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Noting small sample size does not make one a killjoy

Jun 13, 2013, 3:53 PM EDT

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Weird article at Grantland. In it Jay Caspian Kang takes issue with people who make note of small sample sizes. The example: Yasiel Puig. What he’s doing is amazing and, of course, we know that in all likelihood he will not maintain his blazing hot start. But pointing that out — by uttering the “annoying, almost guttural tic” that something is, indeed, the product of a small sample size — apparently makes one a killjoy:

When a phrase like “small sample size” becomes ubiquitous, the logic drops out. It’s no longer rational to temper anyone’s enthusiasm about Yasiel Puig’s ridiculous first 10 days with the shocking revelation that 10 days is just 10 days. The excitement over Puig comes directly out of what he’s done in his short stay in the majors, not from his long-term projection — pointing out his inevitable regression to the mean is largely beside the point. More importantly, it’s boring and needlessly depressing.

He notes that when he, himself, used to do that he was “a smug little bastard” and says that when sportswriters temper unexpected results with the “small sample size” caveat, they are engaging in the “bearish hosing down of expectations.” I’d be remiss if I didn’t menton that he cites something I wrote about Puig back in March as an example of those who can’t shake their presumably bearish, smug and boring “tempering impulses.”

All of which is baloney, of course. Kang defends himself in footnotes against creating a straw man argument (which is why he linked my piece) but he somehow didn’t think to protect himself from peddling false choices. Since when must one choose between enjoying something cool and acknowledging it won’t last? I am fully aware that Puig won’t finish his career with a .486 batting average yet, somehow, still think his start has been fantastic and enjoyable. It really is possible to think that, actually. Indeed, sometimes the greatest enjoyment one experiences comes when something happens even though you know it won’t last or is an aberration.

But if we know it won’t last, why point it out? Answer: because most people still persist in believing things like Puig’s amazing start will last. There is no shortage of mania whenever someone starts strong. And not just among common fans who are just going along for a ride. How many “on pace for …” articles are written in the early parts of seasons? How many in-depth features are written about players at exactly the moment they burst onto the scene? How many quicky biographies come out based on players with unsustainable starts? There are a lot of them. And I can tell you, those don’t spend much if any time at all talking about how this fun won’t go on forever because of regression and injury risk and the inevitable mathematics of the game of baseball.

So, sorry if me pointing out that Yasiel Puig may eventually have to make adjustments to pitchers who figure him out is bad form. Apologies for not riding the wave, blind to the fact that it will inevitable crash (relatively speaking). Pardon me if my bearish hosing down of expectations ruins your day. Because, really, almost all expectations about baseball players could use some hosing down.

  1. bisonaudit - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:01 PM

    Look no farther than the expectations surrounding this year’s version of the Washington Nationals.

  2. alang3131982 - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:05 PM

    killjoy

  3. kopy - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:07 PM

    I’d rather be a killjoy than someone who spent a lot of money on a Tim Tebow, Jeremy Lin, or Yasiel Puig jersey.

    Maybe Puig will turn out, but I don’t have the disposable income to make that kind of speculative investment right now.

    • nategearhart - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:09 PM

      A Jeremy Lin jersey…the sports equivalent of buying a Sega Saturn.

      • chill1184 - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:30 PM

        Hey now the Sega Saturn was a good system just released at the wrong time

      • dluxxx - Jun 14, 2013 at 10:00 AM

        Chill, I think you meant the Dreamcast. The Saturn was a POS, and pretty redundant with the Sega CD being released shortly before it.

    • alang3131982 - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:15 PM

      Also, all those people plunking down huge $$ on Puig baseball cards….

      • kopy - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:38 PM

        Hey now, anybody who can tie debut records set by Mike Jacobs and Danny Espinosa is going to have a very valuable baseball card.

  4. yahmule - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:08 PM

    “But if we know it won’t last, why point it out? Answer: because most people still persist in believing things like Puig’s amazing start will last.”

    And you’re accusing Kang of utilizing straw man arguments?

    I think you need a nap, man.

    • eightyraw - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:18 PM

      You too could probably use a nap, since Craig does not accuse Kang of utilizing straw man arguments.

      “Kang defends himself in footnotes against creating a straw man argument (which is why he linked my piece)”

      And from the footnotes of the Kang article:

      “Lest you think I’m stuffing up the old straw man, here are three examples of writers talking about Yasiel Puig and his small sample size.”

