Spring Training Sample Size Extravaganza

PORT ST. LUCIE, FL - MARCH 03: Pitcher Jaime Garcia #54 of the St. Louis Cardinals throws against the New York Mets at Digital Domain Park on March 3, 2011 in Port St. Lucie, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Yesterday it came up in the comments that John Gast had picked off four baserunners in five and one-third innings, which is kind of incredible. There's a lot of fun stuff to be done with those numbers. Bullet points:

  • Gast's WHIP is 2.25. His W+H-PO/IP is 1.50. 
  • Gast's BAbip is .400. His BAbiptwipo is .200. 
  • John Gast's PO/9 is currently 6.75. Mark Buehrle, the active leader with 81 pickoffs, averages 0.32 per nine innings. 

Spring Training is tough to enjoy when people are trying to extrapolate the small sample-sizes into year-long trends or use them to impugn players with real or imagined character defects. But if you accept that John Gast won't pick off 150 batters in 200 innings this year, there's still plenty of room to enjoy the fact that he's picked off four in five. (And that a 2010 draft pick is getting deep into Spring Training with the big club after a dominant season at short-season ball.) 

By March 16 there's plenty of small-sample size heroics going on, though none of them are quite as exciting as John Gast's pickoff move. Here are a few more that are worth lauding in their sample-size inadequacy, lest we inadvertently attempt to divine something useful from them. 

2. Kyle Lohse hasn't walked a batter in 13 innings. The last time he did that was between August 29 and September 9 in 2008, and that's it for his Cardinals career; not even across five starts in May and June when he walked two batters in 30 innings; he threw 12 scoreless innings across two starts, but he walked a batter in the last inning of the game before that stretch and then another in the first inning after it. 

Lohse's walk rate was, like Brad Penny and Joel Pineiro since, the major beneficiary of Dave Duncan's pitch-to-contact mantra. He never reached the low-ones highs of Penny and Pineiro, but through the All-Star Break that year his strikeout rate was just 4.4; it went up in the second half even after his walk rate (and win total) stabilized. 

3. If Eduardo Sanchez were as great at picking batters off as John Gast he'd have allowed -1 baserunners in five innings. Which is awesome. 

4. If Jaime Garcia were as great at picking batters off as John Gast, his W+H-PO/IP would still be 2.00. Garcia's been crushed on balls in play this year, and the benefit of the John Gast Perspective of Spring Training is that I can look at his 10.00 ERA without crying softly to myself. 

Well, almost. Pitchers' sample-size confidence is always dampened by the paranoia that culminates in every walk being taken as evidence of an imminent elbow surgery. It's unfair, since I can't harness that paranoia in the service of, say, expecting those 150 pickoffs from John Gast. 

5. Jon Jay is the clutchiest. He's having a Spring Training Joe Carter could only dream about. Through 45 at-bats he's hitting .222/.245/.400... with 10 RBI, which puts him on a 100 RBI pace if he were starting. Unfortunately, Colby Rasmus is only offering more proof that he's unclutch. Sure, he's hitting .308/.357/.487, but he's only got three RBI in 39 at-bats. (Although the good news is that  La Russa had good things to say about Rasmus's selfish decision to walk in a run with the bases loaded instead of putting the ball on the ground and making things happen.)

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