mays.
The Weekend Takeaway
Both the Padres and the Rockies had something to rejoice over in the 13-6 slugfest on Friday night. It’s been a long, long week in the NL West, especially for the Friars, who had managed to string together 30 scoreless innings to begin the season. Those 13 runs must've felt like an exorcism.
No, really: Preller Phase 2 starts this year, far from Petco.
You know the story about Billy Beane retreating into the bowels of the Coliseum to avoid actually watching his meticulously crafted team play baseball. Someday similar tales will circulate about A.J. Preller ducking Padres games, only Preller—the story will go—won’t be hiding on a stationary bike somewhere in Petco Park. Instead he’ll be 3,000 miles away on a scouting trip in the Dominican Republic, radar gun pointed in the general direction of a lanky 16-year-old pitcher.
Last year Preller may have looked away from the on-field proceedings for a different reason, as his vision for a winning team, which included bringing in veterans Matt Kemp, James Shields, Craig Kimbrel, and Justin Upton, flopped spectacularly to register a Padres-like 74 wins. If there’s a silver lining to the ultimate disappointment of another 70-something win season—that’s five straight and six in seven years, for those counting—it’s that the Padres have quietly set themselves up for a big year on the amateur side in 2016.
What the past says about the futures of three once-bright stars.
About 13 months ago, I wrote a piece for Banished to the Pen examining the brutal 2014 seasons of three previously promising young hitters (Arismendy Alcantara, Jackie Bradley, Jr., and Wil Myers) and the implications of those campaigns on those players’ futures. The concept was a rough, statistical sketch of the players’ likely career arcs, without relying either on scouting information or the general narrative.
The piece seems to have mostly pegged Alcantara and Myers correctly. You can read the piece itself to see exactly what I found, but the gist for Alcantara was that the odds were stacked against long-term success for him because of his excessive strikeout rate, and indeed, that shortcoming crippled him in 2015, even after his demotion to Triple-A Iowa. Myers, meanwhile, managed a .288 TAv and 114 OPS+ when he was healthy—numbers that hew eerily closely to those of the people I found who compared closely to him through 2014.
The plan of lost season has given way to something San Diego fans are used to: Mixed messages and a lack of direction.
As fans and analysts, we like it when a team has an easily identifiable plan we can follow along with, whether it's rebuilding for a better future or pressing the proverbial all-in button. There's a certain level of solidarity between team and fan (or team and analyst) when both sides are on the same page, allowing us to scroll through the transaction log and nod our collective heads—even if we disagree with a specific move or, in more extreme cases, the entire plan, we at least give the team a certain benefit of the doubt for formulating a course of action and sticking with it.
The Padres and Ian Desmond fit nicely together, while Bronson Arroyo has unfinished business in Cincinnati.
Padres at least keeping tabs on Ian Desmond
Ian Desmond played shortstop last year. The Padres’ projected starting shortstop is Alexi Amarista, producer of a .205 TAv in 357 plate appearances last season. Ian Desmond is available. Which also means that, despite the obviousness of the match, he’s not yet donning San Diego’s new (old) colors.