Noting small sample size does not make one a killjoy

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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.

And That Happened: Thursday’s Scores and Highlights

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Here are the scores. Here are the highlights:

Yankees 4, Mariners 3: A pair of first inning two-run homers — from Aaron Judge and Miguel Andujar — were all the Yankees needed, even with a less-sharp-than-usual Luis Severino.

In other news, reporters asked Aaron Boone after the game yesterday if the Yankees are too reliant on homers. Boone was, quite understandably, incredulous that someone was asking him that.

Can someone please tell me why people who cover the Yankees, nearly every single year, go through a “are the Yankees too reliant on home runs?” phase? Seriously, go search “Yankees” and some variation of “home run-reliant” or “home run-dependent” or whatever. It’s an evergreen. Hell, they did it TEN DAYS AGO. As if hitting homers is bad. I mean, I know I’m not a seasoned beat reporter and don’t know nothin, but I’m pretty sure homers are awesome and are literally the best thing you can do when you’re batting.

John: “I hit a double.”
Charlie: “I hit a homer.”

CHARLIE WINS

My god, if you can’t think of an angle, at least stop going back to the tired and dumb ones you take every year. Or, at the very least, if you’re going to continue to worry about the Yankees being too reliant on homers, acknowledge that the Yankees HIT A METRIC BUTT-TON of homers, they’re hit by guys who are expected to hit a lot of homers so it’s not a fluke and it’s all good.

But, hey, congratulations on getting a quote out of Boone. Your copy is complete and turned in and you can go home now.

Red Sox 9, Twins 2: Rick Porcello tossed one-hit shutout ball for seven innings. No one asked him if he’s too “getting guys out”-reliant. Missed opportunity, really. Mookie Betts and Andrew Benintendi went deep and the Sox racked up 16 hits in all.

Rockies 6, Mets 4: Nolan Arenado hit a three-run jack early — his third homer in as many days — and knocked in five runs in all. Dude drove in nine runs against the Mets over the past three games, in fact, so I imagine New York is happy to be leaving town. Kyle Freeland went six innings, allowing two, and got out of jams with double plays on three occasions.

Nationals 4, Orioles 2: Max Scherzer allowed two over seven and struck out nine but didn’t get the win because his mates decided not to take a lead until the eighth inning. It happens. That lead came via a two-run double from Juan Soto, who is now batting .326 with 16 RBI in 28 games, despite the fact that I literally — yes, literally — have t-shirts in my regular rotation that are older than he is. Anthony Rendon homered.

Diamondbacks 9, Pirates 3: Arizona jumped out with eight runs before the third inning was even over, giving license to my friends in Pittsburgh for the SABR convention this weekend to leave early and go raise hell. And believe me, you do NOT want to get in the way of a bunch of baseball historians when they’ve had a few drinks and have time on their hands. You’ll just be walking down the street and then all of a sudden you’re cornered by some guys in dad jeans lecturing you about Hank Greenberg’s season with the 1932 Beaumont Explorers of the Texas League and asking you if there’s a good place to find some beer nearby, but “nothing too hoppy because, man, my system just can’t take that since I hit 50.”

Reds 6, Cubs 2: Cincinnati enjoyed a six-run sixth inning, thanks to a bases-loaded walk drawn by Eugenio Suarez, a grand slam by Jesse Winker and an RBI single from Billy Hamilton. In other news, yesterday on Twitter there was a lot of discussion about how MLB could do a better job of marketing players. My friend Jeff, who works in P.R. and used to work for Major League Baseball, said a lot of very smart things about that, explaining why it’s not so simple as to say “MLB should market its stars better.” One of the minor points in that is that ballplayers, by virtue of the culture of the game, are conditioned to not draw attention to themselves and to downplay their stardom lest someone think they’re a hot dog or a glory hound or whatever. I’m not going to suggest that Jesse Winker is a budding superstar which MLB should be marketing hard, but his quote after the game illustrates the point:

“Guys put together great at-bats in front of me. Obviously, you can’t hit a grand slam unless guys get on base.”

There’s a certain admirable humility to that. It’s also nothing that’s gonna sell t-shirts, posters or make 12-year-olds say “WOW, WINKER IS THE MAN!”

Brewers 11, Cardinals 3: Brent Suter allowed two over seven and the Cardinals threw and bobbled the ball all over the place, allowing the Brewers to score six unearned runs. Eric Thames drove in three and Travis Shaw and Jesus Aguilar knocked in a couple a piece.

Angels 8, Blue Jays 5: Luis Valbuena homered twice and Kole Calhoun connected for the second consecutive game. The Jays have lost nine of ten on the road. Also, this happened:

That was the first tweet I saw when I woke up this morning and I’m still chuckling. It’s John Lamb, by the way. I hope he has a good sense of humor about this.

Giants 3, Padres 0: Madison Bumgarner is back. I mean, he’s been back, but now he’s BACK. The Giants’ ace tossed eight shutout innings, allowing only three hits and struck out eight. He also knocked in the Giants’ first and, as it happens, only necessary run, with a sac fly. Giants fans can finally relax, knowing that, in some ways at least, the old order has been restored.

Athletics vs. White Sox — POSTPONED:

Hmmm
Sunshine, blue skies, please go away.
My girl has found another and gone away.
With her went my future, my life is filled with gloom.
So day after day, I stayed locked up in my room.
I know to you it might sound strange.
But I wish it would rain. (How I wish that it would rain)
Oh, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah