Small sample sizes – Buy or Sell – Hitters

Chicago White Sox v Detroit Tigers

By Adam Brown

One of the more majestic aspects of baseball being played daily is the fluctuations in player performance. For a two-week stretch throughout the season Mike Trout can fall into a slump and spend a fortnight looking like Mike Rivera, and then he can spend the following fortnight becoming a Barry Bonds/Ted Williams hybrid and dominate the opposing pitchers. It’s why all baseball intellectuals, analysts, the sabermetric crowd etc preach the notion of not reacting to small sample sizes. I think it’s a pretty safe assumption that D.J LeMahieu won’t be hitting .444 by the All-Star Break. I feel pretty confident in predicting Shane Greene won’t finish the season with an ERA+ over 1,000.

However, these fast/slow starts can be indicative of how a players’ season will progress. It can be difficult to decipher between a streaky hitter who will regress to his mean production, or a player making the leap into stardom. For example, who’d have fathomed Corey Kluber making strides from fringe major leaguer to CY Young award winner? His season was littered with doubts, especially early on.

It’s time to look at the hitters who have had eye-opening starts to the 2015 season, and whether there’s potential to “buy” into this, or “sell” it off as an anomaly and anticipate the inevitable regression.

Jose Iglesias

A highly touted prospect when coming through the Red Sox farm system, the narrative on Iglesias being all glove and no bat got tiresome quickly. Whilst it’s clear that his defensive wizardry at shortstop is his main attribute, his career batting line is .288/.339/.709. This is at worst a league slash of statistics, especially when his defence can be so valuable; this was evident in his 2012 season where he was worth 43 runs being saved per 1,200 innings.

This season has been a sensational start for the young Cuban, he’s sitting on an On-Base % of .489, he’s also holding a .537 Slugging %, almost 200 points higher than his total last season.

On the other hand, Iglesias has benefitted from a barrage of good luck. His BABIP right now is .462, which is staggeringly high, and will almost certainly come down dramatically. To accompany this, 85% of this plate appearances end with the ball ending up in play, this is up from a career average of 75%, and an MLB average of 68%.

Elsewhere peripherals such a BB%, K%, XBH% have all seen significant increases t begin this season which seems to show a better, more solid approach at the plate.

I think it’s obvious there is a slight regression on the horizon, but in a lineup with Miguel Cabrera, Victor Martinez and Ian Kinsler, maintaining a consistent performance higher than his career averages is all this team needs from him.

VerdictBuy, tentatively. Iglesias looks like he’s made some adjustments that will result in better batting numbers. However, the BABIP is alarming and will inevitably decrease.

Stephen Vogt

If ever there was a player that absolutely personified the Oakland Athletics as a franchise. Vogt’s versatility is an asset to any team. He has the ability to play Catcher, First Base and Right Field. It’s a sure-fire way to get your name pencilled into the lineup more consistently, and a manager’s dream once injuries arise.

Vogt this season though has started off red-hot with the bat, with an OPS of 1.215, and hitting .366, an eye popping 102 points higher than his career average.

Like the aforementioned Iglesias, Vogt has a high BABIP, as most players with gaudy early season numbers will. Vogt however sits at .367. During his stint in Oakland, it sits at .300, so the anticipated regression shouldn’t be as severe as with Iglesias amongst others.

Vogt’s biggest question mark is the unprecedented power outage. His home run/fly ball ratio this season is 21.1%, an incredulous increase from his 2014 number of 6.6%, which was a career high. Elsewhere, Vogt has an 8.7 HR%, a 5.6% increase on last season, and an XBH% of 17.4, a 10.5% increase from his 2013 career high.

VerdictSell. These power numbers are completely unsustainable, there’s bound to be a quick, noticeable impact on his overall statistics. That being said, his contact numbers could stay above his career numbers, resulting in an above average season, but more likely this is an early hot streak that will cool off accordingly.

Mike Napoli

Baseball is more than most other sports unpredictable in what to expect from its players. The long grind of 162 games every season results in copious amounts injury, loss of form and perhaps even concentration issues. Consistency in baseball is an underrated trait that teams adore in its players.

Mike Napoli over the course of his career has been a hallmark of consistency. In his first 9 professional seasons, 7 of them have seen an OPS+ between 107 and 128. This demonstrates years of above average to good contributions. The two other years saw an injury hit 2008 season, where he played in just 78 games and had an OPS+ of 148. 2011 was his best season, 173 OPS+, an OPS in excess of 1.000, and a WAR of 5.4.

This season though, Napoli is currently hitting .136, but more worryingly his slugging % is .182, more than 300 points lower than his career average of .487. This would be a sharp, rapid decline if this were to be permanent.

On the contrary to the first two players, Napoli has seen a mount of bad luck with his BABIP at just .182. He also has a higher walk rate than ever before in his career to couple with a reduced strikeout rate. This indicates his discipline at the plate has been good, but has been the recipient of bad luck to begin the season.

VerdictBUY. BUY. BUY. Buy…. Napoli will turn this round, it may still not be one of the better years of his career statistically, but Napoli seems to have been hampered by horrendous luck.

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