When is a small sample size no longer a small sample size?
The calendar turns to June this weekend and that gives us a chance to look back on what has unfolded so far in 2014. The sea of doubt we cast over numbers at the end of April is lessened now that we are a full third of the way through the season. Hard to believe it’s going by this fast (unless you’re a Cubs, Astros, or D-Backs fan), but the heart of the summer and the season is upon us.
What I like about analyzing numbers at this point is the ease of extrapolation. Full-season paces are easy to determine in most cases by taking counting stats and multiplying by a factor of three. Certainly this isn’t a perfect exercise, but we’re looking for simplicity here in an effort to decipher what’s a trend and what’s merely coincidence. I believe the stats carry more weight when you can see what they might look like over a full year.
What we have here is a collection of individual statistics that have stand out from the pack. Some of these players have been in the crosshairs of fantasy arguments for the better part of the season, while others have flown a bit more under the radar. Some of these statistics shine favorably on a particular player, while others are a bit more damning. But for all of these guys, the fact that we’re even discussing these stats at this point of the season means we have to consider them less of a fluke than we might have one month ago.
Dee Gordon, LAD (On pace for 96 SB) – I’ve been on the frontlines when it comes to defending Dee Gordon this season, and I’m not about to leave my post now. A month ago, doubters pointed out his unsustainable triple slash numbers, and they were right. We all knew that Gordon hitting .350+ wasn’t going to last. In fact, since that 5-hit game against the Marlins on May 3rd, both his AVG and OBP have dropped about 60 points. He’s even failed to record a steal in 16 of 23 games in that period.
Yet I sit here completely unphased and worry-free, and that’s not just because Miguel Olivo decided to go all Mike Tyson on Gordon’s primary threat for ABs. Realize that in those 7 games where Gordon did steal a base, he racked up 13 total. For the season, Dee Gordon now has 8 games in which he’s tallied more than one steal. If you counted only the number of swipes recorded in those 8 games alone (21), Gordon would still lead all of baseball in the category. Detractors can point to his downward hitting trend all they want, but if you drafted, traded for, or picked up Dee Gordon, all you really care about is that he keeps swiping bags, and he has.
Do I think he gets to that 96 SB number his pace suggests? No, but if I told you his end-of-season number would be 87, would you be all that disappointed? 55 SB the rest of the way for Gordon is where I have him pegged, and my guess is that no other player puts up 55 for a full-season total. I acknowledge I’m higher on Gordon than most, but I still don’t understand how a dual-eligible player like him who will carry a category unlike any other player in the game can be ranked behind fellow speedsters like Andrus at SS or Altuve at 2B. I’ve got him ahead of both guys and will gladly take the enormous advantage he provides in SB at the expense of other categories.
Mike Trout, LAA (On pace for 180 K, 15 SB) – I promise I’m not trying to incite panic here, Trout owners. He’s still the number one outfielder on my board and has more pure talent than anyone in the game today. But we have to give due diligence to the numbers he’s posted so far, and these two unfortunately stand out.
Trout’s always been a bit of a free-swinger as indicated by the 138 K he’s averaged over his first two full seasons, but this year he’s whiffing at an alarming rate. Trout is tied for fourth across MLB in strikeouts behind only Ryan Howard and the Upton brothers, which has contributed to his .281 AVG and .371 OBP. Those numbers are decent enough in their own right, but not quite what you expected from him when you selected him first or second overall. The allure when it comes to Trout is his ability to give you elite contributions across all offensive categories, and that includes a .300+ AVG and a .400+ OBP.
Of bigger concern to me is his lack of stolen bases. The crux of the argument for Trout over Cabrera at the beginning of the season was his ability to steal 30 bases in addition to the power he supplies. That argument becomes a lot harder to make when that number is cut in half. And we may not see it change any time soon. Greg Bird of AngelsWin.com makes a strong case for why the Halos have chosen not to give Trout the green light on the base paths as often, and why we shouldn’t expect a dramatic increase in his SB numbers as the season progresses. Trout’s still going to give you around 30 HR this year and knock in 100 for the first time in his career, but ask yourself this: Is Trout still the number one player if .285-100-30-100-15 is what he’s on pace for? At this point I still say yes, but I’m a lot shakier about that than I was two months ago.
Nelson Cruz, BAL (On pace for 57 HR, 144 RBI) – Of all the places Cruz could have gone when he left the Rangers, Baltimore was about as good as it could get. According to RotoGrinders.com, Camden Yards was the second best ballpark when it came to enhancing HRs for right-handed batters, behind only Toronto’s Rogers Centre. What makes Cruz’s numbers so absurd is that just 7 of his 19 HR this season have come in Baltimore. His numbers this year are no fluke, and despite leading MLB in HR and RBI, I still think his recent hot streak (10 HR since May 10) has been overshadowed by the power display Edwin Encarnacion is putting on north of the border.
