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Michael Young: statistical visionary

May 16, 2012, 11:33 AM EDT

Michael young batting cage

Michael Young hasn’t hit well lately, but he does not believe he’s in a slump, per se:

“I’ve never really bought into the idea of slumps,” Young said. “There are going to be times you just don’t get the results that you want in this game. It’s just the nature of the big leagues. But what you’ve done in the past has nothing to do with what you’re going to do the next game. You’re allowed to wipe the slate clean and get back to work the next game.”

Given how much fun we’ve had picking on Michael Young around here, your first impression may be that I offer this to mock him for being in denial.  Not so!  I think he’s actually making a comment about people’s inability to properly understand randomness and random events which, inevitably, leads to things like the “hot hand fallacy.”

Yes, players have what we call “slumps.” And we use that term because it is useful. It describes events which did, in fact, occur.  When someone goes 0 for 32, he did suffer a slump.

But it’s wrong to stretch the concept into something predictive. To say that, because someone went 0 for 32, that at bat number 33 is doomed. Or, as it comes up more often, to make strident predictions about what the slump means as it relates to the player’s value and future prospects.  Fact is: players with any kind of track record are, in a significant enough sample size, going to perform pretty close to that track record and within norms for someone of their talent level, with a usual mild downward slope as they age and get more fragile and stuff.

I know that this has little to do with Young or even with what he’s talking about, but any chance we have to stamp out things like “the hot hand” or the related gambler’s fallacy (“he’s due for a hit!”) verbiage from the discourse, we should take it.

This stuff isn’t magic. There is no whammy. Stuff just evens out over time. Unless you think Michael Young was really a .400 hitter, that’s all that’s going on with him here, even if you want to call it a slump and he doesn’t.

  1. bcopus - May 16, 2012 at 11:39 AM

    I’m shocked. That concept is difficult enough for regular people, let alone someone who makes their living being rife with “intangibles”.

    • paperlions - May 16, 2012 at 1:15 PM

      In Young’s defense, he isn’t the one driving the intangibles bus…that is driven by a large group of media fan boys.

  2. The Baseball Cube - May 16, 2012 at 11:41 AM

    Though an 0/32 is indeed a slump, Young can safely say that the 0/32 has nothing to do with the next game and theoretically and statisticall it does not but emotionally (reality) it does in that it can add pressure and force a player to start batting outside his comfort zone, especially if his job is at risk. (I.e. Adam Lind with Vlad Guerrero on his tail)

  3. El Bravo - May 16, 2012 at 11:47 AM

    Statistically, pie > cake.

    • The Common Man - May 16, 2012 at 11:49 AM

      I will fight you, sir.

      • Jonny 5 - May 16, 2012 at 12:15 PM

        And you will lose. See truth and rationality will always beat fallacies spoken by the irrational. Pie is in fact far superior to cake. Would a rock and roll song EVER compare a beautiful and sexy woman to cake of any flavor? Case closed.

      • El Bravo - May 16, 2012 at 12:29 PM

        The NATO protesters agree with me. Pie rulz

        http://chicago.cbslocal.com/2012/05/16/clowns-plan-to-protest-during-nato-summit/#.T7POHODUNxk.facebook

      • pharmerbrown - May 16, 2012 at 12:30 PM

        There is a berry farm by me here in Jersey, called Emery’s (If you are in/ near Philly and go to the shore, listen up). They have this pie, called the Trifecta. Peach, blueberry (they are a blueberry farm, so they blues are great), cherry. One nice scoop of Haagen Dazs Vanilla bean, and you’ll get laid. Add a little CoolWhip, you won’t even want to.

      • davidpom50 - May 16, 2012 at 12:34 PM

        A 50 Cent song once said “I love you like a fat kid loves cake.” Does that count?

  4. koufaxmitzvah - May 16, 2012 at 11:51 AM

    Dude is a Gaucho. Dude doesn’t slump. Dude may take some time to make it, like spending 7 years at a university that has its own beach and a town of over 20,000 students jam packed in less than one square mile, almost all of whom live in slumlike conditions for exhorbitant rent. Of course, Isla Vista ain’t what it used to be. Before the State placed a sheriff’s station on campus, Isla Vista was kept in order by the IV Foot Patrol, which happened to be 7 dudes on bikes. Yes, this Gaucho Dude abides. 0-32 is a bit of a hassle, it may even grate the nerves. But, it’s all a mind game, man. Sleep it off. Smoke it off. Take classes off. Go Gauchos.

