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— Where BTF's Members Investigate the Grand Old Game
Friday, May 04, 2001
Mike Fought the Law, and the Law Won
Should you get excited when a mediocre player gets off to a hot start? Voros thinks not.
Mike Bordick had an April to remember in 2000. After nine years of being seen as a good-field/no-hit shortstop, Bordick exploded for an April AVG/OBP/SLG of .352/.365/.682, hitting seven homers in 88 at bats. Theories abounded about the newfound hitting prowess of Bordick. Was it off-season conditioning? A new batting stance? Was it due to being moved up in the lineup? Whatever the reason, it was clear that Bordick had found a new ?level? of performance.
Or was it. Here are Bordick?s stats in 2000 from May until October, as well as his stats in 1999 and 1998:
2000 (post-April):??????????? .273/.336/.400 1999:?????????????? ??????????? .277/.334/.403 1998:?????????????? ?????????? ? .260/.328/.411
So what happened. Did he start eating cheeseburgers and watching soap operas? Did he forget to use his new stance?
What probably happened was that people read far too much into far too little. In other words, Mike fell prey to what I call, Voros? Law:
Any major league hitter can hit just about anything in 60 at bats.
Whether some people admit or not, most baseball fans like baseball statistics. Moreso than any other sport, baseball is heavily interconnected with its statistics, as even the most casual fans know the basics and what they mean. As such, after six months of the same old statistics never changing, when the new ones start compiling, most of us start to get a little giddy.
To wit, in the last few weeks I?ve heard people theorizing the death knell of Jim Thome?s career, the possibility of an A-Rod flop and David Justice?s rapid aging. We?ve seen a team in Tampa bench its starting second baseman, bench its starting third baseman, fire its manager and then bench the replacement for that third baseman, all before they were halfway through April.
You see at around sixty at bats, things like batting average start to look real. No one?s hitting .715 anymore so they must be okay now, right?
So is Voros? Law true? If so, why? It, of course, isn?t literally true. Rey Ordonez isn?t about to bust out and hit 40 Homers in 60 at bats. It is more of a warning not to read too much into a handful of at bats, especially when we have perfectly good information based on much larger samples from previous years. Basically, the point is that if Mark Grudzielanek hits five homers in fifty at bats, one should assume the version of Grudzielanek you?re familiar with is capable of doing so without fundamentally changing as a player.
Why? Well there are a bunch of reasons, some involve statistical theory, but others involve logic. Here is a short but not all-inclusive list of reasons:
Now before anybody gets upset with me and calls me the Grinch Who Stole Shane Spencer, I?m not here to rain on anybody?s parade. Baseball statistics can be great fun, even 20 at bats worth. Do with these April statistics whatever will bring you the most pleasure. Far be it from me to deny anyone that. But understand that when people start drawing conclusions from these statistics, they really are seriously rushing to judgment. If 60 at bats were really that meaningful, Alex Rodriguez and Manny Ramirez would probably be in a different line of work, and Chris Stynes would be Ted Williams.
Just remember that using baseball statistics as a tool, means using the tool in appropriate situations, for appropriate jobs and at appropriate times.
Now, using statistics for fun is a whole separate story. Like any other tool, lots of fun can be had using it incorrectly. Who here can?t dig up a fond memory like chasing a friend or sibling around the house with their dads? power saw? Boy, you should have seen the look on Half-Eared Pete?s face. Man, that takes me back?
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