Big thoughts on baseball's small sample size

Posted4/28/2013 2:15 PM
  • While there still is a lot of baseball to be played, the Toronto Blue Jays haven't gotten off to the kind of start that manager John Gibbons and many others expected this season.

    While there still is a lot of baseball to be played, the Toronto Blue Jays haven't gotten off to the kind of start that manager John Gibbons and many others expected this season.

It's funny how quickly things change in this game. I think back to the seven months of spring training (or was it seven weeks, I can't recall) and how we focused daily on specific roster battles, chemistry questions and getting off to a good start, blah, blah, blah. And also trying to predict division winners.

You know, the things we discuss every March. Then the regular season starts and you realize not much of that preseason conversation really matters.

Lots of teams start strong yet finish under .500. Others have bad Aprils and still go on to play deep into October. April is as important as any other month, but no more essential. It just gets highlighted because it is the only thing we can put our arms around right now.

Just ponder about all these spring story lines: the Tigers didn't want or need Jose Valverde as their closer, the Dodgers had what seemed like 15 starting pitchers, and the Blue Jays' "all-star" roster was going to win 120 games.

But then April happens. Injuries and slow starts make managers and GM's very itchy, with good reason in some cases.

When that young, off-the-radar player who hit .450 in spring training to make the Opening Day roster starts 1-for-19 in sporadic playing time, a team generally won't wait around to let him settle in. Nor will they allow even a proven closer to blow three saves in a week and keep his job.

The mantra is always, "It's a marathon." But in reality, teams' moods and, in many cases, moves, are based on the latest sprint.

You have impatient front offices, owners and fans who want deck chairs shuffled when a club has a bad stretch. It is all about constant production and if you're not seeing it, try something else. The words "waivers," "designated" and "outrighted" start filling up the transactions page very quickly.

This leads me to my favorite baseball phrase, "small sample size."

You hear it a lot in our game and while it may be used too often, it is one of the most important three-word phrases we have at our disposal.

It's the 97-win Cubs getting swept by the Dodgers in the 2008 playoffs. It's the Reds collecting two hits total in two games last week and one run total over three contests.

It is so difficult to make grand pronouncements about players and teams based on -- wait for it -- small sample sizes.

Bad teams have great stretches, good teams the opposite. Same for players. And basing your evaluations on small pockets of performance can be a dangerous thing.

I get caught in the trap all the time. I remember telling someone last Friday night, "Anthony Rizzo is lost at the plate right now," about an hour before he hit two home runs to beat Miami.

GMs and managers have to constantly keep these things in mind as they try to sort out what hot and cold stretches actually mean in the big picture. It's trying to gauge the precise points to buy low and sell high. When to let a guy play through a slump or to pull the plug on him.

I wonder if the Red Sox considered sitting, demoting or dealing Ted Williams during a 1-for-19 stretch in 1942. Guessing probably not. He followed that up immediately by going 10-for-19 and hit .356 that season.

It's also instructive (and selfish) to note that if you didn't enjoy this week's thoughts, remember, it only represents about 4 percent of the columns I will write this season.

• Len Kasper is the TV play-by-play broadcaster for the Chicago Cubs. Follow him on Twitter @LenKasper and check out his [URL]blog entries;[URL] with Jim Deshaies at To post comments or questions for Len, click on the comment link with his column at[/URL]

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