Eugenio Velez and the Logic Behind Randy Winn

One of the more infuriating aspects of Giants management:

Well, (veteran player)y has been hot lately, as he looked really focused when that last pitch was between 30 and 50 feet from the plate, so even though he's 0-for-40 in his last 30 at-bats, he's now hot and worthy of some starts.

It isn't that hot streaks don't exist. It's just it's impossible for the human mind to differentiate between a true hot streak and random fluctuation. It's like trying to count atoms with the naked eye. So when Eugenio Velez has twelve multi-hit games in the 21 games he's played, that's fantastic, but it shouldn't mean more than the 305 major league at-bats before the hot streak, and it certainly shouldn't mean more than the 2000 plate appearances in the minors when it comes to evaluating Velez's true talent level.

But are you going to take Velez out of the lineup? His scouting report from the past month: Dude hits balls hard. Hard to sneak a mistake by him right now. And if Bochy were to say something like...

 

Well, Bowkery's MLE is keeping me warm at night, so even though Geney's swinging a good stick and not, you know, chasing after every slider thrown to him, the numbers say that Bowky should get the job.

...I'm not sure how excited I'd be. It would fall within internet baseball nerd orthodoxy, but it just wouldn't feel right. Velez is hitting baseballs hard, and he's temporarily avoided looking like a poisoned antelope in the field. He should play. Take your reason and shove it. Forget that the term "sample size" exists.

Wait. That's actually a very, very stupid way to live life. Ignoring reason to go with yer gut? Ouch. So why does it make so much sense to "ride the hot hand?" Between May 21 and July 27, nothing happened to make Velez a good option to start in a major league lineup. He wasn't bitten by a radioactive talented player, he wasn't exposed to gamma rays, and he didn't learn to draw strength from the yellow sun. It's smart to expect a drop-off any day now. But if you were the manager, how could you justify writing anyone else in the lineup? How would that look to the rest of the team? "I don't really care if you produce. I've made up my mind on how talented you all are, nothing's going to change my mind, and you'll just have do deal with it."

That'd be awful. Except that's exactly what Bochy has said to Nate Schierholtz. The definition of "produce" is a little up in the air for this example -- it isn't as if Schierholtz is hitting every other pitch for extra bases -- but Randy Winn has been terrible this season at the plate. Schierholtz has at least been passable. Bochy isn't a hot streak agnostic; he's a cold streak agnostic. He keeps waiting for Winn to get talented again. And that's an awful way to run a baseball team.

Except it almost makes sense. I might not believe in hot streaks, but I believe in Randy Winn hot streaks. He's easily the streakiest player I've ever watched: take a look at his game logs from 2008. He'd string together a bunch of 1-for-5s and 0-for-5s for three weeks, and then rip off a month of multi-hit madness. If Randy Winn finds his stroke for the last month, he'd be much more valuable to the Giants than Schierholtz would be.

Looking for a thesis? A point? An argument? Not in this post. This is mostly a begrudging confession that it's a littler harder to write a lineup card than we might think. There's no way Winn should bat fifth -- he hasn't hit a home run since April 25th -- but playing Winn and waiting for a hot streak isn't necessarily crazier than ignoring a player's hot streak to play a (supposedly) more talented player. So while I'd be perfectly satisfied if Velez were swapped for John Bowker right now, I'll have to accept that's the logical equivalent of running Winn out there every freaking day, even though it looks like he left his talent on a doorstep, rang a doorbell, and ran away. Stats compiled over of a stretch of 50 to 500 at-bats aren't always the final word on a player's talent level, and that applies to players doing well as much as it applies to players doing poorly.

So I'll just cross my fingers and hope hit alllllll works out.

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