      • yahmule - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:25 PM

        Is this a straw man argument or not?

        “But if we know it won’t last, why point it out? Answer: because most people still persist in believing things like Puig’s amazing start will last.”

        Do most people hold these opinions, as Craig asserts?

        What methodology was used to make this determination?

      • eightyraw - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:47 PM

        You seemed to have missed my point. Craig did not accuse Kang of using a straw man.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jun 13, 2013 at 5:16 PM

      What methodology was used by Kang to conclude that no one needs to be reminded that Puig’s start won’t last.

      For my part i’m basing it on baseball fans I interact with all the time. On media reports I read in which “[hot player] is a rising star!” In the world where people buy Jeremy Lin jerseys after a couple of great games. If asked, no, I don’t believe anyone truly thinks that Puig will hit .486. I think a lot of them, however, allow themselves to be willfully blind that most young players scuffle at some point soon.

      • yahmule - Jun 13, 2013 at 5:31 PM

        Well, in the case of “[hot player] is a rising star!”, if you substitute Yasiel Puig for [hot player] there are some good reasons to believe this is true.

        If Pete Kozma’s .350/.381/.550 line after five games caused the same kind of stir, then I could see people telling everybody to calm down. When you’ve got an incredibly exciting five tool prospect who sets Major League records out of the gate, I think people should relax and enjoy the spectacle. I think it’s trite and pedantic to do otherwise.

      • Craig Calcaterra - Jun 13, 2013 at 5:38 PM

        Except who ever did this? Kang cites something I wrote back in March, based on some personal observation that not many people had that Puig may have a hole in his swing. And nothing not in the past couple of weeks has constituted raining on someone’s parade.

      • yahmule - Jun 13, 2013 at 5:50 PM

        He shouldn’t have put you on the spot personally, but I agree with his overall point. Given the even handed nature of your March piece on Puig, I can understand your position here. I still think you went a little overboard the other direction. I believe most people view hot rookies with a bit of skepticism. We shouldn’t criticize the people who lose perspective too easily, though, we should invite them into our roto leagues.

      • ezthinking - Jun 13, 2013 at 7:59 PM

        Lighten up Francis (Craig).

        He cited your piece. Be glad.

  5. eightyraw - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:14 PM

    “Why point out something so obvious?” Kang asks. But also claims that Puig “is on pace for 36 home runs, 90 RBIs, and 153 hits for the rest of the season.” No, Puig is not on pace for any of those. Determining his pace would require finding all similar stretches and then see how those players performed in their next 90 games. And yes, I know I’m a killjoy.

  6. packmaneffsanfran - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:17 PM

    Why can we not just relish in the excitement as it unfolds? Why smash our childish wonder in this already ugly world. Whether or not Puig sustains this amazing start, no one can deny that it has been a true pleasure to watch him play from wherever you’re sitting. Don’t be a “killjoy” just hush up, sit back and ENJOY. Dodgers for life baby!

    • dangle13x - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:21 PM

      Well said you rat.

    • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jun 13, 2013 at 5:04 PM

      You didn’t read the article, did you? Craig pretty much goes over every “point” you try to make.

  7. sleepyirv - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:22 PM

    Speaking of strawmen, who is arguing Puig is going to hit .468 the rest of the way out? I’m afraid being realistic can make you a killjoy. No one really needs to point out Puig isn’t a .468 hitter. It simply doesn’t matter. For one thing, it’s something that’s going to sort itself out. In a few weeks the fact he isn’t that good will be clear. For another, it’s not like Puig’s hitting prowess affects our lives in a way that we need to prepare for how he’ll hit from this point out. Puig can hit .200 or .800 and your life won’t be altered much, Craig. Nor the lives of the crazy people who argue Puig really is the greatest hitter of all time. It’s okay to be a killjoy, just as long as you’re willing to admit it.

    • yahmule - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:37 PM

      It’s just annoying when people hold so little regard for your intelligence. We have a miniature Dachshund named Chucky. When he was just a little puppy, he would sometimes plant his feet and resist the leash like a little donkey. Very cute since he weighed about five pounds at the time. We took some pictures of this to share with our similarly dog crazy friends. Most of them would laugh at how cute he was. A certain percentage would then decide to be obnoxious know-it-alls and inform us “don’t pull the leash, a small tug will get him moving”.

      And we smile and nod and maybe even thank this person for giving us the most basic piece of information imaginable about creatures we’ve been around every day of our lives. Mentally we lower our future expectations from this individual just a bit.

