I know what you’re thinking: the season is over.
Okay, maybe that’s not actually what you’re thinking. But surely that’s how many Tribe fans are feeling today after yet another miserable game Tuesday night.
Make no mistake, the 2013 season hasn’t started very well. After a pair of solid wins to open the year in Toronto, Cleveland has now dropped five of their last six games. In each of those five losses the Indians have either allowed 10 or more runs, scored one run or fewer, or both. After an offseason in which many Tribe fans worried about the starting rotation and the consistency of the lineup, it’s easy to get worked up about a stretch like this.
It’s not just at the macro level, either. Ubaldo Jimenez, Trevor Bauer, and Carlos Carrasco have each had an awful outing. Brett Myers has had two. Both Carlos Santana and Lou Marson are injured. Jason Kipnis doesn’t look quite like himself. And the other day the Indians featured a guy they’d signed to a minor-league contract as their No. 3 hitter. This is not how the season was supposed to go.
For Cleveland sports fans, this story is all too familiar. Everything that can go wrong will go wrong. A stretch like this is just the beginning of a season-long downward spiral. Might as well just accept it. It’s really incredible how quickly the energy seems to have been sapped out of the fanbase.
But, in the words of the videos that many MLB teams have produced over the last couple years, it gets better.
These words may ring hollow to jaded Clevelanders who have grown accustomed to disappointment from their sports teams. Waiting for next year has become such a traditional pastime that it’s even the name of a great local blog. But while hearing desperate cries of “small sample size!” might not make anyone feel any better, I can say with full confidence that things will improve in the near future thanks to the magic of regression to mean.
Regression to the mean is the statistical truism stating that just about anything you could possibly observe is actually more average in nature than you would estimate from the available data, especially when dealing with a tiny sample size. Flip a fair coin twice and you’ve got even odds of getting either two heads or two tails instead of one of each. That doesn’t mean there’s witchcraft afoot. It just means that the probability hasn’t had a chance to even out yet. Give it a couple hundred more flips and the distribution will end up pretty darn close to 50/50.
It’s hard to think of baseball players like coins or dice, but their performances are subject to the rules of statistics too. Brett Myers is not going to give up over six home runs per nine innings going forward. Trevor Bauer’s true-talent walk rate is not 12.6 BB/9. Jason Kipnis’ OPS will not languish at .402 for long. And just because the Indians are 1-5 in their last six games doesn’t mean they’ll finish the year 27-135.
Yes, these games matter. There’s a fine line to be walked between being appropriately skeptical of small sample sizes and dismissing the new data too quickly, and whatever deficit we may build up in the standings if the slow start persists will weigh us down for the whole season. But when you’re weighing a week’s worth of games against a whole offseason’s worth of projections and prognostications it should be the latter that tip the scales.
I know it’s hard to be a rational fan. There’s no fun in pondering the role of luck in a game when the Indians make a stunning comeback and there’s little solace in the probabilities when they lose a heartbreaker. But it really is too soon to give up. Even if your loyalty and masochistic optimism aren’t reason enough to keep watching for another 154 games, there’s reason to have faith as things even out in the luck of the draw.