javier baez aflHumans like to see patterns. In fact, as a species we’re really good at it. Our brains can take a perfectly innocent hunk of wood and see the face of that vicious wood spirit that is totally going to eat your face just as soon as you fall asleep. We can look at a basic cloud and see hieroglyphics that foretelling the coming of giant turtles bearing mushroom pizzas to all mankind.

The human mind can spot these patterns in events as well as in random shapes. For example, we can hear that one story that friend of your Mom’s former coworker used to tell about some guy who wore orange and green when taking exams in medical school and somehow find a lesson in it that is applicable to situations that have absolutely nothing to do with medical school, exams, or the colors orange and green.

We are so amazingly good at finding patterns that we can draw conclusions about things and events from virtually no data at all. We jump to conclusions so frequently and on so many things that it seems very strange when anyone says something like “We don’t have enough evidence to know that,” or “We really need to let more data accumulate before we can draw conclusions.” People who talk in that manner are dismissed as being in denial, or, worse, trying to cover up some hidden truth.

And yet those oddball statements are often true.  Not all individual events are indicators of significant trends.  When the sample size is small, data can look very strange.  Just because you got a bad hamburger at that one burger chain, for example, does not mean all burgers produced by all locations of that chain are bad. And the fact that a particular road had heavy traffic on a Thursday morning does not mean you need to detour an extra fifteen miles every Thursday morning to get to work.

And just because the Cubs showed a remarkable inability to drive in runs in their first few games of the season does not mean that there is something critically and chronically wrong with the team. It could still be true that there is in fact something critically and chronically wrong, a lack of evidence tends to fail to point in any direction that differs from the norm equally, but the point is we don’t know. If there is a horrific lack of leadership, or an abundance of terrible coaching, or a conglomeration of players who mentally go to pieces when there is a runner on base, or any of the other wacky theories being bounced around the internet, we can’t know it yet. The evidence just doesn’t exist in sufficient quantity to mean anything.

For the time being any conclusions about the 2014 baseball season run up against the small sample size problem, and that goes for the minor leagues as well. Some of the numbers referenced below could be quite scary or ridiculously exciting if taken out of the context of their sample size.  Both emotions are probably unwarranted.

I think the best thing a baseball fan at any level can do in the month of April is kick back and enjoy the games. When the calendar rolls around to May we’ll have the data we need to start studying this season for real, and that’s when the analytical fun really begins.

Oh, and keep an eye on that wood spirit. Your face looks tasty and he’s got to be hungry by now…

Scores From The Weekend

Iowa
Friday – Getting shut out is bad. Getting shut out 9-0 by the Redbirds is worse.
Saturday – At least it wasn’t a shut out. The Cubs lost this one 11-1.
Sunday – They coughed up three errors, but the Cubs got their first win of the season 4-3.

Tennessee
Friday – The Smokies earned their first win in this 1-0 shutout.
Saturday – A rain shortened game that featured two Smokies errors ended with a 5-0 Tennessee loss.
Sunday – The Smokies committed two more errors and lost this game 3-2.

Daytona
Friday – This one went into ten innings, but Daytona came up short 4-3.
Saturday – The Cubs scored multiple runs in five different innings on their way to a 13-2 easy win.
Sunday – Daytona had Sunday off.

Kane County
Friday – This game was postponed on account of cold. This just proves that all minor league stadiums should have retractable roofs.
Saturday – Friday’s game was made up as part of a doubleheader on Saturday (remember that, in the minors, doubleheaders are 7 inning games). Game Two was a 2-1 loss for the Cougars, but they won the opener in ten innings 5-4.
Sunday – They lost on Sunday, though, 7-3.

Performances of Note

  • [Iowa] Javier Baez did pick up his first hit of the season on Sunday, and because he is Javier Baez that hit was of course a home run. He has also walked once and struck 6 times in 12 trips to the plate.  More on him later.
  • [Iowa] Josh Vitters, on the other hand, is playing like a guy who has beaten up Triple A in the past (he has) and needs a ticket to Chicago (he does). His early season now contains a pair of doubles, a home run, and just two strikeouts.
  • [Iowa] The early pitching for the Triple A Cubs has not been all that great, with a couple exceptions. Eric Jokisch threw a very nice 7 inning start on Sunday (2 runs on 6 hits, 1 BB, 3 K), and Zac Rosscup has appeared in two games so far and has yet to allow a hit while striking out three.
  • [Tennessee] The standout pitching performance of the weekend came on Friday from C.J. Edwards. He only pitched four innings (63 pitches), but in that time he struck out 4 and allowed just one walk and one hit.
  • [Tennessee] Armando Rivero struck out four in relief in that same Friday game.
  • [Tennessee] Kris Bryant has three hits on the season now, and only two of them are home runs. He also has two walks against five strike outs.
  • [Tennessee] And on the down side, Rubi Silva is up to 10 strikeouts on the young season. He has doubled as part of his three hits, but the line for this April slump currently reads .188/.188/.250.
  • [Daytona] On Saturday there were plenty of multi-hit games to go around. Albert Almora had 5 (all singles), Tim Saunders (with a double and a walk), Pin-Chieh Chen (all doubles), and Gioskar Amaya (all singles) had 3 each, and Willson Contreras and Oliver Zapata each chipped in a pair. The Cubs only home run in that game came from Jeimer Candelario.
  • [Daytona] Tayler Scott pitched a very good game on Saturday as well. Over 7 innings he allowed just two hits and a walk while striking out two.
  • [Kane County] Jacob Hannemann and Danny Canela both homered in the make-up game. In addition to the long ball, Hannemann also has three steals so far this season.
  • [Kane County] Tyler Skulina breezed through six innings of two hit ball on Saturday, walking one and striking out a pair. Juan Paniagua struggled early on Sunday, but settled down to allow two runs in four innings despite giving up three hits and four walks while striking out four.

Other News

  • Yes, Javier Baez has 6 strikeouts in 12 trips to the plate, but No, you should not be worried. A spike of strikeouts on arriving at a new level conforms with Baez’s pattern through his minor league career and is exactly what I expected to see. On November 5 of last year I wrote the following:

    Baez will once again be the talk of Spring Training in 2014, but I do not see him breaking camp with the Cubs under any circumstances. He’ll head to Iowa and open the year posting a K% in the mid to high 30% range again,and many fans will label him a bust and rail at the front office for not trading him while they had the chance. Baez will make adjustments and pull his K% down into the mid to low 20% range. And, after it stays there for 100 PAs or so, he will head to Chicago. I doubt his Major League debut takes place before June 15, but it will take place in 2014 (barring injury).

  • So far, then, Baez is simply right on schedule. Look for him to fluctuate between bad looking, high strikeout games and better looking, moderate strikeout games for a few weeks, and then settle into a consistent pattern of murdering baseballs. Fans and media alike will freak out while his strikeout rate stays elevated early in the season, but I am fairly confident that it will come down. We’ve seen this movie before, folks, and it ended in one of the most offensively prolific minor league seasons I’ve ever witnessed. There is no need to worry about Baez just yet.


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