Seattle Mariners: Small Sample Size Fun Facts


Apr 6, 2014; Oakland, CA, USA; Seattle Mariners left fielder Dustin Ackley (13) hits for a single against Oakland Athletics starting pitcher Sonny Gray (54) during the second inning at Coliseum. Mandatory Credit: Bob Stanton-USA TODAY Sports

When one is a passionate fan — and/or whatever you call the people who are more passionate about hating the Mariners than they are about the Mariners as a whole — it is hard to not react, sometimes severely, to a small, insignificant sample size. We have certain expectations that we want met right away, and when they aren’t, it messes with our chi.

This is exacerbated by the fact that early in the season, there is no “normal” context. If a similarly unlikely or alarming stretch happens in the middle of July, it will go largely unnoticed because there is over three months of baseball preceding it. A 5-35 stretch from July 14th to July 24th doesn’t stick out nearly as much as the same stretch from April 1st to April 10th.

To combat this, I thought it would interesting to point out various small sample size numbers held by Mariners players. The title says “fun,” but I assure you some of the examples will be more terrifying than they are jovial. I feel this activity will be enjoyable, and will provide some insight into how volatile numbers are this early in the season.

1. Dustin Ackley is off to a solid start to the year, with a 133 wRC+. He has hit the ball well to all fields, and made consistently solid contact. However, he has yet to get on base via walk nearly as much as he should, or was projected to (over 9% from both Steamer and ZiPS).

While that isn’t very encouraging, there may be a reason behind his 4.4% walk rate other than the normal poor plate discipline. While he is swinging more so far this year than he has in the past (42.8% compared to 39.1% career), he is also seeing pitches in the zone at an extremely inflated 57.2%, compared to his career mark of 50.7%, and the league average of 45%.

That is certain to regress to some degree, which should lead to more walks. He isn’t swinging at bad pitches. In fact, his current O-Swing% (percent of swings on pitches out of the zone) is just 21.5%, down from his 24.5% career rate. It seems, based on what we can see right now, that Dustin is simply reacting appropriately to what is being thrown at him. Pitchers are going right at him, so he is choosing to be a little more aggressive.

I think it is safe to assume that once the Zone% regresses some, Ackley’s walks will go up. He has always had good plate discipline, at times so good it becomes bad. I think aggression is a positive early for Ackley, and it all depends on how he fares when the sample grows.

2. This one comes from Lookout Landing contributor Colin O’Keefe on Twitter:

Almonte has not hit well this year after looking pretty good in his first couple games. He holds a 73 wRC+ as I am writing this, not anywhere near acceptable for even a bottom feeding major leaguer, let alone a leadoff hitter. But, the defensive metrics like him so far, so he currently holds a 0.5 WAR. Extrapolate that out to 750 plate appearances, which he is currently on pace for, but won’t attain, and you get 6.7 WAR.

This is one of the fun ones, because it is so ridiculous on so many levels, that it almost makes you forget that Abe has a 73 wRC+. Almost, but not quite. For those who don’t know, league average is 100. 100-73=27. 27 runs below league average. Vomit. Swap him and Ackley in the lineup, please and thank you.

3. Corey Hart is off to a rocky start apart from his three long balls to start the season. He holds a 91 wRC+ on the year, far below what you want to see from your clean-up hitting DH. However, you can take some solace in the fact that he has also been pretty unlucky so far, with a .174 BABIP.

His career BABIP is much higher at .311, so it it safe to assume he should be roughly around league average (~.300). If he did in fact have a .300 BABIP, he would be hitting somewhere around .270 rather than .189.

In a similar vein, and this is something that applies to almost anyone, one more hit would raise his average by 27 points (and obviously his other offensive stats would go up with it).

4. Some are beginning to worry about Robinson Cano‘s power outage to this point in his M’s career. He has yet to hit a a home run, and has just two doubles to this point. He has been hitting okay overall, with a 113 wRC+ due to his .333 average and .400 OBP. But his .375 SLG% is abysmal, especially for a guy like Cano. He looks like Ichiro right now. Older, not as good Ichiro, not 2001-2005 Ichiro.

However, Cano has been known to be a slow starter during his career. He hit just one home run in April of 2012, a season in which he went on to hit a career high 33 big flies. Moreover, Robbie is a career 121 wRC+ hitter in the month of April, his second worst monthly mark, behind a 102 in May. Maybe we are seeing more of the same, and it is being worsened by a new, less hitter friendly environment. I am probably more worried about what he will do in May, as it historically has not been a good bounce-back month for him.

These four examples should be funducational, similar to the tactics attempted by that one teacher who thinks they are being funducational, but instead are just wasting their, and your time. Hopefully this doesn’t feel like a waste of time, and you actually do get something out of it.

If I had my way, you would get some funsies, and a better understanding of just how nuts statistics are in a sample this small. Most of them tell you nothing about how the player will end up performing. But that doesn’t mean they shouldn’t be paid attention to. Doing something like that is impossible for a stathead like me, and I assume pretty difficult for some of you who happen upon this.

I also want to invite you to leave Small Sample Size Fun Facts in the comments that you have noticed, either this year, or in past years that ended up looking crazy, or surprisingly not crazy, by season’s end.