    • davidpom50 - May 16, 2012 at 12:36 PM

      I’ve always had an irrational love of Michael Young because he’s a fellow Gaucho. Barry Zito & Skip Schumacher, too. Thanks for leading me to reminisce about my college days.

      • koufaxmitzvah - May 16, 2012 at 12:39 PM

        U Can Stay Buzzed forever.

    • Gamera the Brave - May 16, 2012 at 4:06 PM

      Mitzvah,
      You just gave me so many I.V. flashbacks I can’t even count them. Hell, I can hardly even remember them.

      IV Foot Patrol, ISVT, Goleta Beach… Ahhhhhhhhh…
      Got to play the carillon up at the top of Storke Tower once – played “Chopsticks”…

      • davidpom50 - May 17, 2012 at 11:57 AM

        ISVT!! I miss ISVT.

  5. kopy - May 16, 2012 at 11:52 AM

    Maybe it’s just society.

    • natstowngreg - May 16, 2012 at 1:51 PM

      It is. There’s an irrational human tendency to assume that a current trend will continue forever.

  6. itsmekirill - May 16, 2012 at 12:11 PM

    If you are 0 for your last 32, you probably ARE more likely to make an out in your next at-bat than if you are 10 for your last 32. A .300 hitter only has a 0.001% chance of starting an 0 for 32 slump in any given at bat if it were completely random. But stuff like being tired, being sick, or just being “off” does play into it and makes it more likely, just not to the extent most people think.

    • ezthinking - May 16, 2012 at 12:42 PM

      All of you do realize that Young is not 0 for his last 32 right?

      He is a pathetic 5 for his last 35, or .143.

    • kopy - May 16, 2012 at 12:52 PM

      One would assume that a career .295 hitter would have a 29.5% chance of getting a hit and breaking out of a slump. But, if he has a slump, he might become a career .290 hitter, and decrease the odds of getting a hit in an at-bat.

  7. trevorb06 - May 16, 2012 at 12:52 PM

    Young DOES make a somewhat good point about how past statistics aren’t a great way to judge the future, but this isn’t a roulette table, there is a human element. If a player ages poorly and his numbers start to dip, one can generally assume that’s going to be the new ‘normal’ for the player, but I do agree if a player that is usually playing at a high level isn’t hitting well for a week that it should be assumed he’ll continue that into the next week (barring an injury).

    Speaking of roulette, I just love seeing those guys who put all their money on black after 8 straight reds have been rolled. Because, you know, it’s no longer 50/50 odds at that point. :-P

  8. tanstaafl48 - May 16, 2012 at 3:31 PM

    “This stuff isn’t magic. There is no whammy. Stuff just evens out over time. Unless you think Michael Young was really a .400 hitter, that’s all that’s going on with him here, even if you want to call it a slump and he doesn’t.

    Careful now. That’s real close to Gambler’s Logic (the concept that if .400 was lucky we’d expect a symmetrically unlucky streak to “balance it out”).

    Which is just as much of an error as the “hot hand” thing: If a true .300 hitter happens to have a .400 streak the best guess for the average over the course of the rest of his career is… .300. Yeah it will “even out” eventually, but in the sense that the larger sample of .300 will swamp out the effect of the smaller sample of .400, not in the sense that we’d expect an equivalent slump.

  9. WhenMattStairsIsKing - May 16, 2012 at 3:45 PM

    I think this is a fresh mindset, as opposed to the self-defeat so many other players likely go through during so-called slumps. Can’t really knock him here.

  10. spudchukar - May 16, 2012 at 6:59 PM

    I have been an ardent defender of Michael Young before, but that argument is of another ilk. This time his opinion is flat out brilliant. Woe be the days that I have lamented the bullshit “slump” categorization, as if it were some version of an MLB black hole or worse an ill-begotten purgatory.

    Sure the lack of production can become more than just the inability to exercise the desired results an athlete attempts, but far too often players, coaches, fans and media persona jump onto the “slump” bandwagon. And belief in some paranormal matrix where nothing less than divine intervention will extract those who befall the inexorable depths of hitlessness is downright silly.

    Good for Young to offer if nothing else than a different take, because belief in the nonsense that the “gods have turned against you” does nothing but perpetuate the myth that failure has an origin that lies outside one’s own capabilities.

    • spindervish - May 16, 2012 at 7:30 PM

      My goodness…talk about purple.

      You should have led off with “It was a dark and stormy night…”

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