Fun With Small Sample Sizes

I know how horribly cliché it’s become to write about the impact that Toronto Blue Jays third baseman Brett Lawrie has made since being called up only nine games ago. As much as I wince whenever I read terms like “bringing an energy” or “putting forth a contagious effort,” Lawrie seems to do all these things.

Unlike so many of the best players who use their natural physical gifts to make their movements on the field seem free flowing and easy, there is nothing graceful about Lawrie’s play. Whether he’s fielding a grounder, swinging at a pitch or running the base paths, he’s going full tilt and it looks like he’s going full tilt. For a player who was born in Canada and playing on Canada’s only baseball team, putting forth what appears to be an effort on par with a hockey grinder, well, it’s getting Canadian baseball fans excited, and rightly so.

In addition to his appearance, Lawrie is also putting up the numbers that excite creatures like me who believe the height of hilarity is typing “80085″ or an upside down “01134″ on a calculator. Of course, these numbers are after only 33 plate appearances and have all the predictive qualities of a broken magic eight ball, but that doesn’t mean we can’t have a little bit of fun manipulating parameters to compare the start Lawrie’s MLB career to other players who have had long and successful lives as Major League Baseball players.

For instance, as Sam Miller pointed out to me, Brett Lawrie has the highest slugging percentage (.710) in the history of baseball for players with 30 or more plate appearances. Second on that list? Some guy named Babe Ruth. The rest of the top five are Ted Williams, Lou Gehrig and Albert Pujols.

Here’s a list of other notable stats for Lawrie’s carrer that benefit from a minuscule sample size (all with a minimum of 30 PAs):

  • The highest ISO (isolated power) of all time (.355);
  • The second highest OPS+ of all time (194);
  • The third highest OPS of all time (1.104); and
  • The seventh highest batting average of all time (.355).

And of course, it’s not just career numbers, here’s more comparisons from this year against the rest of the league (again, with a minimum of 30 PAs):

  • The highest wOBA (.476);
  • The highest SLG (.710);
  • The highest wRC+ (208);
  • The fewest amount of first pitch strikes from pitchers (39.4%);
  • The second highest AVG (.355);
  • The second highest ISO (.355);
  • The third lowest swing rate (33.9%); and
  • The fourth lowest swing rate at pitches outside of the zone (15.9%).

While most of these rankings are fun, and little else, it is interesting to note that Lawrie’s reputation as someone eager to impress might be preceding him. How else to explain the lack of first pitch strikes coming his way?

Fortunately for Lawrie and his future as a big leaguer, he hasn’t been the impetuous batter that many would think he is after watching him come up to the plate and windmill his bat before facing a pitch. He’s actually swinging at a lesser rate of pitches than all but two other batters (again, after a very small sample size). A large part of that is his vision at the plate as evidenced by having such a low rate of swings at pitches outside the zone, but it also speaks volumes about Lawrie’s confidence by showing that he’s willing to wait for a pitch with which he can make good contact. His patience extends even to taking strikes that might not be of the good contact variety. At the moment, he’s swinging at only 55% of pitches landing in the zone, that’s 10% less than the Major League average of 65%.

As much as we applaud the appearance of Lawrie going full tilt, it could well be his patience that’s leading to his successful start, but just as looks can be deceiving in this instance, so can initial numbers after only nine games of baseball. While Blue Jays fans may be foolish to expect Lawrie to sustain his slugging numbers, it wouldn’t be the least bit silly to believe that if he can continue to approach his at bats with the patience he’s exhibited so far, astounding numbers will follow.

Comments (17)

  1. His approach at the plate is what makes me believe he’s going to be a very good batter for a while. He makes Snider’s at-bats look amateurish. It’ll be amazing if he can keep the numbers up, but of course he won’t. Regardless, he’s (so far) looking like he’s in the majors for the rest of his career and likely won’t be doing the Snider Shuffle any time soon.

    As for Lawrie’s fielding at third base… well… we’ll wait and see if it can improve. Some of his throws to first have been downright Edwardian.

  2. Wow, I just went looking through the history of the blog for the “Why Brett Lawrie shouldn’t be called up” post and it has mysteriously vanished!

    Just kidding Parkes, it’s hard not to love the kid though and it has many of my not so baseball inclined friends to show interest in the Jays.

  3. I went to the game yesterday, and, as I’m sure those who have seen him play, he’s fun to watch. Now, yesterday was a good day for him. Don’t know how fun he’ll be to watch during an 0-fer.

  4. It’s amazing to see him in the batter’s box with that Sheffieldian twitch and watch pitches like a veteran. It IS early, and we’ll see what happens when he’s in a slump and starts reaching for pitches out of the zone, but Jesus is this is fun to watch.

  5. Edwardian, or Edwinian?

  6. That 9th inning game-tying double yesterday made me seriously question my sexual preference.

  7. Actually, I prefer ‘Edwinese’.

  8. The swing rate could be due to the fact that it seems like hes being offered a sh*t tonne of breaking balls low and away (all anecdotal – some pitch fx data would be nice) . He appears to be laying off of almost all of them and just waiting till they elevate something to them.

  9. Good post Parkes. I have been at 2 games this week to see Lawrie, and yesterday you could feel the energy when he stepped up to the plate. He twitches a lot & twirls his bat like kevin Youklis although not as annoying.

    His play on the field was excellent particularly late in the game when he chased Abreu and ran to second base to get out the other guy. It was fun to watch.

    It looks like he wants to check people if they get close to him.

    I hope the Jays don’t overhype him too much because that’s a lot of pressure for a 21 year old.

  10. Book the trip to Cooperstown!

  11. Even with such a small sample size I get the impression that he is the kind of player who won’t go through sustained (i.e. Hilliesque) slumps. Unlike Snider he is so quick with his bat through the zone that he isn’t likely to be caught swinging on pitches that hit the dirt in front of the plate. Reminds me- in a way- of Paul Molitor in that he is quick and flat through the zone. On a side note… my favorite part of the order is now 5, 6, and 7.

  12. Mmmm, excellent, another can’t miss:

    “And he has more praise for the 20-year-old Snider, noting that he “seems to lock in comfortably on every pitch, whether he’s swinging or not”, and calling his audition so far “impressive”

    http://www.drunkjaysfans.com/2008/09/they-like-us-they-really-like-us.html

  13. I’m starting to think that Lawrie is the type of person who lets pressure bounce right off him. For his 9th inning at bat yesterday the stadium was buzzing with anticipation and I thought to myself, this is an awful lot of pressure for a 21 year old rookie, and then he went and ripped a double. And that isn’t the first time he’s delivered in a high pressure situation.
    He is certainly going to have some downs to match this up, but I don’t think that pressure is going to be his downfall (too much intensity in the middle of a slump can sometimes exacerbate a problem, if anything trips him up or slows him down I think it will be that).

  14. Haha, yes, I meant Edwinian. Edwinese works too.

    That double run-down before his double cashed Rasmus was pretty clutch. He’s definitely got a smart mind for baseball even if his fielding is incomplete.

    Next year’s team is going to be fun to watch!

  15. what amaziez me is he looks way older than 21. maybe its the tattoos

  16. All signs with him are great so far, but I’m still waiting to see how he reacts to failure. It will come.

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