Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

A Reminder on the Danger of Small Sample Sizes


We are now 1 week into the season, so I think it’s safe to say we have a good idea of how the rest of the Royals season will go. We can reasonably assume that:

- Salvador Perez is going to win the American League MVP award.

- The only way Jason Vargas won’t win the Cy Young award is if too many voters opt for Bruce Chen.

- Mike Moustakas will never get another hit, ever.

- The Royals’ bullpen will blow leads at least half the time.

- And, the Royals will hit fewer home runs than any other American League team.

Ok, so that last one will probably be true, but you get the point. Now that a few games have been played, we’ve reached the point in the season during which fans attempt to attach significance to statistically insignificant data. It’s hard not to do, since these few games are all we have to go on, of course. The only numbers we see are from just a small handful of games, so the natural reaction is to – for lack of a better word – react to that set of data. I wrote a bit about this last year as well. We want to form an opinion of players and teams using the information available, and honestly, there’s nothing really wrong with that. The point at which I begin to take issue with this kind of early evaluation is when we start changing our opinion on a player after seeing 20 plate appearances.

Believe me, this isn’t meant to sound like an “All is well!” kind of post. I don’t want to tell anyone how to be a fan, and if  worrying is your thing, go right ahead. There are absolutely reasons to worry about this team. However, the concerns I have with the Royals today are no different than the concerns I had with the Royals 2 weeks ago. Nothing I’ve seen in the Royals’ first 5 games has changed my opinion on what this team is. I still would take this bullpen over almost any other bullpen in the league. I still think Moustakas can be a serviceable hitter. I still think having Bruce Chen in the rotation is a mistake. Those beliefs may turn out to be hilariously silly, but what would be even sillier is allowing the smallest of sample sizes to affect an opinion originally formed using much, much more information.

The bullpen has struggled quite a bit early on, but it’s filled with talented guys who’ve had success at the big league level. Moustakas has clearly changed his approach, so I’ll focus on the process instead of the results there. And despite Chen’s domination of a hapless White Sox lineup, he’s still a guy with a tiny margin for error, and relying on his home run rates to stay lower than they’ve been in most of his career is a risky proposition.

Again, you can call me a fool for thinking those things, but I’d be a much bigger fool for doing a 180 after 3% of the season is complete.

Don’t get me wrong. Every game is important, and that’s especially true for a team like the Royals, so they do need to get things going. They can’t afford to scuffle along through April, putting themselves in a deep hole they’ll have to dig out of for the last few months. However, with 97% of the season to go, a lot of things can change. Players adjust. Players get healthy. The BABIP Fairy has violent mood swings. There are a lot of factors involved.

Ridiculous things can happen in small sample sizes. When those small sample sizes come in the middle of the season, it’s easier to tune out any statistical noise and take the rest of the season in context. But when the small samples are the only bits of data we have at the beginning of a season, we tend to perceive that data as somehow being more meaningful than what we’ve previously known. Every fan can react in whatever way he or she chooses, but I’m just trying to remind everyone to keep things in perspective. Using small sample sizes can be fun for entertainment purposes (Perez has a 239 wRC+, and Chen’s 9.95 K/9 is the 8th highest rate in the AL!), but when evaluating a player or team, it’s important to use more information prior to making any declarative statements this early in the season.

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Tags: Kansas City Royals

  • unclejesse40

    Yes, I agree that so far its all to early to tell. My fear is that Moose isn’t what we all hoped for and we have nothing in AAA to push him and so he plays all year. And Escobar just can’t hit, period. I don’t see him even being slightly below average, and we just put Ciriaco on waivers. Not that he was going to be the answer at SS but it sure would have been nice to see him play a couple of times. After a month if those two guys are hitting under .200 then we might be in for a frustrating year.

    • Tyler_KC_Fan

      I’m not quite sure why we are so consumed with how Moose and Esky are doing right now. Esky has played in 5 games and Moose 4. Once you get your first hit everything becomes easier. It’s a brain game. But it’s been 5 games. Not 50. Chill on Moose and Esky.

