Is Kolten Wong breaking out? Is Andrew Miller's contract the demon offspring of Greg Holland and Brett Cecil?
Ah, April. It's that time of year where everyone makes snap judgments that Twitter never forgets. It happens every year. Some banjo-hitter will put together a .400 wOBA in March-April and fans will vote them into the All-Star game. These are the same people who believe Luke Voit is going to be a superstar and that Matt Carpenter was garbage because of his rotten April last year.
Or consider the current case of Andrew Miller. It's possible he's now a human dumpster fire. He may very well be. He's almost 34. He wasn't great least season. Maybe he's not so healthy. His sudden bout with acute gopheritis is certainly disconcerting. He was supposed to anchor the bullpen and now his contract is looking pretty albatrossish.
But here's the thing: We're still living in Small-Samplesville. Purely looking at numbers, we aren't to the place to know if a player's experiencing a breakout or if they're falling off a cliff.
So when can we get a reasonable idea?
Metrics become more stable over the course of time. And certain stats stabilize quicker than others. We can know Kolten Wong's current ISO or Andrew Miller's homerun rate, but these numbers aren't future indicators of much yet. Russell Carlton did the nerdy and dirty work to help us know when stats can actually tell us something meaningful. He's a pretty smart guy, which is why he's now working in the Mets' front office.
Carlton ran the numbers to see how many PA we need for a given stat to reach the point where correlation between that sample and another sample of the same size is .7. Different stats reach this point and become useful at different after shorter or longer periods, depending on the stat.
Check it out:
Exit velocity: 40 balls in play
Swing%: 50 Plate appearances
K%: 60 PA
Contact%: 100 PA
Walk%: 120 PA
ISO: 160 PA
HR%: 170 PA
SLG: 310 PA
OBP: 460 PA
K/PA: 150 batters faced
GB%: 150 batters faced
LD%: 150 batters faced
FB%: 200 batters faced
GB/FB: 200 batters faced
K/BB: 500 batters faced
BB/PA: 550 batters faced
HR/FB Doesn’t reach a 0.50 r-squared at 650 or below.
Here's the biggest takeaway: It's time to calm down.
I understand the Andrew Miller freak-out. I want to jump on the KoWo Hype-Train and anoint Jeff Albert as the GOAT. But it's way too early for all of that.
We also see that exit velocity, strikeout rates and swing rates stabilize sooner than later. The Cardinals have been striking out at a crazy rate in the early going, but we're still about a couple of weeks away before players hit the 50-60 plate appearance mark. Don't assume they're broken yet. And if Kolten Wong is still making hard contact in early May, then you have a legit excuse to get excited.
As for pitchers, we don't know much of anything until mid-May for starters and for relievers it's way too early. Dips in velocity can tell us something. Outside of that, unless you have a scout's eye and can pick apart mechanics, don't angry Tweet. Not yet. There's a proverb that says "even a fool is considered wise if he keeps silent". When it comes to baseball, unless you're a scout you should probably just pump your brakes with your player evaluations for now. At least until mid-May.
For me, this team certainly doesn't feel like a contender at the moment. But I have to remind myself that it's still too early.