May 16, 2012, 11:33 AM EST
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.
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