Stats, Luck, and Danny Valencia

What sort of player is Danny Valencia?  Like so many Twins, he's been disappointing in 2011 after his excellent debut last year.  This is an article about Valencia, but what it's really about is statistics, the role of luck in baseball, and sample sizes. 

All stats courtesy of Baseball Reference

Danny Valencia debuted in 2010 and was very good.  .311/351/.448 at age 25.  Danny Valencia owned the 3rd base job coming into 2011, and has been pretty terrible.  .236/.286/.391. 

Danny Valencia is about the same hitter in 2011 as he was in 2010. 

Danny Valencia has about a season's worth of plate appearances over the course of 2 half seasons.  He has hit .270/.315/.417, which is very close to an exactly average major league hitter.  Not only is that an exactly 100 OPS+, but his component stats are very close to the MLB average of .259/.326/.404.  There is reason to believe that this is the hitter Valencia is. 

I think we all realize that the old saw that luck "evens out" over the course of a season isn't really true.  It doesn't always even out over the course of a career, in truth. 

Danny Valencia is not a good example of luck not evening out.  His luck has almost entirely evened out over his two half seasons. 

Danny Valencia is very similar to the average major league hitter in a number of underlying statistics.  Numbers like his line drive %, his ground ball %, his XBH%, his K%, his BB% have all been consistent across his 2 seasons, and all pretty close to the major league averages. The slight difference between Valencia and "MLB AVG GUY" is Valencia maybe has a bit more power, and walks a bit less. 

Danny Valencia had a batting average on balls in play of .345 in 2010.  Danny Valencia has a batting average on balls in play of .257 in 2011.  That's it.  That's the whole difference between Danny Valencia in 2010 and 2011.  He's hitting the same number of line drives.  He's striking out the same amount.  It's all pretty much the same.  But last year, the balls he hit fell in, and this year they haven't. 

One of the things I've thought for years is that we tend to underestimate the amount of luck that exists in baseball.  We know it's there, but because by definition we can't predict it, we tend to ignore it.  But it's a huge thing. 

Danny Valencia was lucky last year.  He's been unlucky this year. 

The Twins as a whole have, in several ways been unlucky this year. (In other ways, they've actually been lucky; based on runs scored and runs allowed, they should be 42-59).

Danny Valencia is an example of their ill-luck.  I'm still watching the games and rooting for the Twins, but my mind has already moved on to 2012.  The Twins obviously need some changes for next season; my hope is that the front office can separate the poor performance from the poor luck. 

Danny Valencia is not the hitter he was in 2010.  He also isn't the hitter he's been this year.  He can hold down the fort at 3rd base as an average major leaguer, which is a good thing when he's getting paid like he is. 

Danny Valencia needs to get some damn hits.

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