Sports

Flax ’17: Fun with MLB’s small sample sizes

By
Sports Columnist
Thursday, April 13, 2017

As of Wednesday, most Major League Baseball teams have played nine games this season. Any baseball fan could tell you that nine games is surely not enough to evaluate a team, but it is very hard not to fall into that trap when those are the only nine games you have. So let’s delve into the data so far and see what fun things have happened that will definitely continue all year long.

The Cincinnati Reds are 7-2 and have the best record in baseball. None of the 54 experts on the advanced statistics site FanGraphs picked them to make the playoffs. A .778 winning percentage would result in a final record of 126-36 or a full 10 games better than the all-time best 2001 Seattle Mariners.

At 1-7, the Toronto Blue Jays have the worst record in baseball. American League runners-up last season, the Blue Jays were projected by 33 of the 54 FanGraphs predictors to make the playoffs. The team is on pace to finish with a final record of 20-142, which would shockingly only tie them for the fewest wins of all time, matching the 1899 Cleveland Spiders. Of course, the Spiders only played 154 games as opposed to the modern 162, so the 2017 Blue Jays would take the, uh, crown.

The Reds are led by third baseman Eugenio Suarez, who has a batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage of .429, .529 and .750 respectively — good for a 232 wRC+. wRC+, or weighted runs created plus, is a stat that measures a player’s total offensive contribution and indexes it to a percentage of league average. Suarez is 132 percent better than the average hitter after being 7 percent worse than average last season. He is on pace to have the fifth-best offensive season of all time, only trailing two seasons each from Babe Ruth and Barry Bonds.

In fact, four Reds have a wRC+ of 178 or higher. The highest wRC+ in baseball last year belonged to AL MVP Mike Trout, at 171. Those four Reds have an average career wRC+ of 96. Of course, the Reds are not alone. Thirty-three players have a wRC+ of at least 171 so far this season.

This pendulum also swings the other way. The worst full-season wRC+ of all time belongs to Jim Levey, who posted a putrid 23 in 1933. Eighteen players are worse than that so far this year, bottoming out with Byron Buxton’s eye-popping -58 wRC+.

In five at-bats this season, pitcher Madison Bumgarner has hit two home runs. Bumgarner’s career batting average is .186. Meanwhile, infielder Jose Reyes has just two hits in 37 at-bats. He is a career .288 hitter and hit .337 to win the NL batting title in 2011.

Bumgarner also has more home runs than reigning MLB home run king Mark Trumbo, who launched 47 out of the park last year. But the league leader this year is Houston’s George Springer, who has five home runs in 10 games. At that pace, he would hit 81 home runs this year, shattering Barry Bonds’ record of 73 set in 2001. Or, if you’re less inclined to acknowledge the records of steroid users, Roger Maris’ mark of 61 set in 1961.

The scene is similarly wacky in pitching. Three pitchers so far have gotten every out via the strikeout, which is very impressive. But in their combined 2 2/3 innings, they have allowed eight runs including two home runs. That’s a collective earned run average of 27.00.

New York Mets starter Noah Syndergaard is off to a hot start, with 0.8 wins above replacement, or WAR, through two games started. WAR is a stat meant to measure how many more games a team would win with a certain player as opposed to a player that could be acquired for nothing, such as from the minor leagues. Syndergaard is on pace to produce 12.8 WAR, which would almost equal the WAR of the top two pitchers from last season combined. Of course, one of those pitchers was him.

There is also good and bad news for the league’s bullpens. Nine teams’ relief corps already have a worse ERA than the worst bullpen in baseball last season: the Colorado Rockies, with a 5.13 ERA. Baseball’s two Missourian teams, the Kansas City Royals and St. Louis Cardinals, are both plugging along with a 7.86 bullpen ERA. But 11 teams have a better bullpen ERA than the league-best Los Angeles Dodgers’ 3.35 mark last season. That pack is led by our old friends, the Reds, at 1.23.

So there you have it. Baseball is more polarized than ever, with some of the worst and best seasons of all time primed to happen across every stat category. Eugenio Suarez should start posing for his plaque in Cooperstown; the Blue Jays should start looking for cities to relocate to.

Or maybe it’s too early to judge. I guess we’ll see.

Andrew Flax ’17 can be reached at andrew_flax@brown.edu. Please send responses to this opinion to letters@browndailyherald.com and other op-eds to opinions@browndailyherald.com.

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