How to be a Better Fan: Small Samples


Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

Today I will start a series about how to improve as a baseball fan. We will cover a range of topics to improve our baseball knowledge. Given that we are early in the season a great place to start is how to think about small samples.

This early in the season it is tempting to jump to conclusions about how batters look or how pitchers might be performing. This goes both ways as sometimes a hitter might get three hits in a game and cause an overestimation of the hitter. Or perhaps a hitter goes zero for five and causes underestimation of his skill.

For a fan this can be one of the hardest things. Fans react to each at bat and tend to have impossibly short memories. I know I overreact.

Small sample size is an issue because observing a small portion of an entire sample can lead to improper conclusions. For example, in back to back losses to the Twins on April 27 and 28 in 2013, Adrian Beltre went 0-8 with two strikeouts. If a fan had only observed Beltre for those two games what would they expect from Beltre’s 2013 season? They definitely would not expect his 135 wRC+ and 30 homeruns for the season. In this case, the small sample of these two games lends to an improper view of Beltre’s season. This is readily apparent to any thinking person after the season is over. The difficult thing to understand is that nothing is different whether two games are chosen from last season or if those two games are the last two games played by a player.

Consider that a player hitting .300 has a 24% chance of going hitless over any four at bats and 5.7% chance of going hitless over any eight plate appearances. That means even good hitters will have some bad games bunched together. The same goes for teams. Even teams with a winning percentage of .600 will lose three in a row 6.4% of the time.

The point here is not to ruin the rollercoaster ride that is baseball, particularly the way Texas Rangers baseball goes. Feel free to indulge yourself by jumping to conclusions. I frequently conclude the season is over after an ugly sweep of the Rangers. I love to write off hitters after a golden sombrero effort or call for a pitcher to be demoted after a bad outing. Also, you should enjoy Rangers’ hot streaks as players and as a team. The goal here is to learn to temper your emotions with solid analysis based a players’ long term performance. So Prince Fielder has not been tearing the cover off the ball over his first 20 plate appearances; it is no cause for concern. Over the length of the season Prince Fielder is likely to produce the big numbers for which Rangers fans are looking.