This coming weekend, my lovely bride is taking me to the Dallas/Ft. Worth area to celebrate my birthday. She’s awesome that way and has done a great job of planning our itinerary so that we’ll be able to visit typical touristy spots and still have time to attend a couple of ballgames between the Seattle Mariners and the Texas Rangers. Although the weather is forecasted to be hot and balmy, it’ll be fun to take in a few games. Plus, there’s an upside that my wife didn’t foresee when making trip arrangements. We won’t be subjected to hearing ROOT Sports overemphasize how Mariners third baseman Kyle Seager’s “loves to hit at Globe Life Park” due to his success there.
Does Seager have good career numbers in Arlington? Absolutely. On the surface, his career offensive production in Arlington is significantly better than the numbers he’s produced at Safeco Field -– which resemble the production of a league-average hitter. But, is he really that much more prolific with the bat when wearing the visiting uniform against the Rangers? Let’s dig into the numbers –- also known as facts -– and see where they take us.
Seager vs. Rangers home and away
When you look at the Mariners third baseman’s numbers against Texas at Globe Life and Safeco, it’s apparent that Seager has been successful against the Rangers regardless of location even though the Rangers’ home park is considered a hitter’s haven –- unlike his home field. Interestingly, Seager’s averages against the Rangers at Safeco are significantly higher than the his career averages posted at the corner of Edgar and Dave. There’s a common link between both locations that shouldn’t be too hard to figure. Hint: they stand 60 feet and 6 inches away from home plate.
|Globe Life Park||172||157||7||.344||.401||.573||.974|
Seager vs. Texas current pitchers
The pitcher being faced has been far more important a factor than where a hitter faces them. There are exceptions, but Seager has generally enjoyed success against Texas Ranger pitching -– regardless of venue. The below table illustrates Seager’s record against current Rangers pitcher that he’s faced. The numbers encompass all encounters with the North Carolina native regardless of the team they were on when they faced him.
Not surprisingly, the left-handed slugger has fared better against right-handed pitching, although he’s enjoyed great success against left-hander Martin Perez. Seager’s success against the southpaw continued during the Rangers’ most recent visit to Seattle last week when the slugger had three hits –- including a two-run homer -– in three at-bats against Perez.
|Chi Chi Gonzalez||3||2||1||0||0||0||0||.667||.667||1.000||1.667|
Conversely, southpaw Derek Holland has faced Seager most often and has enjoyed sustained success against the former all-star. Off-season addition Yovani Gallardo has also bested Seager during his first season with Texas. Although Seager currently has the fourth highest batting average and on-base percentage in the American League during the month of September, both hurlers limited the hot-hitting Seager to just a single and a base on balls during seven combined plate appearances last week. All of this information makes for a great history lesson, but doesn’t necessarily mean anything for future games against these pitchers or the Texas Rangers because of the small sample size.
The small sample size trap
Baseball broadcasters from every network fall into the same trap on a daily basis. They use a hitter’s record against a team –- or even a specific pitcher –- to portray his performance, although they’re usually relying on a very small amount of data. Seager’s a veteran who plays virtually every day, but he’s only accumulated 172 career plate appearances during 39 games at Globe Life. Essentially, his Arlington history equates to approximately a six-week period spread over a five-season period. If we wouldn’t judge a player’s season based on a six-week period –- unless they’re named Yoenis Cespedes -– why would anyone use a relatively insignificant amount of data amassed over a five-year span to characterize a player’s performance?
It doesn’t take very much to make a player’s statistics plummet or skyrocket when there’s a limited amount of data being used. For example, Seager had a .353 Arlington batting average entering 2015. During this season, he’s registered five hits in 18 at-bats and his batting average has dropped eight points. Just last week, his Safeco batting average jumped nine points after a strong home stand against Texas. See why small sample size is a trap to avoid?
Valuable when used properly
Statistics are nothing more than historical data that may or may not have applicability to a player’s future performance. When the numbers are limited, there’s more volatility and less reliability. But, that doesn’t mean that the statistics have no use in game situations.
Although there are many factors that managers consider when deciding to either use a pinch-hitter or make a call to the bullpen, they’ll certainly take into account a hitter’s history against a particular pitcher. Just last week, Rangers manager Jeff Banister opted to replace Perez with southpaw Sam Freeman in the bottom of the seventh with his team already down 5-0 and a runner on first base. Although Seager would single against Freeman, the move made sense. Banister couldn’t risk letting a hitter with three home runs and a .500 batting average during 20 plate appearances face the 24-year-old again, especially during a pennant race.
Using small amounts of data to characterize anything about an individual player isn’t wise and diminishes the relevance of quoted statistics. Yet, the practice of distinguishing a player -– or team- – based on a short span of games happens on the airwaves across the nation every day. If it’s not a player’s match-up against a team –- or another player -– situational comparisons such as batting with bases loaded or runners in scoring position are completely overemphasized.
At best, these statistics provide a limited amount of perspective. At worst, they’re used by broadcasters to misrepresent a player’s likelihood of success. Thanks to my wife, I’ll be be spared from hearing the nonsensical babble about Seager’s prowess at Globe Life Park during this weekend.