      • paperlions - Jun 13, 2013 at 6:02 PM

        In defense of the person you decided to think less of, I know people that have owned dogs their entire lives and still understand pretty much nothing about dogs, what motivates their behavior, or how to train one. Many of these people ask questions like “How long did it take you to train your dogs?”, as if at some point you are done.

  8. foreverchipper10 - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:32 PM

    I bet Chris Shelton enjoyed his small sample size to start the season a few years back.

    • yahmule - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:38 PM

      I’ll bet that’s what she said.

  9. wonkypenguin - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:33 PM

    A killjoy to me is essentially someone who wants to win an argument the other person doesn’t even want to have. Find me someone who believes Puig is going to hit .468 for his career and is willing to argue his/her point. Then you can “small sample size” it until the end of time. Until then, it’s killjoy.

    • Craig Calcaterra - Jun 13, 2013 at 5:25 PM

      Except the guy I link doesn’t point out any examples of people trying to win arguments no one wants to have. He went out looking for people analyzing Puig and who, in the process, used a disclaimer widely used so readers do not think that they’re being irrationally optimistic. He points those out and says “man, look at that awful wet blanket of a person.”

      • chip56 - Jun 13, 2013 at 7:20 PM

        I think there’s just become a douchiness in the way some members of the “baseball intelligentsia” deal with fans who don’t give a crap about advanced statistical metrics or small sample sizes. Fans who just want to watch a baseball game and enjoy it for what it is.

        If you’re a fan of analysis then by all means do it. Baseball is supposed to be enjoyable and however you derive your enjoyment from it is your call. But stop telling the rest of us that we’re enjoying the game the wrong way.

        Oh, and I’m certain that this post will lead to yet another favorite of you and your acolytes…accusing me of making a “strawman” argument.

      • churchoftheperpetuallyoutraged - Jun 13, 2013 at 8:35 PM

        Oh, and I’m certain that this post will lead to yet another favorite of you and your acolytes…accusing me of making a “strawman” argument.

        You mean like:

        I think there’s just become a douchiness in the way some members of the “baseball intelligentsia” deal with fans who don’t give a crap about advanced statistical metrics or small sample sizes. Fans who just want to watch a baseball game and enjoy it for what it is.

        or

        But stop telling the rest of us that we’re enjoying the game the wrong way.

        Please point out when a member of the “intelligentsia” has done this.

  10. Stiller43 - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:39 PM

    If a kill joy is one who points out the inevitale facts to people who want to stay blind to them…sorry, guess that makes me a killjoy too then!!

  11. losanginsight - Jun 13, 2013 at 4:50 PM

    ie. “Mike Trout is the best baseball player ever”!…only after one season.

    • yahmule - Jun 13, 2013 at 5:01 PM

      He’s building his case.

    • paperlions - Jun 13, 2013 at 6:04 PM

      Which was said by exactly zero people.

      He had an historic season, which was said by many.

      • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 12:05 AM

        In so many ways, that comment killed me. Or, rather, I was killed by that comment. Urgh.

  12. nuggets43 - Jun 13, 2013 at 5:12 PM

    If you think Puig will hit .400 with 50 homers you are a stone cold dumb dumb.

    If your job involves telling a handful of stone cold dumb dumbs that they’re wrong, people will have a low opinion of your work. I think Kang is calling you a hack with nothing insightful to say that picks the low hanging fruit.

  13. indaburg - Jun 13, 2013 at 5:13 PM

    “Noting small sample size does not make one a kill joy” …unless your user name is “paperlions.”

    There. Fixed it. :-)

    • paperlions - Jun 13, 2013 at 6:05 PM

      THPPPFT!!!!

    • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 12:15 AM

      I want it noted for the record that I got the “you’re a killjoy” treatment on the Profar post for being realistic. It must be killjoy-shaming day.

      killjoy was here

      • indaburg - Jun 14, 2013 at 7:17 AM

        There’s nothing wrong with reality checks.

        You don’t make a habit of pissing on others’ parades though just ’cause you can.

      • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 7:28 AM

        Poor killjoy paper. I don’t think he does it to be mean…intentionally. But, you could put him in timeout when he’s bad.

      • indaburg - Jun 14, 2013 at 9:02 AM

        Most of the time, it isn’t to be intentionally mean, although there have been a couple of exceptions that I called him out on. To his credit, he realized it.

