Daniel Murphy, John Buck and other small sample size stories

Every time I see or hear somebody freak out about how a player is doing early on in the season, I’m reminded of this song.

The incredibly small sample size that we have available to us right now is not enough to tell us anything significant about players and the seasons that they will have.  Here’s a few of the biggest small sample size benefactors/victims on the Mets so far.

Daniel Murphy:  Murphy has started 2013 with a bang, posting a .381/.413/.690 slash line through 11 games.  He is helped greatly by his .389 BABIP.  There is nothing in Murphy’s batted ball profile that suggests that this is even remotely sustainable for any length of time.  As a matter of fact, Murphy’s xBABIP is .293, a number which is actually slightly below his career average.  Expect Murphy to come back to earth a little bit and for the home run power to subside slightly, but still post solid numbers as he regresses back to the mean.

John Buck:  It should come as no surprise that Buck’s early season success is a mirage.  Any time a career .236/.303/.410 hitter posts a .317/.318/.780 slash, there is something up.  Looking at his .217 BABIP, that clearly isn’t the source of his success.  Maybe it’s that pesky 28.6% HR/FB ratio.  Yeah, that’s it.  Buck’s career HR/FB ratio is 12.8%, and the 28.6% mark puts him in Barry Bonds ca. 2003 territory.   It is only a matter of time before Buck turns back into a pumpkin (his batting average has dropped 58 points in the past two games), and Travis d’Arnaud will be here to save us from watching Buck aimlessly whiff at sliders in the dirt every other trip to the plate.

Ruben Tejada:  Finally someone who should actually improve by regressing to the mean.  Tejada’s .294 BABIP is not too far off from the .308 xBABIP that he sports, and a walk rate over 11% would be nice to keep up, although that is unlikely.  Although the offense will likely not improve much, defensive improvements should make Tejada a better player going forward.  Last season, he had a UZR of 0.9, meaning he played average to slightly above average defense at short.  This year, he already has a UZR of -3.0, meaning he has been God awful in a small sample.  Assuming that he improves enough to play scratch defense for the rest of the season, and he keeps hitting the way he is, he could post a WAR of over 2 this season, which would be a first for Tejada.

Ike Davis:  I could have done an entire article on the struggles of Ike Davis and why they are not as big of a deal as people seem to think they are.  Instead, I’ll try and contain myself to one paragraph.  This is an open-and-close case of the BABIP Gods taking out their wrath on Mr. Davis.  His current xBABIP: .309.  His current BABIP: .154!  That, my dear readers, is what is called bad luck.  Has he had some ugly at bats this year?  Yes.  Does that make a lick of difference?  Maybe.  Davis has been looking a little better at the plate over the past few games, and is drawing plenty of walks.  Eventually his luck will change, and the ball will be “hit where they ain’t” and fall in for hits.

Matt Harvey:  I like Harvey as much as the next guy, but to say he’s not due for some struggles is foolish.  He has exactly 13 major league starts under his belt, and his electric performances this season haven’t exactly come against offensive powerhouses.  His WHIP is 0.55, his ERA is 0.82, and opponents sport a .160 OBP against him.  He should have a successful year, but obviously, the pace he is going at now is unrealistic to sustain throughout the season.

Greg Burke:  The sidearming righty has some nice peripheral stats, including 11.12 K/9 and a 1.62 FIP, even though is BB/9 is a high-for-the-bullpen 3.18.  I put him on this list for one reason; his 4.76 ERA.  If Burke can sustain these peripheral stats, which, considering his deceptive motion to the plate and his stuff (particularly his wicked up-chute slider) is possible, that ERA should plummet in the coming weeks.  If that becomes the case, Burke could go on to be what the Mets thought they had in Sean Green.

Follow Joe Vasile on Twitter at @JoeVasilePBP.

2 comments for “Daniel Murphy, John Buck and other small sample size stories

  1. April 15, 2013 at 4:12 pm

    What xBABIP calculator are you using? When I use the one originally developed by Slash12 and later updated by FanGraphs’ Jeff Zimmerman — I get a much different number than the one you posted here. Same thing with Tejada.

    Also, since WAR is somewhat of a counting stat, it should come as little surprise that Tejada has not surpassed a 2.0 measure yet, as his career-high for games is 114. If he had kept either his ’11 or ’12 numbers up over 150 games, he would have surpassed a 2.0 WAR both seasons. Conversely, if he only plays 114 games again, it’ll be an uphill climb for him to reach a 2.0

    • Joe Vasile
      April 15, 2013 at 8:04 pm

      I used Chris Dutton’s xBABIP calculator. It is relatively simple and uses 2008 park adjustments, so that could be the reason for the discrepancies. I looked for a more recent version, but didn’t find one.

      As for your point on Tejada and WAR, you’re right. The line about it being a ‘first’ for him, was just to put it into some perspective that he’s never accumulated 2.0 WAR in a season, whether it was because of an injury or splitting time between AAA and MLB. Last year his WAR/150 was 2.2 and in 2011 it was 2.5. It is not unreasonable to think that he can post similar numbers this year despite the slow start.

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