Baseball, The Law of Averages, and Why I Still Have Hope For 2015

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The Law of Averages: the expectation that a possible event is bound to occur regularly with a frequency approximating to its probability

As is often said by baseball analysts and fans, a baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint.  With 162 games spread over six months and with very few off days, the baseball schedule is the most daunting, grueling, and seemingly never-ending of all the major professional sports.

Because of this, however, baseball is also a sport that breeds consistency.  Due to the length of the season, it is a sport that sees very few “flukes” emerge over a long period of time, and player performances – generally – revert to established norms.  Unlike, say, in the NFL, where players can go from zero to hero than back again in 1-2 years, baseball (for the most part) is more established.

While anything can happen over the course of an inning, a game, or even a few weeks (AKA a small sample size), over the course of a full season, things tend to fall back to normal.  Hence the law of averages quote at the beginning of this post.

For example, if a career .300 hitter is batting .125 in May, odds are likely that he will have at least one, two, or three hot streaks in him to get his average closer to .300 by season’s end.  Likewise, a career .215 hitter more than likely will not maintain a .365 average (sorry Chris Colabello).

So what does any of this mean?  How does any of this provide any kind of hope for fans of the underperforming, last place, and, to this point, woeful Blue Jays?

Let me tell you.

Even though about a quarter of the season has been played, that still represents a fairly small sample size in the grand scheme of the MLB schedule.  While two key Blue Jays are performing about on par with expectations (Josh Donaldson and Rusell Martin), and a few don’t have a meaningful track record to compare against (Aaron Sanchez, Roberto Osuna, Kevin Pillar, Devon Travis), several very important players are having dismal seasons compared to the bulk of their careers.

On the offensive side, there’s no arguing that Jose Bautista, Edwin Encarnacion, and Jose Reyes, are struggling (Reyes is injured again, but he wasn’t doing much in the games he did play).  There’s also no arguing that they are possibly the most important players on Toronto’s roster.  But take a look at their 2015 OPS:

Averages - OPS

EE has posted a number 68 points below his career mark, and 149 points behind his OPS from the past three years.  Bautista is currently 30 points worse than his recent career numbers, while Reyes is nearly 200 points below.  All three are clearly performing miles below their expected levels, and one would expect (or hope) that a performance correction is in the future.

But the offense hasn’t been the biggest issue.  Toronto’s pitching has been downright atrocious, and those most to blame are the top-3 in the rotation (Dickey, Buehrle, Hutchison), along with two key left-handers in the bullpen (Loup and Cecil).  How bad have they been?  Look at their ERA numbers:

Averages - ERA

Hutchison and Loup don’t have more than three years of data available, and Cecil has only been a full-time reliever for two seasons (we’ll leave his time as a starter out).  But look at how startling the declines have been.  Hutchison is giving up over 1.5 runs a game more than his career mark, Cecil just under 1, and Loup about three-and-a-half.

Similarly, look at the starters.  Both Dickey and Buehrle have career ERA’s under 4.00, and recent career ERA’s closer to 3.75.  So to see them both stuck over 5.00 (and closer to 6.00) is a bit shocking.

Yes, there could be other circumstances.  Both are getting older, and perhaps their decline is starting to come at a more accelerated rate.  But I have a hard time believing that both guys would suddenly fall off a cliff.  Maybe we shouldn’t expect a return to a mid-3.00 ERA, but something in the low 4’s might not be out of the question.

The bottom line is that if each those eight players can turn things around to post numbers within range of their career totals, then good things are in store for not only them, but for the team and the fans alike.

And that is why there may still be hope left for 2015.

Is it likely?  I can’t say for sure – but the law of averages says yes.

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