“Small Sample Size”
We hear these phrases thrown around every April and May as a way for fans of last place teams to justify their team’s losses and to detract from the first place team’s wins. But how often does the first 30 games represent the likely outcome at the end of a season?
Below are the standings as of May 1, 2012 in relation to how they finished the season.
Some of these differences can be explained by players getting hurt (Matt Kemp in LA or Troy Tulowitzki in Colorado) or franchise altering trades (Boston). For the most part, what we notice is that is that teams who have low expectations going into the season but start hot (CLE, TOR, LAD, NYM) aren’t all of a sudden world beaters and will come back to where they were expected to finish. Occasionally, we see a 2012 Orioles or Braves situation where a team enters the season without high expectations, plays well early on, and just keeps chugging along. In these two scenarios, we saw an “us against the world” attitude in Baltimore and a “Win one for the Chipper” drive in Atlanta. Certainly, a season-long emotional ride can take a team to the next rung up the ladder. Many teams who entered the season as favorites simply played good baseball wire-to-wire (TEX, TBR, NYY, DET, STL, WSN, CIN, SFG). Some teams, sadly, are what they are (SEA, KCR, MIN, PIT, HOU, MIA, CHC, SDP). Lastly, some teams have the courtesy to let their fanbases know really early on exactly what kind of team they are. Kudos to the White Sox, Nationals, Braves, and Phillies for playing not 1 percent different over the last 85 percent of the season compared to the first month.
I want to focus our attention towards Milwaukee and Anaheim. If your team enters the season as playoff contenders or World Series favorites, and they start the season slow due to bad babip bounces or short-term injuries, fear not. Every team goes through these banged-up babip-induced slumps; yours just happened to have it’s slump at the beginning of the season. That team you’re chasing that is playing at a 115-win pace is probably not the best team in history, just as your team probably isn’t going to lose 100 games. That ace pitcher you gave a six-year contract to in December, unless he’s hurt, is probably going to be fine. If your superstar is coming off an MVP season and is having a slow start, and he’s not hurt, don’t swear off wearing his jersey. Rather, go pick him up in your fantasy league. He’s going to be fine.
Injuries happen. They happen a lot. We’re watching highly-specialized athletes with over-developed fast twitch muscles perform at top speed every day for months on end with nary a day off, who also happen to run around with metal pegs on the bottom of their feet. Blame your team’s training staff if you want, blame the Baseball Gods, blame yourself for wearing the wrong hat or the wrong jersey or for not eating your pregame meal, but the real answer is that Baseball Happens.
Baseball Happens. It will continue to happen. Balls will bounce for and against your team all year long. Sometimes in streaks. The last bad bounce is not at all related to the next bounce being for or against your team. The whole point of needing thousands of data points is that data doesn’t normalize until the coin has landed on heads and tails enough times to warrant a conclusion. Fandom begets making conclusions more hastily than is necessary. Sports are emotional, irrational and unreasonable by nature. At some point one of those bad bounces could cost your team a game, a series or the season. Be upset. Get ticked off.
Then think back to the Angels and Brewers. It’s a long season.