We run marathons, not sprints

“It’s a marathon, not a sprint”

You might as well make it the motto, the Golden Rule, of baseball–of fandom, of playing, of managing, of writing, whatever.

The baseball season is lo-o-o-ng.  April to October is six months of the year; factor in two months of Spring Training and there are more months where baseball is an issue than months where it is not.

It’s why the Yankees could collapse in April 07 and still make the postseason, and why the Rockies last season could have such an awful start they fired their manager…only to recover in time to go to the postseason as the NL Wildcard.

Slow starts are not just something that happens to teams–they also happen to players, too.

Mark Teixeira is one notable example.

Throughout his career, Teixeira’s numbers increase as the year goes on.

Adam LaRoche is another.

So what gives?

An easy explanation would be that it’s cold at the start of a baseball season, but this doesn’t hold water–until Teixeira signed with New York, he had only played in warm weather cities. LaRoche started his career in Atlanta and played a number of seasons before moving on to Pittsburgh.

The most likely explanation is that it simply takes some players a longer time to “get into a groove” than others; baseball, after all, is a sport founded on the idea of rhythm and constant. Pitchers get into rhythms, and so do hitters.

So, the question then becomes: when do you know a slow start is just a slow start? When should one be concerned?

It’s the end of May, and Mark Teixeira is barely hitting .200–this is not similar to his career norms, which say he should be hitting .293 for the month.

On the other hand, Adam LaRoche is well ahead of his career mark, hitting .291/.367/.581/.949 over the last twenty-eight days, instead of the .259/.333/.457/.790 mark he averages in May.

If we want to see the way that slow starts might impact a team, take a look at Red Sox ace Jon Lester, who has these splits for 2010, easily much better in May than he was in April.

While Lester’s career splits here suggest that he’s a mild slow starter, he’s never had a split quite like what he’s got right now.

So what should Red Sox fans plan on seeing for the rest of the year? What’s sustainable, the 4.71 ERA or the 1.95 ERA? Lester’s supposed to be an ace–and if you ever watch him pitch against the Yankees, he usually looks it–but 1.95 is pushing Cy Young territory.

We can have projections all around us for season statistics, but the funny thing is that these projections don’t break down month by month. That’s not to say we can’t alter them to do so, but being able to predict what hitters hit when or what pitchers pitch according to the month of the year?

That would be something, indeed.

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2 Responses to We run marathons, not sprints

  1. “Lester’s supposed to be an ace–and if you ever watch him pitch against the Yankees, he usually looks it”

    Obligatory obnoxious Yankee fan mention:
    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/NYA/NYA200909250.shtml

    😛 Dude is an ace, though. Not just against the Yankees.

    – bex

  2. JGS says:

    Another obnoxious Yankee fan mention, though this was admittedly before Lester was Lester. This was in fact his very first appearance against the New York Yankees

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/BOS/BOS200608182.shtml

    “They can’t hit young lefties they’ve never seen before” indeed

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