Weird article at Grantland. In it Jay Caspian Kang takes issue with people who make note of small sample sizes. The example: Yasiel Puig. What he’s doing is amazing and, of course, we know that in all likelihood he will not maintain his blazing hot start. But pointing that out — by uttering the “annoying, almost guttural tic” that something is, indeed, the product of a small sample size — apparently makes one a killjoy:
When a phrase like “small sample size” becomes ubiquitous, the logic drops out. It’s no longer rational to temper anyone’s enthusiasm about Yasiel Puig’s ridiculous first 10 days with the shocking revelation that 10 days is just 10 days. The excitement over Puig comes directly out of what he’s done in his short stay in the majors, not from his long-term projection — pointing out his inevitable regression to the mean is largely beside the point. More importantly, it’s boring and needlessly depressing.
He notes that when he, himself, used to do that he was “a smug little bastard” and says that when sportswriters temper unexpected results with the “small sample size” caveat, they are engaging in the “bearish hosing down of expectations.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t menton that he cites something I wrote about Puig back in March as an example of those who can’t shake their presumably bearish, smug and boring “tempering impulses.”
All of which is baloney, of course. Kang defends himself in footnotes against creating a straw man argument (which is why he linked my piece) but he somehow didn’t think to protect himself from peddling false choices. Since when must one choose between enjoying something cool and acknowledging it won’t last? I am fully aware that Puig won’t finish his career with a .486 batting average yet, somehow, still think his start has been fantastic and enjoyable. It really is possible to think that, actually. Indeed, sometimes the greatest enjoyment one experiences comes when something happens even though you know it won’t last or is an aberration.
But if we know it won’t last, why point it out? Answer: because most people still persist in believing things like Puig’s amazing start will last. There is no shortage of mania whenever someone starts strong. And not just among common fans who are just going along for a ride. How many “on pace for …” articles are written in the early parts of seasons? How many in-depth features are written about players at exactly the moment they burst onto the scene? How many quicky biographies come out based on players with unsustainable starts? There are a lot of them. And I can tell you, those don’t spend much if any time at all talking about how this fun won’t go on forever because of regression and injury risk and the inevitable mathematics of the game of baseball.
So, sorry if me pointing out that Yasiel Puig may eventually have to make adjustments to pitchers who figure him out is bad form. Apologies for not riding the wave, blind to the fact that it will inevitable crash (relatively speaking). Pardon me if my bearish hosing down of expectations ruins your day. Because, really, almost all expectations about baseball players could use some hosing down.