With Cruz, it usually comes down to health. He turns 34 in July and has only played more than 130 games once in his career (2012). But let’s look at this from a different perspective. Remember last year he missed 50 games serving his PED suspension from the Biogenesis scandal. Before that however, Cruz remained healthy and had played in 109 games. Now consider that he had the chance to rest his body an extra two months because of said suspension and it’s not unreasonable to think Cruz was coming into 2014 as healthy as he’d been in years. Much like Troy Tulowitzki, the talent was never the reason you doubted Cruz and if he can stay on the field, the numbers he will put up represent a massive profit for where you acquired him at. I believe this could be the year we see him reach 150+ games again and if so, the Orioles might very well have their second consecutive HR champ.
Melky Cabrera, TOR (On pace for 216 H) – Maybe it’s because he’s in a lineup with the aforementioned Encarnacion and Jose Bautista. Maybe it’s because he’s only got 8 HR and 4 SB (although I don’t find either one of those too shabby). Maybe it’s because he’s in Canada. For whatever reason, the fantasy community as a whole seems a little slow to come around on what Cabrera is doing in 2014. And I just can’t say I understand why. He’s second in MLB in total hits. He’s parked in the lineup right behind Jose Reyes and in front of a triumvirate of exceptional hitters in baseball’s highest scoring offense. He’s only two years removed from a .346/.390/.516 season and an All-Star Game MVP. And he’s only 29 years old (I know, I was a little surprised by this myself).
Or maybe the hesitance to come around on him has to do with his own PED-related suspension in 2012. I think the natural inclination with Cabrera and Cruz is to downgrade them because of their involvement with performance enhancing drugs. I don’t even think it’s something we do purposefully, more of a subconscious reaction that we as fans have after seeing players who’ve attained such high levels being linked to banned substances. What Cabrera, Cruz and others have done post PED-suspension should be a reminder not to dismiss the skills of these players and assume their previous success was mostly attributed to their usage. Cabrera will end up batting .300+ and scoring 100 runs and could tack on 20/10 just for good measure, all of which are numbers that I welcome on my team.
J.J. Hardy, BAL (On pace for 0 HR) – If you were someone who waited while all the elite SS were snatched up, then grabbed Hardy later in your draft, you did so in the hopes that you’d get a significant power boost at the position over all your other owners. This statistic has been making it’s rounds as of late: From 2011-2013, no SS had hit more HRs than Hardy (14 more than Tulowitzki). A .250 AVG and 20-25 HR sounded like a reasonable floor for the 31-year old. But we’re dangerously close to seeing Hardy leave May with a donut in the HR column.
In fairness, Hardy is sporting a .303 AVG which would represent his high-water mark for a season. But his SLG% (.370) is the second-lowest of his career and ISO (.067) is by far the worst he’s posted in his 10-years in the big leagues. The even crazier part is the Hardy currently sports a line drive rate of 26%, easily the best of his career. So why the power drain? An article over at thebeanball.com parsed out Hardy’s numbers and found that when Hardy puts a pitch in the middle of the strike zone in play, he’s popping up nearly 20% of the time, a 225% increase over what he was doing the previous three years. You can find the rest of what they found here, and they still seem optimistic for a turnaround, as do I. I’m taking the over on 10 HR the rest of the way, and, as mentioned earlier, he’s in the right ball park to do it. If you are absolutely desperate for power, an offer for Hardy won’t cost you very much and could reap some benefits.
Ian Kinsler, DET (On pace for 51 doubles, .316 AVG) – The Prince Fielder injury not withstanding, I think it’s safe to say even this early that Detroit won that trade. While Fielder has gotten all the headlines, including some from me, Kinsler has quietly found himself a stable home atop a strong Tigers lineup in front of Torii Hunter, Miguel Cabrera and the resurgent Victor Martinez. With that kind of firepower, Kinsler hasn’t been asked to do much more than get on base and let the big bats behind him do their jobs. He won’t be returning to the 30/30 club anytime soon, and maybe even 20/20 is out of reach nowadays.
In return, Kinsler’s given us a career low K-rate of 7.7% and a SLG% of .456, his highest since the his 32-HR season of 2011. He’s on pace to cross the plate over 100 times again and could still go 15/15 for those worried about his counting stats. Ian Kinsler has basically turned himself into Detroit’s version of Dustin Pedroia, and while his numbers may seem unspectacular at the time, like Pedroia, we’ll look at his end-of-season totals and realize just how valuable he really was.