Nine games does not a season make/Michael Bleach
It is a rite of spring as constant and entertaining as Bob Uecker trying to pronounce unfamiliar foreign players’ names.
Someone in Major League Baseball starts hot. Or cold. A player, a team, the Italian Sausage in the Sausage race. Whatever.
Immediately, columnists, fans, Facebook and Twitter blow up with the big question – “Is this for real?”
As the saying goes, if you have to ask…
Somewhere in our nation’s great history, the cliche “baseball is a marathon, not a sprint,” was cemented in our hardball lexicon.
This is wrong.
Baseball is slower than a marathon. Much slower. It is a leisurely dicker in the park. It is the changing of seasons. It is the elderly driver in the left-hand lane.
Perhaps it is because we dive right into the baseball season after the cardiac arrest of March Madness. Perhaps it is because we are truly a football nation at heart, where every game feels like life or death. But every year – without fail – we as a nation seem to forget just how long a 162-game season actually lasts.
This could probably be called the Jeff Francoeur Axiom.
Frenchy, as he is affectionately known, came into The Show like wildfire back in 2005 for the Atlanta Braves. A native of Georgia, the hometown kid hit .300 and slugged .549 in 70 games, leading to a Sports Illustrated cover and mounds of pressure on the fresh-faced 21-year-old.
The hype was misplaced. Badly. Frenchy never came close to those heights again, and saw himself kicked around by five different teams before starting the season in the minors this year.
The thing is, the evidence was there for anyone willing to look at that Francoeur screamed “flash in the pan.” He unintentionally walked just eight times and struck out 58 his rookie year. His long swing was waiting to be exposed by Major League pitching. Vlad Guerrero thought he needed to show better plate discipline.
Even with Frenchy’s example so recently burned in memory though, fans and writers alike continue to underestimate the deception of an unexpected hot start.
There is a rule – nay, a blood-decree – among intelligent baseball analysts.
Be wary of small sample sizes. The SSS gods can be cruel, and they are utterly without mercy.
Every team in baseball is (probably) going to win 50 games. And every team is going to (probably) lose 50 games. Which means you can pick out a two or three week stretch every single season, where the best team looks lost and the worst (often whatever team Ned Yost happens to manage) looks like world-beaters.
The Brewers have blazed out to a 10-3 start, capturing Crew fans’ imaginations with a nine-game win streak. This is awesome. And a small, irrational part of me is convinced this is a harbinger of things to come.
But here is the thing – the Brewers enjoyed a nine-game win streak LAST APRIL. And they promptly followed that with a 6-22 tailspin over the entire month of May when Yuniesky Betancourt reverted to form and stopped accidentally swatting dingers.
The concerns before the season about Jean Segura’s walk rate and first base and Khris Davis viability still exist. The worries about Ryan Braun’s thumb are not diminished because of one three-homer game.
Hot starts mean nothing. They are just several data points in a 6-month season of natural ebbs and flows.
Of course, this principle works in reverse too.
For Tigers fans, Miguel Cabrera will probably hit better than .225 this season. Max Scherzer will eventually win a game. Alex Gonzalez will … do exactly what he is doing. Alex Gonzalez is no longer good at baseball.
Baseball is like a glass of lemonade on a muggy day. It is a good stretch and a long book.
Sit back, relax and enjoy.
There is plenty of time to panic come May.