Idle Thoughts on the Influence of April Narratives

Part One: Idle Thoughts
It has recently been discovered by, like, top-top literary critics that, when T.S. Eliot writes — in his long poem “The Waste Land” — when Eliot writes that “April is the cruellest month,” he’s referring not to the tumult and angst of spring that is also the tumult and angst of the human condition, but to an entirely different phenomenon altogether.

In fact, the thing to which Eliot is actually referring is the inordinate power and influence of April numbers over the minds of even those of us who attempt to actively avoid such biases.

The reader is surely able to remember examples from past seasons when a hitter or pitcher’s hot start led to an almost season-long narrative that portrayed said player in an unduly flattering light — or, conversely, those other situations in which a player, after a very poor start, slowly hit his way back to respectability without much in the way fanfare.

The pull of these April narratives is strong. It was not, for example, until I saw the above tweet from managing editor Dave Cameron regarding Carlos Beltran and Matt Kemp that I seriously entertained the notion that the former (i.e. Beltran) had approached the latter (i.e. Kemp) in terms of production on the young season.

Indeed, as of today, Beltran trails Kemp by only 0.1 WAR (2.3 vs. 2.2) while nearly approximating Kemp’s performance at the plate (208 vs. 193 wRC+). But because of Kemp’s April — one of the best Aprils in the last 39 years — it doesn’t quite feel as though Beltran has been as productive.

Why are April narratives so powerful? Being not a scientist of any description, my own answer to that question is largely unimportant. However, were I to speculate wildly, I’d submit that at least two factors contribute to the undue influence of April narratives on the mind.

The first such factor is that particularly good or bad starts are also particularly conspicuous. Like, consider Matt Kemp and Carlos Beltran. The former hit 12 home runs in April. His closest competitor was Ryan Braun, with just seven. (Beltran, for his part, had only five.) At the end of the month, it was very difficult to regard Kemp as anything other than the SuperChampion of National League Home Run Hitters.

May has held very different fortunes for the pair: Kemp has zero home runs, while Beltran has eight. That actually gives Beltran one more homer on the season than Kemp — but Beltran has only been atop the home-run leaderboard since Friday, while Kemp had been atop said leaderboard since basically the first day of the season. Because Beltran’s run has been “nested,” as it were, within the season, it’s been more difficult to experience firsthand.

Another probably-not-actual factor that contributes to April’s undue influence on the mind is the general enthusiasm that surrounds the return of the baseball season. The season starts as the most rasa of tabulas (or, for the classically minded, the most rasae of tabulae). The fan, eager for any sort of meaningful game, finds himself going to extraordinary lengths — like waking up, for example, at 6am on a weekday to watch Oakland and Seattle play in a far away land.

Owing to this enthusiasm, the earliest days of the season occupy an inordinately large space in the fan’s memory. Speaking for myself, I remember vividly the hanging slider Shawn Kelley threw to Yoenis Cespedes, which offering Cespedes converted into his first major-league home run. That being, I’m unable to produce from memory — because I never knew in the first place — the name of the pitcher who conceded Cespedes’ most recent home run.

Part Two: Two Sets of Leaderboards
Below are two sets of leaderboards — both intended, at some level, to counteract the influence of April numbers/narratives. The first set consists simply of a WAR leaderboard and laggardboard for batters so far this May. These are players who may or may not have started well, but have performed very well through the first two weeks of baseball’s second month.

The second set consists of a SCOUT leaderboard and laggardboard for May. Like the SCOUT leaderboards published for winter leagues and spring training, these utilize regressed home-run, walk, and strikeout rates in an attempt to approximate something like “true talent” wRC+. (Read more about SCOUT here.)