      Also, Valencia is Moose’s push. We don’t have anything in the minors but we do have Valencia on the team now. Esky is in it for the long hall. He’s never been a stud hitter so stop thinking he will be. He’s average at best.

      The biggest concern right now for the Royals is Tim Collins. He’s pitched in 2 games, had 4 walks, 2 hits, yet he’s given up 4 ER in 1 IP and 0 strike outs. He is really struggling to find the strike zone and can’t finish an inning without being in significant trouble or letting the game get away from him. If you want to be concerned about someone on the team, it’s not Moose or Esky. It’s Tim Collins.

      • unclejesse40

        wow I totally disagree with Tim Collins being the biggest problem. tim Collins doesn’t play everyday. No I don’t think Esky is going to a beast with the bat but he better have crazy awesome defense or learn to take a freakin walk. Moose has to be a .265 BA or greater type of guy with 20+ homers if this team is going to ever be a world series team. I am tired of just being good enough, these guys need to start hot and not dig the hole like last year. I was hoping for more early on this year, but it seems a lot like last year, good starting pitching and good defense, but very poor offense.

        • Tyler_KC_Fan

          FINALLY! SOMEONE TO DEBATE WITH!

          You’re saying that just because a bullpen arm doesn’t play everyday they automatically get excluded from areas of improvement? No…. Collins came into the game when we were tied with Detroit for his first game. He walked 2 guys in that game and was taken out after getting 1 out. His walks lead to Detroit getting the walk off hit and winning. Yesterday, Collins comes into a game where we are still very much in it. He not only walks 2 batters AGAIN but he basically gets us no where near able to come back. He has played in 2 games this year and he averages 2 walks an outing. He has a combined 1 IP in his 2 starts. Where in that screams a guy you can trust to keep it close? I understand that Bueno came in yesterday and gave up a couple hits, but if Collins does his job the first time, the bases are empty and Bueno isn’t even needed. Collins can’t even make it through and inning without putting the team in a hole when he is out there.

          Your comment about Moose. Moose has been to the plate 17 times and he has walked 2 times. And he has struck out 2 times. Moose is getting good contact on a lot of the pitches, he just isn’t getting them into holes. He’s popping the ball up instead of driving it. Moose has never been a .265 and 20+ HR. In fact, his entire time in KC he has never batted .265 and he has only hit 20 HRs once. So why are you expecting him to be that guy?

          Your comment about Esky, “he better have crazy awesome defense…”, you realize he finished second in the Gold Glove race last year for SS, right? He is one of the best defensive SS in the AL. So yeah, he is an awesome defensive player. You want to complain about him striking out? Billy Butler had nearly 20 more strike outs than Esky last year. Granted Esky only walked 19 times last year but he has never been a player that takes balls and walks. So, why are you expecting him to do anything different now?

          You don’t need to start hot otherwise you don’t make the playoffs. Detroit was at the bottom of the division last year and had to work up. In fact, KC lead the division until May hit. So you can start as hot as you want, but that doesn’t guarantee you make the playoffs.

          • unclejesse40

            Haha lets do this debate!
            I won’t sit here and tell you that Collins is the next great thing when it comes to RP, but I will most certainly disagree with you when you say and I quote “The biggest concern right now for the Royals is Tim Collins.” I just don’t believe that, first if he sucks that bad then don’t pitch him. What are we going to do when Esky goes another series with 0-2 hits. and trust me all it takes is for Esky to tweek a muscle or twist an ankle and he loses all of his defensive value, that’s not even a major injury. Moose on the other hand is the same song different verse to me right now. If he played in Oakland with its huge foul ball area he would bat under .100 I mean sure he hits the ball but you said it yourself he pops it up all the time. He did that last year and he is right back to where he left off. I will give credit where credit is due, at least he is making the pitcher throw more balls this year but in the end its the same result, OUT. Another point that I have to get clarification on is, what do you think
            Moose is going to be if he isnt at least a .265 20+ homer guy? I’m sorry
            but if that is his max ceiling and nothing more, we better hope Dozier
            or Cuthbert is up here in a hurry. While I agree with Hunters main point, this is a very small sample size, I also look back at the last couple of years and know that unless things get different in the hurry I will say that not much has changed.
            And yes I love the debate, shows me that the fans around here want to see a winner! Go Royals!

