It is still really early in the baseball season. All the baseball writers are quoting statistics everywhere because that’s what they’re paid to do. Or because they’re big ol’ nerds. Or both. Anyway, they’re all super happy to have some current stats to play with but every single article you read goes on and on, “This is an interesting trend but...” or “this may be nothing but...” or simply, “small sample size alert!”
And this is all allowed because fans are excited for new baseball stats too. And, for that matter, small sample sizes can be some of the most fun to play with. Yoenis Cespedes has a .368 ISO right now. Will he keep that the entire season? Probably not. But it sure is fun to talk about. And the magic of early season small sample sizes means we can do exactly that!
Here’s the thing though, some of these small sample sizes won’t just go away as the season continues. Some of them will only become more and more pronounced. Remember last year when Joakim Soria was terrible and everyone said, “Don’t worry about it! Small sample sizes! He’ll get better!” They were wrong. Very, very wrong. He was bad the entire season. Other small sample sizes that eventually grew into normal and even large samples: Mike Moustakas hitting the other way in 2015, Danny Duffy being an amazing starting pitcher in 2016, HDH in 2014.
So, since it is fun to both play with small sample sizes and to all pretend one can become fabulously wealthy by just being right enough times on the internet let’s play a little game. I’m going to hand you “shares” in a “stock” of a small sample size. If you think the sample size will continue, hold that stock. If you’re sure it will disappear the moment someone stares at it cross-eyed sell the sucker immediately. Whoever gets the most right wins a prize!*
*The ability to brag on Royals Review that you guessed right in a silly prediction game
Jason Vargas is a Cy Young Award contender
By fWAR Jason Vargas is currently the third best starter in the AL. He has already accrued 1.1 fWAR. To put that into perspective the Royals second best starter last season was Ian Kennedy. Ian earned 1.7 fWAR in 195.2 innings. Vargas has earned his 1.1 in only 20.2 innings. To put it in a different perspective, Jason Vargas is worth more fWAR than rest of the rotation put together - a rotation that has looked remarkably good so far this year.
If the Cy Young award voting were held today Vargas might not win - he doesn’t have the name recognition of Chris Sale - the fWAR leader among MLB starting pitchers - and he doesn’t have a K-rate to match, either. What Vargas does have is a stunningly normal .286 BABIP allowed, a walk rate that is half of Sale’s and a very high ground ball rate. There is absolutely no peripheral to point to that says, “This is the reason the Vargas you’re seeing is a lie!” Even Vargas’ FIP is 0.98.
He can’t be for real though, can he? Guys don’t suddenly become unhittable aces in their age 34 season. Certainly not with a fastball that maxes out at 88 MPH and just coming off Tommy John surgery. I want to hold this stock, I really do. I’ve long thought Vargas has been underrated in a Royal uniform. But I just can’t believe it. There’s no reason to think he can’t or won’t continue to be very good this season, but a Cy Young contender he is not. I recommend you SELL.
Eric Hosmer is hitting ~60% of his batted balls on the ground
Eric Hosmer, you may have heard, is hitting an absurd number of balls on the ground. You may have even heard my personal favorite statistic to quote so far this season: Eric Hosmer has the absolute hardest hit ball so far this year, and it was a ground out. That stat sums up Eric Hosmer’s entire career thus far. He has the charisma, power, and looks to be a super star. What he doesn’t have is the results.
This one is an easy HOLD recommendation. Eric Hosmer’s career ground ball rate is ~53% and it’s been trending up every year. Everyone seemed to hope/fear that Hosmer would finally put it all together so he could break out for the $200 million contract he and agent Scott Boras want. But all we’re getting is more of the same.
The Royals starting rotation is on pace to crack 1000 IP
The 1000 innings pitched mark is one of General Manager Dayton Moore’s touchstone statistics. That’s his goal for his rotation, every year. Up to this point the Royals are actually on pace to break it, with a bit of room to spare even. And all the original starters; no one looks hurt, yet. The success of the rotation is one of those things that everyone is saying repeatedly cannot continue over the long term. But with every game it looks better and better, even after the blips of Nate Karns and Jason Hammel this weekend.
The thing is, to get 1000 innings out of your rotation - even if you don’t restrict it to just the 5 guys you started with - you have to average a little over 6 innings a game. So what it comes down to is: do you think the Royals will get more 8 inning starts from their rotation than 4 inning starts? Probably not. Go ahead and SELL this one, too.