Here’s the batter WAR leaderboard for May so far:

Name PA wRC+ Fld BsR WAR
Josh Hamilton 47 319 -0.3 0.4 1.4
Carlos Beltran 50 290 0.2 0.1 1.4
Rafael Furcal 52 262 -0.2 0.1 1.3
Elvis Andrus 57 196 1.0 0.2 1.1
Joey Votto 48 246 0.2 0.2 1.0
Matt Holliday 52 194 1.8 0.1 1.0
J.J. Hardy 58 187 0.3 0.1 1.0
Giancarlo Stanton 54 224 -0.6 0.1 0.9
Austin Jackson 52 181 1.4 0.3 0.9
Andrew McCutchen 35 270 -0.4 0.4 0.9

And the WAR laggardboard for May:

Name PA wRC+ Fld BsR WAR
Danny Valencia 26 -100 -0.3 0.1 -0.5
Chris Parmelee 29 -34 -1.0 -0.1 -0.5
J.D. Martinez 28 -61 -0.4 -0.1 -0.5
Albert Pujols 47 1 0.6 -0.9 -0.5
Conor Gillaspie 20 -13 -2.5 0.0 -0.5
Eric Hosmer 45 13 -0.9 0.5 -0.4
Alex Presley 33 -35 0.0 0.2 -0.4
Erick Aybar 34 -21 -0.6 -0.1 -0.4
Eric Thames 43 39 -2.1 0.3 -0.4
Buster Posey 44 1 -0.5 -0.3 -0.4

Here’s the SCOUT leaderboard for May:

Name PA HR% BB% K% xHR% xBB% xK% SCOUT+
Josh Hamilton 47 19.1% 12.8% 27.7% 5.4% 10.0% 20.7% 125
Carlos Beltran 50 16.0% 12.0% 22.0% 5.0% 9.9% 19.1% 124
Ben Zobrist 47 4.3% 21.3% 2.1% 3.0% 12.0% 12.7% 119
Adam Dunn 55 10.9% 21.8% 29.1% 4.3% 12.6% 21.8% 118
Joey Votto 48 6.3% 22.9% 12.5% 3.4% 12.5% 16.0% 118
Nick Markakis 57 7.0% 15.8% 15.8% 3.6% 11.1% 16.9% 115
Jose Bautista 51 9.8% 11.8% 17.6% 4.0% 9.8% 17.6% 115
Giancarlo Stanton 54 11.1% 11.1% 22.2% 4.3% 9.7% 19.2% 115
Asdrubal Cabrera 60 1.7% 16.7% 5.0% 2.6% 11.4% 12.5% 113
Rafael Furcal 52 3.8% 11.5% 3.8% 3.0% 9.8% 12.8% 112

And the SCOUT laggardboard for May:

Name PA HR% BB% K% xHR% xBB% xK% SCOUT+
Miguel Montero 47 0.0% 10.6% 38.3% 2.4% 9.5% 24.1% 84
Ryan Raburn 39 0.0% 5.1% 35.9% 2.4% 8.4% 22.3% 85
Chris Davis 44 2.3% 2.3% 34.1% 2.7% 7.7% 22.4% 86
Buster Posey 44 0.0% 4.5% 27.3% 2.4% 8.1% 20.4% 87
Miguel Cabrera 53 0.0% 0.0% 17.0% 2.3% 6.7% 17.4% 88
Eric Thames 43 2.3% 4.7% 32.6% 2.7% 8.2% 21.9% 88
Corey Hart 48 2.1% 4.2% 27.1% 2.7% 8.0% 20.6% 89
Justin Upton 50 2.0% 6.0% 28.0% 2.7% 8.4% 21.1% 90
Alexei Ramirez 50 0.0% 0.0% 14.0% 2.3% 6.9% 16.4% 90
Aaron Hill 46 0.0% 2.2% 17.4% 2.4% 7.6% 17.5% 90



Print This Post



Carson Cistulli has just published a book of aphorisms called Spirited Ejaculations of a New Enthusiast.


Sort by:   newest | oldest | most voted
Ignorant Tool
Member
Ignorant Tool

I like to roll over all the player rows, turning the background from boring beige to clean as a whistle white. Also, I have better numbers (minus Fld) in my beer league than Pujols.

Everett
Guest
Everett

I do the exact same thing with the white.

ezb230
Guest
ezb230

I hit refresh and tried it. enjoyed it.

wpDiscuz