We pretty much all pretty much always have an inaccurate idea of what an average slash line looks like.
Sometime this past March, I was talking about the Mariners with a friend. Robinson Cano came up, and my friend made the comment that Cano wasn’t that great of a hitter in 2015, because he only hit about .280 (the actual figure is .287, but that’s not the point). Setting aside advanced versus non-advanced stats, we talked a little about what sort of line a “good” hitter has, what it takes to lead the league in average, that sort of thing. He was shocked to learn that only six people in the AL hit .300 or better last year, and that .320 led the league; his impression was that the old standard of .300/.400/.500 was about average for a star hitter—in fact, only four qualified batters reached that threshold last year.
Fast-forward to about a month ago. Fellow BP writer Jeff Long and I were talking about article ideas, and he suggested that I write about what the “average” player looks like (statistically) these days, because “the steroid era screwed everyone's perception.” This was pretty much confirmed by Jeff via Twitter (note: I’m not trying to call anyone out, but I am using you all to make a point).
The season is getting on in days. The corn is getting overripe, the kids are getting sick of midday TV, the fields have turned into kindling. Have the catchers become exhausted?
Catching, for lack of a better word, is hard. You strap on 18 interlocking pieces of gear, some of them plated in solid gold, and then squat for hours at a time working with maybe 25 percent visibility, getting hit by bounced splitters and backswings, feeling the cartilage twist and fray inside your knees, worrying about what each batter wants to hit and what pitch the pitcher wants to throw and how well you can fake that awful slider into almost being a strike. And then you head back into the dugout, strip off all the armor, head to the plate and get cheered half-heartedly by the fans who don’t understand why you don’t hit as many home runs as the right fielder. You develop late, fade early, play through constant pain and tear, and maybe get Sundays off.
The Giants flail their way to a win, Carlos Martinez matches a career record, and Yoan Moncada puts on a show at the Futures Game.
The Weekend Takeaway
Once in a while, the baseball gods conspire to do a little mischief-making. A fair number of these anecdotes end up in this column, brief asides that bring some life and color to otherwise fairly routine games.
The Giants won yesterday, 4-3 in extra innings against the Padres, and even before they did, they had the best week of any team in baseball. By BP’s own reckoning, in the form of our Playoff Odds report, their chances of making a postseason appearance this year increased by the largest amount—17.0 percent—of any other team this week, and that’s before the system had a chance to consider Brandon Crawford’s walkoff single by the bay last night. When it does, their odds of tasting October in this, an even year, will go up further, not only because the Padres are a division rival but because, as well, the season is one day closer to its end.
The 2010 Giants are back, sort of. Meanwhile, Noah Syndergaard continues his takeover of the world, while Joe Kelly flashes great stuff.
The Weekend Takeaway
The ghost of the 2010 Giants was resurrected on Saturday when Matt Cain delivered his first win of 2016. Yes, yes, the baseball-god-defying Giants did lay claim to championship titles in 2012 and 2014, but the last time Cain’s cFIP dipped under 100 in a winning Giants season, he was headlining the rotation with Tim Lincecum and sporting a career-high 6.1 WARP while the club marched to their its World Series in San Francisco.
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.