On sample sizes, too small and just right

Why do the Angels kill the Yankees?
Fangraphs reviews Yanks' recent drafts

We talk a lot about small sample sizes on River Ave. Blues. For stat-minded analysts, it can easily become a default excuse for a player’s performance. Sabathia not pitching up to expectations? Small sample size. Blue Jays leading the AL East? Small sample size.

It is a phrase that sounds good, but most people have no idea what it means. In fact, even people who know what it means aren’t too comfortable with the concept. After all, there is no magic tipping point when a small sample size becomes a just-right sample size.

To that end, two pieces hit the Internet yesterday that warrant a reading by fans looking for more insight into the sample size process. On the one hand, Dave Cameron at FanGraphs writes about the proper way to use small sample sizes. On the other, Jonah Keri warns about reading too much into small sample sizes. “As unsatisfying as it is to say it,” Keri writes, “sometimes stuff just happens.”

As the Yankees gear up to take on the Angels tonight, the Bombers find themselves on the precipice of a frustrating April. They’ll finish the month either at or two games above .500 and could easy have found themselves at 15-7 instead of 11-11 or 12-10. That’s just part of the sample size issue.

Some players are off to bad starts; some are off to good starts. When the dust settles in the end, those small sample sizes will morph into season-long representations. For now though, when a player can go 5-for-5 and raise his average nearly .040 points in the process, we’re still firmly in the realm of a small sample size. These numbers can inform our discussion, but in no way can draw many, if any, conclusions from them.

Why do the Angels kill the Yankees?
Fangraphs reviews Yanks' recent drafts
  • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime

    There is a caveat, however.

    Wang had three starts, definitley a small sample size, and yet…

    ;)

    • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

      That’s where the second piece of the analytical puzzle comes into play — actually watching the game.

      In fact, you don’t even need to watch the game to see Wang’s problems. You can look at velocity, release point and pitch movement/location via Pitch F/x to see that what was going on with Wang transcends small sample size.

      • jsbrendog

        the scary part for wang is that even just looking at the box scores screams something’s effed there.

      • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

        In fact, you don’t even need to watch the game to see Wang’s problems. You can look at velocity, release point and pitch movement/location via Pitch F/x to see that what was going on with Wang transcends small sample size.

        Stats that actually watch the game…

        DBHOF’s head just exploded.

        (Is it too late to keep making that joke? Is there a moratorium on it since he’s gone?)

        • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt ACTY

          I think the WPA graphs and Pitch FX graphs would’ve made his eyes bleed out of confusion.

          • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

            THE GOGGLES!!! THEY DO NOTHING!!!!!

            • kimonizer

              whatever happened to DBHOF, did he just vanish or was their some grand departure?

              • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

                Just kinda left one day. Nothing grand. Just stopped posting.

                • jsbrendog

                  hopefully he still reads

        • http://www.YouTube.com/kevyyankees Kevin G.

          I believe he goes by the name “Mattingly’s Love Child” now.

          • http://www.riveraveblues.com Benjamin Kabak

            You believe wrong. That’s someone entirely different.

            • http://www.YouTube.com/kevyyankees Kevin G.

              Huh, I could have swore it was him.

              • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

                No, Mattingly’s Love Child can’t be DBHOF, he’s not averse to intellectual rigor.

                http://www.instantrimshot.com

  • LiveFromNewYork

    I have faith that this team will start clicking and playing as a team. They seem to have that starting to work for them already. I think that the record could have been a lot worse.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      Confidence level = 10

  • http://161ststreet.wordpress.com Chris A

    Sample size, sh-mample size. Joba to teh bullpen!!11!!!1!!

  • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

    “As unsatisfying as it is to say it,” Keri writes, “sometimes stuff just happens.”

    Axl, are you paying attention?

    • http://actyankee.blogspot.com Matt ACTY

      Nope. Too busy writing his next album that’ll take ten years to be released.

  • A.D.

    If nothing else just look to Melky full year ’08 numbers vs April ’08 numbers.

    • http://twitter.com/tsjc68 tommiesmithjohncarlos a/k/a Ridiculous Upside

      If you wanna crown his ass, they go ahead and crown his ass…

      BUT HE WAS WHO WE THOUGHT HE WAS!!! AND WE LET HIM OFF THE HOOK!!!

  • Big Pete

    I have been reading this blog for several weeks, but only just realized it is the official blog of the YES Network. Time to find another one!

    • pat

      It’s not *THE* offocial blog per se, it is one of many. Why that would influence your readership is beyond me.

    • http://www.puristbleedspinstripes.com Rebecca-Optimist Prime

      The content hasn’t changed at all, and these guys are some of the most critical of the Yankees that are out there.

    • Stephen

      sell outs!!!!!

      • http://www.riveraveblues.com Joseph Pawlikowski

    • Stephen

      or, alternatively, I read them before they were cool.

    • Drew

      Oh shucks, you were such a large contributor.