Medium Sample Size at the 2014 All Star Break

One of the great 'joys' of baseball discussion in Spring Training and the early season is trying to guess or project who will do well this year. This invariably leads to the magic phrase Small Sample Size, to the point that eventually "SSS" gets brought up so much that people would be forgiven for thinking they're being stalked by snakes. Or that they need to check their tire pressure.

One of the great 'joys' of baseball discussion at the ASB is that there are no games to comment on, so many people cast about for midseason predictions. (Assuming they're not doing the sensible thing and just turning on website blocking tools on all baseball websites until Friday morning.) At this point, there is now enough data on the season to make reasonable assertions about how some players are doing, in some aspects of their game, this season. Call it MSS - medium sample size.

I went to Fangraphs and made a custom table of our heroes, cutting off the list at 50 plate appearances (for reasons to be explained in a moment). I based some of the columns in the table off of a classic piece of research in sabermetric circles, When Samples Become Reliable. There is nothing magic about these cutoff points, no switch that flips that lets you apply certainty to any of these stats any more than one could, say, subscribe to various projection systems as gospel truth. It's more a measure of when to start treating these numbers as 'real' for the season.

The relevant stats and their cutoffs:

 50 PA: Swing %
100 PA: Contact Rate
150 PA: Strikeout Rate, Line Drive Rate, Pitches/PA
200 PA: Walk Rate, Groundball Rate, GB/FB
250 PA: Flyball Rate
300 PA: Home Run Rate, HR/FB

The stats one generally needs close to a full season to derive meaning from, i.e. look as much or more at career / last 3 seasons than this season:

500 PA: OBP, SLG, OPS, 1B Rate, Popup Rate
550 PA: ISO

The players in the table below are on the 25-man as of the All-Star Break and have 50 PA or more. I left off people who'd been DFA'd (Buck, Gillespie). I left on Condor (get well soon). I left off Nick Franklin (51 PA, sporadic playing time). "PPA" is pitches per plate appearance. Numbers that meet the cutoff above, I bolded. You may need to scroll right a smidge to see it all, sorry. The table is sorted by PA.

Name PA wRC+ Swing% Contact% K% LD% PPA BB% GB% GB/FB FB% HR/FB
Cano 392 138 50.1% 86.3% 11.5% 24.4% 3.41 8.4% 52.4% 2.26 23.2% 9.7%
Seager 381 136 42.8% 83.0% 19.4% 23.6% 3.91 8.7% 34.5% 0.82 41.9% 13.4%
Miller 300 70 48.9% 79.3% 23.3% 16.8% 3.42 8.0% 42.6% 1.05 40.6% 10.0%
Ackley 298 73 43.9% 84.1% 17.8% 17.5% 3.81 7.0% 48.4% 1.42 34.1% 5.3%
Zunino 292 85 57.0% 66.0% 33.2% 18.4% 3.76 3.8% 34.5% 0.73 47.1% 15.9%
Jones 258 89 47.6% 81.3% 17.4% 24.6% 3.74 4.3% 56.1% 2.92 19.3% 0.0%
Smoak 248 76 43.8% 75.9% 24.6% 20.1% 4.04 8.5% 40.9% 1.05 39.0% 10.9%
Condor 219 112 43.1% 80.1% 22.8% 23.2% 3.82 7.8% 40.1% 1.1 36.6% 11.5%
Hart 187 78 48.9% 74.4% 20.3% 16.8% 3.80 6.4% 39.7% 0.91 43.5% 8.8%
LoMo 145 81 48.6% 80.0% 19.3% 21.7% 3.57 6.2% 39.6% 1.02 38.7% 12.2%
Endy 138 80 43.0% 86.3% 8.7% 21.2% 3.58 4.3% 47.8% 1.54 31.0% 2.9%
WFB 124 70 54.3% 82.5% 22.6% 23.3% 3.56 2.4% 50.0% 1.88 26.7% 4.2%

Things I think I know, based on first look at this:

  • Yes, Zunino hacks. No, it's not likely to change.
  • Yes, Cano is not hitting homeruns. No, it's not likely to change.
  • Kyle Seager is boss. If one believes in lineup order or lineup protection (one shouldn't), by all rights he should be batting 3rd and Cano 4th, every game.
  • I couldn't find when BABIP stabilizes, but I do wonder if over time we will see James Jones just run a high BABIP. (Currently it's .352.) His high contact rate suggests so, to me. If the league has adjusted to him, he's adjusted right back, but his slash lines over the last week, 2 weeks and month make me think that pitchers around the league haven't responded to him yet, and that he will be challenged to make adjustments in the next couple months.

Questions for you, the fine people waiting for Friday's matchup in Anaheim:

  • Do I have rates v. % wrong, and if so, where should I get the correct numbers from?
  • Should we compare people's numbers to their own career numbers? Their own past 3 seasons? League average? A combination? Something else?
  • Related: Would it be helpful to provide the league averages for each of those stats above? If so, does anyone know where to find these in Fangraphs, or should I brute-force calculate it based on all AL hitters with 200 PA or more?
  • How would you treat sporadic playing time? Should players who have been up and down from AAA or the DL have their PA treated as smaller for these purposes?
  • What would you do to account for career trends for players like Dustin Ackley, who are historically better in the 2nd half?
  • I assume we all agree on how badly we need one and possibly 2 upgrades in the outfield? I say this given that Condor is injured, Hart and Morrison really shouldn't be outfielders, and it's debatable whether Endy's performance this year is sustainable (though his current slash line is about on par with his career numbers minus a bit for natural expectations for aging).

I know: This is not a post with great insights about the performance of the team. If you'd like to see more or different info from this FanPost, please let me know in the comments and I can adjust accordingly. This post is mainly doing 2 things:

  1. Asking for opinions and feedback on what you think we can ascertain about the position players, given what we know as of the ASB.
  2. Trying to introduce or re-introduce some long-standing sabermetric ideas, since we're on a break from games for a few days and seem to see some new commenters and long-time lurkers come aboard. If you're new to following advanced baseball stats, Fangraphs just put up an article re-introducing some of their resources for learning about them.

If you found this information unhelpful, inaccurate or otherwise a bad FanPost, I will cheerfully attempt to make it up to you by going back to my wheelhouse, i.e. writing some frivolous satire or other like The 2014 Mariners In The Hundred Acre Wood.

Thanks in advance for feedback and brickbats in the comments.

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