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Reason #734 Why Small Sample Size is an Issue

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Let's take a look at a few numbers, shall we? The game is "Guess the Player":

AB Hits 2B 3B HR RBI BB IBB HBP K SH SF GDP AVG OBP SLG
Player A 320 87 27 1 8 45 41 7 1 63 0 1 11 .272 .355 .438
Player B 233 66 14 0 19 46 42 4 2 50 0 3 3 .283 .393 .588

Player A seems less patient, grounds into more double plays and has less power, although he smacks doubles at a slightly higher clip. Player B has much more homerun power (one every 12 at-bats or so, versus one every 40 at-bats for Player A), and has a BB% of 15 percent, compared to Player A's 11.2 percent. This isn't on the table, but both players perform better on the road than at home: Player B is hitting .293/.359/.509 at home, while Player A put together a paltry .232/.306/.393 line. They play in the same home ballpark, because they are actually the same player (which I'm sure you guessed pretty much by reading the title of the post). Player A is Mark Teixeira from April to June 31, while Player B is Teix again from July 1 to September 9.

Teix's slump really did not receive much press, most likely due to the Rangers place near or at the top of the standings in the American League West. If they had been somewhat further out, more fuss most likely would have been made over the issue. The media also had their hands full trying to cover breakout seasons by Mark DeRosa and Gary Matthews Jr., the second of whom was an all-star in 2006. Getting back on track, Teix had a serious power outage in the first half, and his numbers at Arlington were, to keep it short, awful.

Teix's second half is much more in line with his averages from 2003-2005 (.282/.362/.541), and lines up even more with his previous two seasons (.292/.375/.568). What brought his power back, or an even better question, what made it disapear in the first place?

His flyball rate seemed to take a dip in comparison to 2005, but it has increased steadily since that time. His groundball rate also appears to have spiked, but has since decreased, and really was not much higher looking than his 2005 groundball rate. Dave Studeman noted that Teixeira's HR/F% was all the way down at 7 percent, which means he was hitting the ball with less authority in comparison to past years; that explanation made a great deal of sense, especially considering the flyball totals really weren't much lower than they had been in the past. Dave suggested that his timing was off, or that pitchers had adjusted to him somehow, which are both plausible. Whatever the situation happened to be, Teix rectified it, and has increased his HR/F% to 13.7 percent on the season, almost doubling the rate at which flyballs turn into homers. Considering he has that low rate from the beginning of the year dragging him down, we can assume that he's really back at pre-2006 levels of performance, hovering around 19-20 percent.

This is great news for the Rangers in 2007, who can expect to have the old Teix pitchers know and hate in the lineup for the season, unless of course whatever instituted the problem in 2006 manifests itself again.

On the other end of the sample size spectrum, we have Hank Blalock. In 2004, Blalock hit .276/.355/.500 as a 23-year old, which would make most people assume he has an extremely bright future ahead of him. One thing that most likely did not receive enough press time was his serious home/road split: .311/.386/.540 in Arlington, and a much less productive .239/.323/.460 elsewhere. Things didn't get any better in 2005 or 2006, where he has hit just .244/.296/.362 on the road combined. Overall, in handy table form...

Blalock 2004-2006 SH/R Splits
AB Hits 2B 3B HR BB IBB HBP K SH SF GDP AVG OBP SLG
Home 887 265 49 2 43 92 5 4 173 0 6 20 .299 .365 .504
Road 912 221 46 3 29 79 9 7 188 0 8 24 .242 .305 .395

...we can see that the difference is quite severe, especially when it comes to homerun production. He's hitting only .276/.335/.414 overall this year; when one considers how much of a boost those numbers receive from playing in Arlington, it's no wonder his EqA is only .248, well below average. PECOTA thought Blalock would return to form in 2006, forecasting a .282/.349/.510 line with a .282 EqA, a .020 increase from his 2005 equivalent average. Instead, there was another drop.

As for my thoughts, thanks to team previews (which we will have again this late winter/early spring) I can go back and quote myself:

The BP cover says "Don't Write Him Off" in regards to Blalock, and it would be silly for me to do so; I'll just say I have lowered expectations for young Hank. That +13.07 pNRAA may be a tad too optimistic for my taste.

I wasn't a fan of his projection, which expected his bat to pick it back up. He has performed even worse than 2005 though, which is not something I expected. I figured him to remain relatively static, but that hasn't happened. This is extremely odd too, as Blalock is only 25 years old, and should be starting to enter his prime years. Let's see what's changed in his batted-ball data to see if there are any distinguishable patterns:

Blalock Batted-Ball Data 2004-2006
Year Tm Lg P/PA LD% BA/BIP GB% IF/F HR/F
2004 TEX AL 3.9 18.5% .316 34.0% N/A 12.5%
2005 TEX AL 3.7 24.5% .296 39.1% 12.2% 11.8%
2006 TEX AL 3.6 20.9% .298 41.8% 10.1% 8.3%

His patience has regressed, his BABIP has decreased from 2004, his homeruns per flyball have decreased, and his LD% and groundball rates have increased the past two years. So he's hitting fewer flyballs than previously, and getting fewer longballs out of the flys he does swat. Considering the problems seem to be building up as he ages, the future can't look too bright for the still young Hank. If the Rangers can get anything in a trade for whatever value Blalock still appears to have, the time to do so would be this winter. I don't think you could fault Daniels for giving up on him, even if he turns it around in the National League or somewhere else down the road. The Rangers have a lot of decisions to make in the future, and Blalock might have more utility as a trade chip than as the starting third basemen.