        My new tactic–I just tickle him. Occasionally, he laughs.

      • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 9:29 AM

        Ooookay. Be prepared for people to tell you to get a room then. And, I love the mental pic of you tickling the ‘lions. ha ha

      • indaburg - Jun 14, 2013 at 12:00 PM

        Ugh. A room? No, it’s not like that. More like a pet.

      • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 12:02 PM

        How come I always get the room thing. :(

        BTW, how about those Royals? Still hating on the AL Central? Harder than it looks. That’s our slogan.

      • indaburg - Jun 14, 2013 at 12:08 PM

        Oh, I hear that comment frequently too. Just, please, not with ‘lions. He’s all yours.

        Nope. Small sample size. ;-)

      • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 12:11 PM

        That’s cold.

      • indaburg - Jun 14, 2013 at 12:18 PM

        Oh, snap. I meant the Royals vs. Rays. Not ‘lions. Dangit. I done did it again. I have a file for Stupid Shit Burgie Inadvertently Says at Work. Use your imagination. Then go even dirtier.

        The Royals do suck. Hellickson sucks worse. Even the Feesh scored 6 runs off him.

      • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 12:23 PM

        killjoy lol

      • indaburg - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:24 PM

        Never been called a kill joy before. Almost as bad as being called a Canada-lover.

      • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:26 PM

        Oh, I get waaaaay worse than that. (I got dickhead today. badge. of. honor.)

      • indaburg - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:53 PM

        I’m a lover, not a fighter.

      • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 1:57 PM

        Don’t pick. I’m both! :D

      • indaburg - Jun 14, 2013 at 3:38 PM

        Nah, make love, not war. Life’s too short for fighting.

      • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 3:39 PM

        I’ll let you do that. I’m pretty much hardwired for it (Irish, German & Native American).

      • indaburg - Jun 14, 2013 at 4:26 PM

        How’s it worked out for ya?

      • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 4:31 PM

        I like it.

      • indaburg - Jun 14, 2013 at 5:10 PM

        Vive la difference. :-)

  14. tfbuckfutter - Jun 13, 2013 at 5:16 PM

    All I know is that according to baseball-reference, his 162 game averages say he will AVERAGE 65 HRs and 162 RBIs PER YEAR.

    That means some years will be slightly less than that, maybe….but some will be even BETTER!

    For every season where he only hits 40 HRs, he will have one where he hits 90!

    That is, of course, just an assumption based on him staying healthy, which will be pretty hard since he gets HBP at the exact same rate as Mr. Craig Biggio. You know, the ALL TIME LEADER in HBP….

    Might as well just rewrite the record books now.

    • historiophiliac - Jun 14, 2013 at 12:17 AM

      Word. They are known for their conservative estimates.

  15. davidpom50 - Jun 13, 2013 at 5:36 PM

    I think the phenomenon is more common in comments and on twitter than from mainstream writers. Craig certainly isn’t being a killjoy by pointing out small sample size while discussing with amazment the things Puig has done, but check out what’s below. For example, on this very article, there is a douchebag comparing Puig to Tebow and Lin, completely ignoring the huge difference – what made Tebow and Lin so exciting is that they seemed to lack the physical tools to do what they were doing. Scouts never expected them to be very good – and in the end, the scouts were right. On the other hand, what makes Puig so exciting is that he seems to just be scratching the surface of his talent. For example, we’ve seen the big arm, but he’s not taking great routes to the ball. We’ve seen him flash the wheels going 1st to 3rd on short singles, but he has yet to attempt a stolen base. He hasn’t bothered drawing walks because instead he’s just clobbering anything near the strike zone. Once he got into shape, scouts absolutely raved about his tools.

  16. kbmichaluk - Jun 13, 2013 at 5:45 PM

    Unless you have attended these Doyers games since Puig’s promotion, you probably don’t have much of a gauge of the scope of expectations bestowed upon him by the fandom.
    Sample size is extremely relevant when all of these fair weather LA fans show up claiming he’ll win NL ROY honors, seemingly forgetting that there are two players collectively owed over $100mil on the verge of pushing Puig back to AAA.

    I’d buy into the “sample size doesn’t matter” argument if fans didn’t toss lofty expectations like salad. Given that they DO commonly shove their uneducated foresight down your throat, you much speculate beyond his 10 games, and look at his season as a whole.

    • yahmule - Jun 13, 2013 at 5:52 PM

      Yes, Puig is going back to AAA. You’re right on top of this.

