MLB players off to cold starts... Can they rebound?

Rick Osentoski-US PRESSWIRE

Jason Kipnis is among a handful of players off to a dreadful start at the plate. It's early, but what kind of hole is he digging, and how often do players in that kind of hole dig back out?

Last night the Mariners became the first team to play its tenth game in 2013. Later today many other teams will hit that mark and on Friday most of baseball will get there. The baseball season is a marathon, not a sprint, as the saying goes. Ten games down means there are still 152 games to go, it's not enough to draw definitive conclusions from. On the other hand, these games count as much as the last ten in September and teams and players alike can find themselves dug into holes early on that are hard to get out of.

The Indians have a some players off to piss poor starts at the plate (and on the mound, but that's a whole other story), Jason Kipnis in particular has been a mess. His slash line of .138/.161/.241 is among the worst in baseball. The Indians have only played eight games (and Kipnis sat out one of those), it's still early enough that a really hot stretch could have him back over ,300 a week from now. The range of possibilities is vast, but what about the range of probabilities? How often does a player with a start like Kipnis' actually have a good year at the plate?

There are a lot of ways to look at that, and I know batting average isn't the most sophisticated, but there's still no statistic with which more fans have a shorthand understanding of what's good and what's great, what's bad and what's awful. So... batting average. Kipnis is at .138 through eight team games*. I'll move the bar up to .150 (the Mendoza line, a .200 average, would work, but I wanted worse than that) and expand the number of team games to ten. Also, I'm not interested in players who missed some games and went 0 for 4 or 1 for 7, so I'm setting a 25 AB minimum for everything that follows.

* Team games are much more easily researched using Baseball-Reference's Play Index than player games.

Players sitting on an average below .150 through Wednesday include: Jason Heyward, B.J. Upton, Victor Martinez, Josh Reddick, Edwin Encarnacion, and Asdrubal Cabrera (yep, his BA is even worse than Kipnis' right now, though at least he's hit a couple home runs). Among the players who could "qualify" if they have a bad game today and/or tomorrow: Paul Konerko, Josh Hamilton, Giancarlo Stanton, and Matt Kemp*.

*Here are the players who ended up at below .150 through ten games (there are 24 of them, more than in any other season of the 2000s): Aaron Hicks, Russell Martin, Cameron Maybin, Pedro Alvarez, B.J. Upton, Jason Heyward, Dustin Ackley, Clint Barmes, Zack Cozart, Ike Davis, Luis Cruz, Alexi Amarista, Yunel Escobar, Victor Martinez, Jackie Bradley, JASON KIPNIS, Edwin Encarnacion, ASDRUBAL CABRERA, Jesus Montero, Alex Gonzalez, Chris Heisey, Brian Dozier, Kyle Seagar, Matt Joyce

How many players in recent years (2000-2012) were hitting below .150 ten games into the schedule? Collectively, what did their numbers look like at the end of the season?

Here is a chart listing the numbers of players and various data benchmarks for each season since 2000:

Year

Players with BA < .150 through 10 team games

End of season BA benchmarks

Maximum

Median

Minimum

2012

19

.300

.233

.171

2011

13

.303

.231

.119

2010

17

.282

.246

.146

2009

9

.277

.238

.190

2008

11

.270

.234

.158

2007

13

.320

.257

.210

2006

13

.277

.246

.164

2005

8

.286

.245

.219

2004

13

.301

.270

.211

2003

16

.297

.242

.101

2002

7

.283

.262

.232

2001

16

.304

.255

.173

2000

8

.282

.255

.200

Total

163

-

-

-

Median

13

.286*

.246*

.173*

*The median figures in the bottom row represent the median of the 13 figures above them, not of all 163 player-seasons involved, they also are not weighted for the number of AB each represents. They are intended to give you a quick idea of the middle ground of this data, not an exact representation.

Here are the same seasons/players, this time pointed out how many finished their season at or above certain benchmarks by the time their season ended:

Year

Players w/ BA < .150 through 10 team games

End of Season:

# of players to bat at least...

.300

.275

.250

2012

19

1

3

3

2011

13

1

2

4

2010

17

0

2

7

2009

9

0

1

3

2008

11

0

0

4

2007

13

1

3

7

2006

13

0

1

6

2005

8

0

1

3

2004

13

1

5

10

2003

16

0

3

6

2002

7

0

2

5

2001

16

1

4

11

2000

8

0

3

5

Total

163

5

30

74

Average

12.54

0.38

2.31

5.69

Percent

100%

3.1%

18.4%

45.4%

Looking at the two tables, there's not much chance any one player off to such a poor start, even this early in the season, is going to rebound to the magic mark of a .300 average (though of course before the seasons even starts the odds of most players hitting .300 are small). Only 3.1% of the 163 player-seasons to qualify for this study made it to that lofty mark. A .275 average is a more modest mark, but one I think most Tribe fans look for Kipnis and Cabrera to clear in 2013. Over the last thirteen seasons though, just 18.4% of the players here made it back it .275. Less than half made it to even .250.

To give you some context, there have been 4,258 player-seasons between 2000-2012 with at least 200 at bats (a number I use because 90% of the players who qualified for this study went on to get at least 200 AB). How many of those seasons included a .300/.275/.250 average?

.300 BA: 675 of 4,258 seasons (15.8%, compared to just 3.1% of players who started below .150)

.275 BA: 1,808 of 4,258 seasons (42.5%, compared to just 18.4% of players who started below .150)

.250 BA: 3,139 of 4,258 seasons (73.7%, compared to just 45.4% of players who started below .150)

Regression to the mean tells us that most of the players hitting below .150 through ten games will show improvement, but even ten games into the season a mark that low is a significantly bad sign for a player's season.

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