          • Tyler_KC_Fan

            You can’t just not use him because every pitcher is iimited to how many relief starts they can have so eventually you have to use Collins (unless he is put on the DL like he is now). My point is if you can’t trust a guy to come in and keep you in a game or keep your lead in a game, that’s a problem. Collins struggled last year and has done terrible in his two appearances. That’s something to be very concerned about. This is like the situation with Herrera last year and how he could never keep the Royals in a game. Collins is wondering down that path.

            Moose is a .250 hitter with about 15 HRs. He’s got power but with the pitcher friendly ball park, like The K, it won’t show as much. The only player on the roster who has a chance of hitting 25+ HRs is Hosmer. Hosmer would be my selection to break the Royals HR record out of anyone on the roster. Moose is a stud defensively but with the changes he has made this year, hopefully his bat comes alive. Keep in mind to, Moose was batting .160 at one point last year and by the end was batting .230+. He can hit, and he can catch fire, he just has to get the first hit. Its like basketball, once the ball goes through the hoop it doesn’t look as small anymore. Dozier is getting a lot of hype down in the minors and he will replace Moose in the next 2-3 years. But for right now, we have Valencia who could give Moose a run for his money. Moose is better defensively, but Valencia is beating him on offense right now. Also, I think the crowd should stop cheering “Mooooose”. It sounds like “boooooo”. Here’s my logic. During Spring Training he always does great. How many Moose calls do you think he hears during those games? Maybe it’s a psycological thing and it gets in his head. Think about it.

            As for Esky and potientially injuring himself, that goes for every player. Hosmer got his ankle abliterated yesterday. If that did significant damage, that could not only alter his defensive abilites but it was his left ankle, which could cause issues offensively. Esky missed a significant amount of time in Spring Training, too. I know Infante did as well and Infante looks pretty solid right now, but Infante is a legitmate hitter. Esky isn’t.

  • jessanders

    It’s perfectly acceptable, from a statistical stand point, to make judgment on small data samples.

    The thing is, you must change your judgment on every single at bat, every single inning pitched, etc, for this to be useful.

    For instance, if you’re GOING to base your interpretations on small sample sizes, at this point we should believe that Escobar and Cain are going to be the two best hitters in on the team, because they did so well (vs the others) against Sale.

    When, tonight, a player strikes out, you should then believe they are going to be horrible for the rest of the season. When they get a hit the next at bat, you must flip-flop again, because in baseball recency has a lot of weight when determining statistics (because, as you mention so much, it’s a mental game).

    That said, I mostly agree. I’m actually somewhat pleased with Moose. He’s seen a lot of pitches, and had productive at bats. The fact he’s being more selective is only positive.

  • jimfetterolf

    I would add that some of the Royals’ hitting problems come from facing three seriously elite pitchers out of five starts.

    As for individuals, Perez is showing an intensity bordering on rage, he walks to the plate knowing he is going to crush the ball. Moustakas looks like he’s still thinking, he hasn’t really internalized the changes, so he’s a touch off, but his stance, swing, and approach look much better so still optimistic that it trasitions to instinctive rather than conscious and only reps will achieve that. Escobar looks like he’s on the program, taking the ball where it’s pitched. Cain looks a little better but he’s not keeping his head down, so that will be a problem. Billy is still chopping down on everything trying to get backspin but instead is hitting the top of the ball. Alex looks alright. Aoki and Infante look sustainable.

    The starters are doing as expected, keeping the team in games and waiting for the offense to show up. The relievers are a bit of a worry, both Collins and Davis pressing and overthrowing. If Duffy has a couple of more good appearances he might get swapped out for Collins and I expect Coleman up after a rehab on his finger. But the ‘pen is close.

    Team looks alright at the moment. By the end of the month some adjustments may be made, but the first five games are within a reasonable range of expectation.