The Royals are near the bottom in total offense
By FanGraphs’ wRC+ the Royals have the third worst offense in baseball, besting only the...Colorado Rockies and Toronto Blue Jays? Seriously? That’s pretty weird. Anyway, if you prefer Baseball Reference’s OPS+ then the Royals are only better than the Jays. A common refrain the past few weeks has been that the Royals have a terrible BABIP and their luck is due to turn any time now. And it’s true, they have the fourth worst BABIP at .251 in baseball, so far. There’s plenty of reason to think luck might be going against them.
But even if someone has to have the lowest BABIP in baseball in any given year the lowest BABIP the past few years has usually been around .280 so you can expect some regression to the mean, there. But of the 3 teams with a lower BABIP than the Royals so far all of them - the Mets, Padres, and Rangers - are performing better offensively than the Royals are. What that means is that it isn’t all bad luck. Some of it is just being bad. Hopefully the recent promotions of Whit Merrifield and Jorge Bonifacio paired with demotions to the worst offenders, Raul Mondesi and Paulo Orlando, will alleviate that some.
But go down that lineup; there are no true surprises in it unless you count Gordon continuing to not produce at all even after cutting his strikeouts back down to something more akin to his career norms. It’s a bunch of streaky guys who can be really bad when they’re off and might never all get together at once. There’s certainly no guarantee that they’ll get get it together at the same time for any extended period.
The Royals might not finish dead last in offense, but then again they might. I’d probably HOLD onto this one if I were you.
The Royals pitching staff is giving up less than a home run a game
The Royals were at something like half a home run per game before the weekend started. Now they’re at something closer to 0.83. Part of this is because Jason Vargas suddenly turned into a ground ball machine and Ned has been able to point at Peter Moylan and Joakim Soria, two groundball relievers, quite often. Part of it is because even outside Vargas the rotation has only allowed a total of 8 home runs. For whatever reason the majority of the flyballs allowed by the Royals have simply died on the track.
Honestly, this is going to go up. At some point Chris Young is going to get hung out to dry in a game that is already a blow out. Ian Kennedy and Danny Duffy aren’t going to be able to dance around their flyballs forever. Jason Hammel is not going to go the entire season without allowing a home run. But who knows? Maybe it can happen. I’ll go out on a limb with this one and HOLD my shares.
Mike Moustakas is on pace to break the franchise home run record
Mike Moustakas is on pace to hit 54 home runs, easily surpassing the absurdly low single-season franchise record of 36, set by Steve Balboni in 1985. Before the season even started I predicted Moose would break the Royals’ single season home run record. I’m going to go ahead and stand by that prediction and recommend you HOLD this stock, too.
Joakim Soria is good again
Boy it sure is nice to have the real Jack back, right? Right? He is the real Jack, isn’t he?
His strike out rate is up, his ground ball rate is up. Those are good things. But, uh, he’s also already walked 6 in 9 innings. His catcher has to keep reminding him not to balk, too. I don’t know guys. I want to believe but...
OK, fine. HOLD onto this one, too. He’s not going to carry a 0.00 ERA all season but as long as his catcher’s keep him from balking and he gets all those ground balls after he walks guys he can still be pretty effective.
Lorenzo Cain is on pace to steal 60 bases
If Cain stole 60 bases that would be the most stolen bases by an AL player since Juan Pierre stole 68 back in 2010. 2014 was the last the time an AL player even stole more than 50. Lorenzo’s is armed with an impressive ability to really sell the delayed steal as well as the raw speed to get the straight steals so he shouldn’t be caught often.
The other thing you have to do to get all those steals is get on base, and as we have previously noted, Cain is walking a lot. The lack of hard contact when he’s hitting the ball also means that when it falls in he’s probably standing at first, a prime time for stealing bases.
There remains a problem, however. That pace assumes Cain plays 150 games this year. He has never done that. The closest he’s gotten was 2015 when he played 140 games. Most of the prediction systems expect him to play somewhere between 110 and 120 games this season. Sure, he has only had one day off and he’s looked perfectly healthy. The Royals also showed some confidence in him by demoting their primary backup center fielder in an effort to generate more offense from the lineup. That’s all swell.
You just can’t expect a 31 year old, injury-prone outfielder to suddenly set a new career high in games played in a season. You can’t. So I recommend you SELL this one.
So how about it? Will you take my recommendations or branch out on your own? Are there any other small sample sizes you think could turn out to be the real deal?
Which of these small sample size events is most likely to last the entire season?
This poll is closed
Jason Vargas wins all the games
Eric Hosmer hits all the ground balls
Rotation reaches 1000 IP mark
Royals offense is the worst
Opponents homer less than once a game
Moose breaks the franchise HR record
Joakim Soria is back
Lorenzo Cain steals all the bases