Great Scot: Pittsburgh Pirates and the law of averages

Aug 14, 2013; St. Louis, MO, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates first baseman Garrett Jones (46) runs the bases after hitting a solo home run off of St. Louis Cardinals starting pitcher Shelby Miller (not pictured) during the second inning at Busch Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

In baseball, everything revolves around the law of averages. If a player hits consistently around .300 over the course of several years, why would the next year be any different?

Take Pittsburgh Pirates center fielder Andrew McCutchen. In April he hit .247 with a .308 on-base percentage and three home runs and people were scared that he would have a fallback kind of year. However, the law of averages states that “Cutch” has hit .291 the last three years with a .376 OBP and 23 homers per season.

Since his so-so start, McCutchen has hit .324 in May, .303 in June, .327 in July and .423 in August, giving him a very good .321 average with a .399 OBP and 17 HRs.

Earlier this season, the Pirates went almost two months without hitting a sacrifice fly and now, they seem to hit one per game. Of course, law of averages can work around in negative ways as well. Take a look at Jeff Locke; we can see his law of averages is somewhere between how he pitched the first half of this season and the rest of his major league career thus far.

It doesn’t mean he can’t raise his average higher eventually because he’s still a young guy and in his first full season of starting, but these laws do seem to carry weight and suggest the regression we’ve seen.

Aug 22, 2013; San Francisco, CA, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jeff Locke (49) pitches the ball against the San Francisco Giants during the first inning at AT

Following the law of averages is how fans can tell if a player who is cold as ice at any given point is bound to get hot eventually. There are always the exceptions, like when someone has a career year, but that is how a player can bring up his natural level.

Right fielder Andrew Lambo is another player we need to look at to figure out his law of averages, in order to see if he could be the long-term answer for the Pirates in right or at first base.

He’s a lefty power bat, he was hitting for a nice average in the minors this year – I won’t go through all the numbers – but his track record states that he is a slow starter. This means that the Pirates brass and fans need to allow Lambo to find his way in the major leagues before expecting that he will light the world on fire by hitting a ton of home runs and getting a bundle of RBIs.

More likely the case is that Lambo is trying to feel his way through right now by making solid contact with the ball, looking for singles and doubles before he takes cracks at hitting more homers.  The hope would be that Lambo can develop into a power hitter, maybe to be moved to first base when Gregory Polanco (currently in Double-A) is ready.

The next time you are watching a baseball game or any game for that matter, take a look at specific player and study his average. If an NBA player scores 24 points, eight rebounds and 12 assists on average per game over many seasons, there’s a good chance that he is going to put up 20-28 points, 6-10 rebounds and 10-14 assists during that game.

Now don’t get judgmental on me if you watch a game, study a player’s averages and he fails to meet it or he surpasses it. Stuff happens! More often than not, at least one of those numbers will fall within those ranges and others will be fairly close.

I am a big fan of the law of average game and it’s why I study players to determine exactly how they will level themselves out. First baseman/right fielder Garrett Jones is a good player to mention here because he is not living up to the law of averages this season, or is he?

In the past three seasons, Jones has hit for a .254 average, .313 on-base and 21 HRs. This season, Jones is hitting .235 (.293 OBP) and 12 round-trippers. These are far below his normal numbers which suggests that he will either get red hot in the final month of the season, he is regressing due to age (he is 32), he is injured or teams have made an adjustment to him that he hasn’t made the adjustment back. I will say that he is on pace to match or beat his career average in strikeouts (94 this season, 110 on average over the past three).

If I’m taking a look at how these averages play out for the final month of the season for the Pirates, I’m thinking they will play around .500 baseball the remainder of the way, finish with around 90 wins and make the playoffs but lose the wild-card game to either the Reds or Cardinals.

I hope that I’m dead wrong, but at the end of the day I’m thrilled to even be talking about a winning season for the Pirates and a playoff trip.  Even if it’s only for one game, what a season it has been.

But or next season, it will be time for certain players to raise their averages so the Buccos are true contenders for the World Series.

Topics: Andrew McCutchen, Garrett Jones, Jeff Locke, Pittsburgh Pirates

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  • marcorincon

    Garrett Jones is regressing more and more quickly. He’s got to get hot and hit or sit if the Bucs are going to win the division.

  • JBubs

    The law of averages means that, given enough time, all things regress to the “mean”, the middle of the Bell Curve, the average. So the statement “Player A is regressing more and more quickly ” has no meaning unless you add the element of time. Regressing from when to when? Compared to what period of time? The same holds for a short baseball series. In a short series time is greatly compacted which means that chance becomes more of a factor. This means that in a single game playoff the odds are close to 50/50, so you can throw all other tendencies out the window. This year the Pirates are performing AS A TEAM as well as any team in baseball. In the playoffs, with a few fortunate “fortuitous” (look it up) bounces of the ball, they can win it all. And wouldn’t that be something!?