If your memory works anything like mine, you have a small pocket of your brain specifically used for random, useless baseball trivia. For instance, I remember that Willie Bloomquist started the 2011 season with a 10 game hitting streak. I forgot my daughter’s date of birth yesterday, but I apparently made room in my skull for this.
Indeed – looking at his stats, Willie Boom-Boom was hitting .340/.360/.468 with seven RBI and he even hit a home run. It turns out, that was 33% of his home run total and 37% of his total RBI for the season. He finished at .254/.310/.320.
When the season starts, we try hard to not read much into small sample sizes – and if you’re a longtime reader, you know that the sample size is constantly referred to for the first couple months of the season, and for good reason. But in contrast to Spring training, these statistics actually matter to our fantasy baseball teams, so it’s hard to ignore when one guy is hitting out of his mind and another is barely doing anything. As logical as I try to be, I guarantee you that I’m disappointed when half my team doesn’t hit a home run on opening day.
Today, I’m not going to do anything predictive or prescriptive, I’m simply going to make a couple observations relative to early stats.
In anticipation of the start to the 2012 baseball season, I got to thinking about the start of last season with an eye on who came out of the gate smoking and who stumbled. I took a peek at the top ten weighted OBA for hitters and the list was actually unexpected – inasmuch as all of them were pretty unsurprising. Except for one. See if you can guess who:
You could certainly make a case that Placido Polanco doesn’t belong among this group in terms of quality, but at least he has a track record of hitting for a decent average. But Brett Wallace showing up was kind of a laugher. After his great start to the season, he went on to “produce” at the following rate: .215/.292/.315 with four home runs and 20 RBI in 89 games played. If any of you drafted Brett Wallace and managed to trade him after April, two gold stars for you.
It’s the other end of the spectrum that I’m really interested in though because I find it easier to inquire about struggling player rather than try to deal the proverbial Brett Wallace. As April closes each season, I try to look back at my projections, or whatever projections I was using at the time of the draft, and simply put some faith in them in context of the classic under-performers. Sometimes, it can be particularly hard if the start is truly miserable (Carl Crawford) — but these players represent a real opportunity in fantasy baseball should you encounter any trigger-happy managers willing to part with them.
For instance, I traded for Jacoby Ellsbury on April 26th, 2011. At the time, he was hitting .221/.294/.429 and his owner had grown frustrated despite Ellsbury showing good power and speed early on (his frustration discovered by following him on Twitter). I used what I thought was a pitcher who was, at that point, pitching over his head in James Shields to get him. It was a 9th rounder (Ellsbury) for my 19th rounder (Shields), so I was happy. It was a basic buy-low, sell-high mentality. Turns out, we both won.
Here are a handful of others who I wish I had also been able to target:
Not that many owners likely parted with Carlos Gonzalez, Carl Crawford, or Hanley Ramirez because the cost of drafting them was so high, but guys like Santana, Gardner, and McCutchen would have been great targets in hindsight. Heck, even Carlos Lee hit .294/.364/.474 for the remainder of the season and would have been a pretty valuable pickup after his miserable start.
I’ll look at strikeout rates, walk rates, and whiff rates. I’ll check hit trajectory, HR/FB rate, and plate discipline numbers. Yes, some of the explanation was wrapped up in bad luck — most of the hitters above had a poor BABIP in April. But so much of the issue is the classic small sample noise. It’s just simply what can happen with fewer than 100 at bats.
The stats we have will tell part of the story – and for some players it’s obvious. But what I try to do is be objective as possible and trust the numbers I counted on a month earlier. My conclusions for all eight of these guys should have been pretty obvious and I probably ought to have done more to try to acquire them when I had the chance.
So as we head into the start of the season, trust your numbers. Try to see through the fog of slow starts and use them to your advantage. We will no doubt be doing our due diligence to give you our best advice as the season wears on.
But following your fellow managers on Twitter is highly recommended.