  17. chip56 - Jun 13, 2013 at 7:06 PM

    If you had the chance to spend a night with Megan Fox are you going to want to enjoy the night or think about the fact that your next date won’t be with anyone anywhere nearly as hot??

    We’ve gotten to a point with sports where your intelligence is mocked for just wanting to enjoy what you see in front of you rather than analyze the crap out of it.

    Look, if analysis is your thing – more power to you – but if your enjoyment is only possible by beating down those who just want to watch the game…well, screw you.

  18. chip56 - Jun 13, 2013 at 7:27 PM

    and, of course the other question is, who is the arbiter of what constitutes a “small sample size” and what is just a sample?

    If Mike Trout plays another 10 years and is just average, then wouldn’t the one year be a small sample size? But if he blows out his knee after two seasons and has to retire then the sample as compared to his career isn’t so small.

    • yahmule - Jun 13, 2013 at 7:57 PM

      Knock some wood when you type something like that!

    • davidpom50 - Jun 14, 2013 at 11:42 AM

      It all comes down to what you’re talking about, specifically. I don’t know the inner workings of how these things are calculated, but some things stabilize very quickly – plate discipline, for example, is stable over as little as 50 PA. However, very very few statistics are that low. Pitcher BABIP, on the other hand, requires something like 8 seasons of data before it can be considered stable.
      Neither of these take into account adjustments, such as pitchers changing their strategy with Puig. The book on him coming in was that he can be enticed to swing at breaking pitches outside, so he’s seen a ton of stuff away. What the book didn’t mention was that he’ll swing at those pitches… and smack them to right field with power. So, we saw Arizona try to bust him inside (with disastrous results). It didn’t seem to cool him off too much (except he didn’t hit any dingers), so we’ll see what the Pirates try.

  19. eoneil32 - Jun 13, 2013 at 11:21 PM

    Great article!

  20. andyreidisfat - Jun 13, 2013 at 11:52 PM

    Sir, you think to much. The writers wasn’t saying you can’t make any argument you about what a player may or may not be. What he is saying is that your a d-bag.

    Don’t worry, just because in something so positive your mind jumps straight to the negative doesn’t mean your alone. Everyone has a guy in their office like you.

    Why even write about a guy like this coming down from his perch ?? Why not write about much fun he is to watch or even how great it is that baseball has 10 or so guys from 20 -26 who could be all time type greats 10 years from now?? But no you have to jump and talk about how he’s gotta suck eventually.. And you don’t think your a killjoy ?? Really ? O…..k

    • samu0034 - Jun 14, 2013 at 8:47 AM

      I hate agreeing with someone whose grammar is so terrible.

  21. louhudson23 - Jun 14, 2013 at 4:17 AM

    It is wonderful to see the spreadsheet fetishists get their panties in a wad because certain baseball fans are excited and happy about a player based on just watching him perform and not from attempting to predict future performance. I can only imagine the hissy fit that would have been thrown over Mark “The Bird” Fidrych had this silliness existed back then. Instead,we just (truly and mightily) enjoyed the hell out of watching him play baseball. What a concept. As for Puig, the kid has played great. It is fun to watch. The folks in L.A. are enthralled and coming out to see him play. Power down the laptops, STFU and enjoy.

    • sandwiches4ever - Jun 14, 2013 at 3:22 PM

      You nailed every cliche except the mother’s basement. Congratulations!

  22. albertmn - Jun 14, 2013 at 10:18 AM

    Puig is off to a great start and it is fun to watch.

    But, I think the issue is being warped. No, there isn’t anyone claiming Puig will hit .486 for his career. But, there are people that are claiming his hot start is proof that he will be the next superstar, and a future multi-time All Star, and possible MVP. That overenthusiasm is what people are trying to reel in, when mentioning “small sample size”. The other day someone listed the stats from Jeff Franceour’s first 13 games or so, and he had a roughly similar hot start to his career. Obviously, his career didn’t stay at that level. Those of us that may point out small sample size just want people to realize that Puig’s hot start doesn’t guarantee he will be a 13 time All Star and 2 time MVP anymore than Robin Ventura’s 0-41 stretch at the start of his career meant he was getting DFA.

    Enjoy Puig’s start, but give it a couple of weeks to see how pitchers adjust to him and how he adjusts to what pitchers start doing. He may end up the Rookie of the Year; he may bust; he likely ends up somewhere in the middle.

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