Fun With Giant Small Sample Sizes
I’ve made a point on this site to worship at the altar of the large statistical sample. I won’t worry about Tim Lincecum after three starts. Brandon Belt’s ten at-bats in Arizona mean absolutely nothing. I’ve had one burrito for dinner this week. All of these things are not indicative of a trend and can’t be until they occur over a longer period of time (burrito-eating included). But let’s shed this preconception for a brief moment and revel in the glory of the small sample size.
I’ll kick off the festivities with what I’ve been calling “Huff Watch.” Hitting in the fifth spot behind Pablo Sandoval and Buster Posey, Huff has hit with runners on base in 75% of his plate appearances. In his 26 PA’s with runners on, he’s stranded 24 baserunners. In case you’re wondering, these numbers are comically high. To come up with men on base three out of four times is unheard of. To strand almost one for every time he hits in that situation is downright batty.
Next we have the Giants with runners in scoring position this year. Before tonight, the Giants were hitting .202/.289/.313 with runners in scoring position this season in 99 at-bats. Double-bonus small sample size, 15 of those at-bats belong to Aubrey Huff (that’s 15% of the Giants total ABs in these situations). What is this indicative of? Pretty much nothing except that everything rides on the back of Huff since he’s the only person getting a chance to drive in runs.
And now for Emmanuel Burriss. He has a .333 OBP. I don’t have anything else to say about this, it just makes no sense to me.
It’s been all of three minutes since I’ve talked about Brandon Belt, so here goes nothing. In 19 plate appearances this year, he’s been ahead in the count just four times. He’s been ahead 2-0 just once, along with seeing just one three ball count all year. Sure we can speculate about how he’s “pressing” based off of these numbers, but we won’t because, say it with me now, it’s a small sample size!
In cheerier statistical news, let’s talk Buster Posey. In innings 1-3, the young catcher is hitting .700/.727/1.100 in ten at-bats. In third inning AB’s, he’s 4-4 with a home run and seven total bases. In night games he’s played in just two games, going a combined 6-9. Now this may mean nothing, but Posey is still my favorite hitter on this team to watch. He’ll rarely chase out of the strike zone, even when he’s caught off-balance he manages to make solid contact, and he has the best opposite-field approach I’ve seen in a right-handed hitter in a long time.
So you see, small sample sizes are dumb. That said, Huff Watch will continue as scheduled because applicable Huff at-bats occur so damn often and to not track them for posterity would be irresponsible. What this should also demonstrate is that cherry-picking these sample sizes is truly the path to the dark side. Once we start worrying about ten isolated at-bats or a few bad starts from a pitcher, it’s a stone’s throw away from “Wow that swing didn’t look good, maybe it’s time to trade EVERYBODY.”
Given my whole spiel, you’d think that we can’t judge anyone starting right now until they accrue an appropriate amount of playing time. But that’s not quite the point I’m trying to make. Until we have more season to go off of, we can evaluate based off of career averages as well as how they’ve performed in the last year. Example, Emmanuel Burriss is not capable of starting at the Major League level and there are numbers dating back to 2008 to support this. Brandon Belt has a history of taking walks and hitting for power at every stop in the Minor Leagues. Given a chance to play, it stands to reason that he’ll do the same in the Majors; you get the picture.
If you take one thing from this, let it be that April is a month for wild speculation, most of it a result of overreacting to a handful of innings or plate appearances. Browse most major sports networks and you’ll see the articles crowning the Dodgers as kings of the NL West because they beat up on the Padres and Pirates. Things mean a whole lot of nothing when you evaluate based on early numbers, so don’t be fooled by shiny things like the first month of the season.