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Astros 1B A.J. Reed, or: fun with small samples

Give Astros 1B A.J. Reed a fair chance. Subtitled: having fun with small samples and historical comparisons

MLB: Houston Astros at Pittsburgh Pirates Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Many readers of yesterday’s post about the Astros’ offseason batting plans expressed disdain for the future of Astros first baseman A.J. Reed due to his slow career start. While wishing for excellence immediately and at all times is an understandable and fun part of fandom in general, a bit of perspective thrown into the mix would do a lot of people some good. Or at least, no harm.

To say that Reed has been disappointing would be an understatement. In 36 games, or 121 plate appearances, he is hitting .173/.281/.288, with a 59 wRC+, .569 OPS, a .115 Isolated Slugging score, and 33% strikeout rate.

However, to say that Reed is a bust, overrated, or doesn’t still have an above-average possibility of becoming a very good major league first baseman, that would be a fallacy.

Baseball requires well over 100 games played to even sort out which clubs are kinda good and which are pretty bad. It takes half again that many to determine who the best teams are well enough to determine playoff spots, and even then, only two or three teams per season can clearly be said to be no-brainer “best club” material.

That said, it is astounding how often our reactions are colored on the basis of one game, or ten, or thirty.

But fandom is what it is (and I wouldn’t change it!). After 36 games, Reed is a bust, overrated, has lost trade value, and has made it clear that the most attractive option would be a return engagement of a career .232 hitter (96 wRC+, Luis Valbuena).

Go ahead and toss out all of the research proving that statistics, records, and skill level often require more than a full season’s worth of information to meaningfully determine a player’s baseline talent level. We don’t need to turn to probabilistic string theory or mathomaniacal sabermetric modeling to show why ditching Reed is silly talk. All we need is history.

A comparison with similar early-career samples of lumbering sluggers

The title of this section is explanation enough. On to the comparisons!

  • 36 games: .173/.281/.288 - A.J. Reed, 2016
  • 26 games: .168/.270/.368 - Kris Bryant, July 2015
  • 27 games: .230/.280/.360 - Miguel Cabrera, Aug. 2003 (he was worse in June, when he was first called up, but it was a smaller sample)
  • 34 games: .237/.321/.387 - Lance Berkman - all of 1999, his Rookie season
  • 29 games: .242/.306/.444 - Matt Holliday, May 2004
  • 40 games: .205/.275/.299 - Jim Thome, all of 1992 (his SECOND MLB season. His first was almost that bad)

This really could go on and on. Almost all good Major League players had a similar stretch during their first season. Reed’s is magnified because his is coming at the very beginning of his career, and thus skewing his full-season stats, and because his poor start is happening during a playoff run.

Does anybody remember now that Alex Bregman hit .200/.255/.322 (55 wRC+) over his first 100 plate appearances? Reed only has 21 more than Bregman at this point, and is actually performing better than Bregman did over that sample.

Sure, you can find some players who managed consistent respectability throughout their rookie seasons. Look no further than future unanimous first-ballot Hall of Famer Carlos Correa. But guys like Correa are very much the exception, not the rule.

Rookies struggle. Reed is struggling. But baseball players don’t become the 11th-ranked prospect in the country by accident.

Give the dude a chance. A REAL chance.