Hot streaks from marginal players

While I was spying on his Twitter account a while back, Jon Bernhardt, formerly of the sadly gutted Sports on Earth masthead, pontificated that the problem of homerism was not explicitly because fans are intrinsically poor analysts, but because they watch their favorite team too much.

Not only does this give them a lack of perspective of how players on the team they watch compare to the rest of the league, but they simply have too many details. We become so well-versed in such a wide breadth of details that it's hard to see the forest for the trees. We could provide a detailed account of Alejandro De Aza's miserable start and mid-season recovery at the plate, his plus-speed but inability to use it properly to man center field or steal bases, his suicide slides, his vulnerability for breaking balls at his feet and love for yanking his hands in to rip singles through 3-4 hole, when others would leave the summary of him at "left-handed fourth outfielder" and move on. Would they be better or worse off?

Everyone reading this knows--or I will presume they know--about the problems of small sample sizes and taking hot streaks at face value. But we still watch this team every day, and inevitably see the small changes in performance and approach that happen day-to-day, week-to-week. For players like Adam Eaton and Jose Abreu, this is exciting because we're finding out new things about what they're capable of, as they race toward a ceiling of performance that has yet to be established.

But for established, unimpressive regulars, we're often taking notes just because they'e there, even if they're taking us away from established views of the player. Coming into 2014, Dayan Viciedo was being reduced to platoon status after a flat September call-up in 2011 and two statistically worthless seasons in 2012 and 2013. With an expanded chance to play in 2014 Viciedo posted an OPS over .900 for the opening month of the season. For anyone watching him regularly, it was mind-blowing to see Dayan layoff outside sliders for once and work left field. As a whole, it was an insignificant blip in a career of mediocrity at the plate and it swiftly normalized.

We went through a similar process with Gordon Beckham after his return from injury before he brutally normalized, and now that John Danks has gone out his last four times and failed to get quality starts out of any of them, and fallen back to a 81 ERA+, we appear to be going through it again. Danks' peripherals stayed bad throughout his run of mid-summer success, he had experienced no velocity uptick from last season and was actually showing less control, yet we could see him making less mistakes with his changeup, we heard about mechanical adjustments and he just looked different. We don't start making observations just when they become statistically significant, and every mid-career transformation started as a unexpected blip that local fans were overreacting about.

Now, Danks is snapping back to a reality easily understood, someone who was stripped of possibly his most unique skill--aggressively attacking right-handed hitters inside--by injury, is now experienced and clever enough for some good nights but can't consistently slice through lineups anymore. It feels foolish again to think he could be more,  but dismissing stretches of hope for marginal players we have a good understanding of only makes living with them harder.

Tyler Flowers is hitting right now, overly roughly a 20-game stretch hitting for power, and most surprisingly, striking out at a rate that wouldn't compete for the league lead over a full year. He was awful in his first full-time action last season and mostly the same guy up until July this year--though with a ton of early-season dribblers and bloops that found grass--and even when he hinted at being tolerable at the plate as a backup in 2011 and 2012, he still struck out a ton. We have a solid notion he's going to strike out 30% of the time, and are getting less and less signs that he's going to walk 10% of the time and run into the 20 bombs per year to make that a workable situation.

The notion that he's a changed hitter now that he's switched to glasses--from wearing contacts, not from wearing nothing--is pretty thin to say the least, and could look proper foolish again in short order. It's something, though, and otherwise the White Sox offer nothing at the catcher's position, and might continue to offer nothing for a good while. We're all just collecting notes on what we're seeing and trying to see if there's a something to stick to the trends. Theoretically, we should never be tricked by them, but might not have a reason to watch if we didn't.


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