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.

Blue Jays clinch 1st playoff spot since 2016, beat Yanks 4-1

Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
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BUFFALO, N.Y. — Hyun Jin Ryu pitched seven shutout innings and the Toronto Blue Jays clinched their first postseason spot since 2016, beating the Yankees 4-1 Thursday night and further damaging New York’s chances of hosting a first-round playoff series.

New York lost for the fourth time in five games and remained two games behind the slumping White Sox for the fourth seed. Chicago lost 5-4 at Cleveland, its fifth straight defeat.

Toronto secured at least an AL wild-card spot and ensured its eighth trip overall to the postseason.

Blue Jays players embraced on the diamond at their temporary home of Sahlen Field in Buffalo after Rafael Dolis struck out Aaron Hicks to end it.

The Blue Jays trail the Yankees by two games for second place in the AL East. Both teams have three games remaining. Toronto hosts Baltimore in Buffalo while the Yankees host the Marlins.

New York failed to hit a homer for the fourth straight game, matching its longest streak since June 2016. It’s the first time the Yankees have failed to homer in a four-game series since doing so at Texas in July 2013.

New York loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth, but pinch-hitter Gary Sanchez flied out to deep center, where Randal Grichuk made a leaping catch at the wall.

Vladimir Guerrero Jr. homered for Toronto.

Ryu (5-2) scattered five hits, walked two and struck out four. Luke Voit and Hicks hit back-to-back singles to begin the sixth but Ryu struck out Giancarlo Stanton, got Gleyber Torres to fly out and retired Gio Urshela on a groundball.

Dolis got four outs for his fifth save in six chances.

Ryu became the first Blue Jays starting pitcher since Aug. 22, 2019, to pitch into the seventh, pitching around Clint Frazier‘s leadoff single by setting down the next three, including pinch-hitter Aaron Judge. The left-hander lowered his ERA from 3.00 to 2.69.

Guerrero opened the scoring with a solo homer off left-hander Jordan Montgomery (2-3) in the second, his eighth.

The Blue Jays extended their lead when Cavan Biggio and Bo Bichette hit back-to-back, two-out doubles in the third.

Toronto made it 4-0 in the sixth. Grichuk chased Montgomery with a single and Guerrero singled off Adam Ottavino before rookie Alejandro Kirk hit a two-out, two-run double.

Montgomery lost for the first time in four starts. He allowed three runs and six hits in 5 1/3 innings.

The Blue Jays finished 5-5 in their 10-game regular season series against the Yankees.

TRAINER’S ROOM

Blue Jays: RHP Nate Pearson (elbow) was activated off the injured list and RHP Wilmer Font was designated for assignment. . RHP Jordan Romano (strained right middle finger) will throw a second bullpen session Friday.

Yankees: Judge is expected to start all three remaining regular season games, manager Aaron Boone said.

BIG HIT

New York infielder D.J. LeMaheiu went 1 for 5, dropping his MLB-best average to .355. A former NL batting champ seeing his first AL title, LeMahieu is well ahead of White Sox shortstop Tim Anderson. The Chicago star went 0 for 4 in Thursday’s loss to Cleveland, dropping his average to .338.

SHARED DUTY

Boone said he expects to use both Sanchez and Kyle Higashioka at catcher in the postseason. Higashioka has hit well while working with ace Gerrit Cole, while Sanchez has struggled with both offense and his defense down the stretch.

UP NEXT

Yankees: LHP J.A. Happ (2-2, 3.25) starts Friday as New York returns home to begin a three-game series against Miami. RHP Sandy Alcantara (3-2, 3.12) starts for the Marlins.

Blue Jays: RHP Taijuan Walker (4-3, 2.86) starts Friday in the opener of a three-game series against Baltimore. The Orioles have not named a starter.