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The Inevitable Weekly Jenkins Discussion

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Okay, now that Geoff Jenkins is hitting 27 for 21 or something, is it possible he really is as good as ever?  That I shouldn't be so skeptical at the possibility that he might just deserve his full-time job back?

Tom Haudricourt describes Geoff's offseason work:

Jenkins, who got himself in trouble with a pronounced front-leg lift in past seasons, has made adjustments with dramatic results. After going 3 for 4 Wednesday with two doubles and three RBI in an 8-2 split-squad victory over Colorado in Tucson, Jenkins is batting .579 (11 for 19) with nine RBI in six games.

Coming off a sub-par season in which he batted .271 with 17 homers and 70 RBI, Jenkins worked hard over the winter on fine-tuning his hitting mechanics. He didn't abandon the leg lift but did make it less pronounced, allowing him to be quicker and smoother to the ball.

"I think it's just more fluid now, not hanging," Jenkins said. "I would hang and drift, hang and drift. It's just something you break down, look at and try to figure out what's wrong, figure out your deficiencies and make adjustments."

I hate to continue to be a naysayer here, but I don't buy it.  Every year, somebody--usually a veteran coming off a lousy season--spouts all this stuff, and then the writers pick up on it because the guy goes 10-for-20 in his first 5 or 6 games.  I mean, it's great that Jenks is hitting, but those lefties?  Ryan Meaux, Erasmo Ramirez, and Eric DuBose.  Please.

One of my favorite articles of the spring is this one by Tim Dierkes, about all the nonsense we hear every spring training:

Spring training comes with many traditions. Prior/Wood injuries. Unbridled optimism from last place teams. Ridiculous promises from players. And, of course, clichés. You know the ones - "best shape of my life," "perfected a new changeup," and so on. We can't help but get our hopes up when hearing these things.

Tim doesn't include "changed his approach," but he might as well have.  

Think of it this way: going 11 for 19 (instead of, say, 5 for 19) is basically luck.  Everybody's going to have a stretch at some point--usually multiple points--during the season where they do that or better.  Also, everyone is going to come to spring training with a story as to why they'll be better than they've ever been before.

The law of probability tells us that if enough players who should be going 5 for 19 get 19 at-bats, a decent number of them will get 11 hits.  (Some will also get zero.)  Of course, beat writers have eleventy-billion column inches to fill this time of year, and since nothing is going on, they take those lucky guys, talk about their fake why-I'm-good-now stories, and then fans get excited about the brand-new Jenkins.  (Or whoever.)

When really it's all luck.

Of course, it might not be all luck--it's possible that Jenkins or Mench really did learn how to hit better, and they're applying that right now.  But if sabermetric research teaches us anything that we should be able to apply with a minimum of thought, it's that players usually don't suddenly get better in their 30s.  Sure, it can happen, but it usually doesn't.  In Jenkins's case even more than others, we should take his hot start--and his accompanying feel-good story--with a grain of salt.