Maybe I'm a hack, or a parrot, or some other Derogatory Noun Of Symbolism, but despite all the "small sample size" talk around the game these days, we all too often forget the lesson. Or we misunderstand what "small" really is.
B.J. Upton currently sits at .145/.242/.244, through 36 games and 131 at bats. That sucks. That sucks a whole bunch. But 36 games and 131 at bats is a paltry sample. Since it's all we have in 2013, we want to go crazy about it. If Upton, on the other hand, started this season like his brother, hitting every ball seven miles (with grit!), then hit this skid in June, we'd probably notice, sure, but we as fantasy players wouldn't be dropping him, trading him for 30 cents on the dollar. Because his slump started in April, though, we're jumping ship.
Just as a fer'instance, here are some not-at-the-start-of-the-season B.J. Upton stretches from recent years:
April 30-May 31, 2010 (28 games, 93 at bats) - .172/.252/.333. He ended the season .237/.322/.424.
May 27-June 29, 2011 (30 games, 110 at bats) - .173/.264/.300. He ended the season .243/.331/.429.
May 28-July 1, 2012 (31 games, 123 at bats) - .179/.237/.252. He ended the season .246/.298/.454, and the Braves gave him a $75 million contract that offseason.
The math here is simple. When a Joe Mauer type goes into a slump, his normal batting average - say, .320 - rides somewhere in the .280s while he scuffles. But when a low-average guy like Upton (or Adam Dunn, or Dan Uggla, or Rob freakin' Deer) goes through a rough patch, there's just nowhere for the batting average to go that isn't scary.
Upton's strikeout percentage has risen this year. That's worrisome, sure. But it seems far more informative that his batting average on balls in play is a criminally low .200. For a slow guy who can't notch infield hits, that would be ridiculous. For a relative burner like B.J. Upton? It's insane.
Which is all the more reason why it isn't real. His career BABIP is .318. It's never before been below .294 over a full season. If you think there's some integral part of Upton that has changed, despite going to the easier league, despite going to the easier ballpark, despite (if it's worth anything at all) getting to play with his brother, I'm going to need more reason for that belief than 36 games, than 131 at bats. (No, it's not quite as simple as "low BABIP means he'll get better," but even if you look at it more in-depth, as Andrew Ball did the other day, the numbers favor Upton improving.)
Like I said, "small samples" doesn't mean "don't draw conclusions from one weekend series." I mean, it does mean that, sure, but it also means that a team, a player, whatever, can do just about anything in a quarter of a season, a half a season. Heck an entire season. Craziness just transpires. Ask Shane Spencer or Kevin Maas. Or Reggie Jackson (.194 over a span of 397 at bats in 1983). Or Roy Campanella (.207 over 397 at bats in 1954).
This might be moot, I don't know. Upton is still owned in 85% of Yahoo leagues and 90% of ESPN. But his ESPN percentage has dropped 5% lately. I'd like to think that people who take the time to read this site are smart enough to not be in those "Upton is available" leagues, but who knows? If Upton is out there in your league, snap him up.
It might not happen right away. Maybe Upton's slump lasts the rest of May, especially with his shoulder woes of late. But there's just no way that BABIP doesn't rise. He's a low batting-average guy. He'll always be a low batting-average guy. But 15 home runs? 20-something steals? 70-ish runs and RBI? Those are still firmly in his wheelhouse. And those are numbers that need to be owned.
Don't buy into the panic.
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