How Did Albert Pujols Become A Great World Series Hitter?

ARLINGTON, TX: Albert Pujols #5 of the St. Louis Cardinals rounds the bases after hitting a solo home run in the ninth inning for his third home run of the night during Game Three of the MLB World Series against the Texas Rangers at Rangers Ballpark in Arlington in Arlington, Texas. The Cardinals won 16-7. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images)

Hey, did you hear the one about the guy who came in with terrible statistics and hit three home runs?

Yeah, huh? That actually happened.

Two facts to roll around inside your noodle:

1. Before Saturday Night's Game 3, Albert Pujols had played in 11 World Series games and batted .222 with exactly one home run;

2. In Saturday night's Game 3, Albert Pujols hit three home runs.

I suppose it's possible that nobody ever accused Albert Pujols of choking in the World Series. It's possible, because Pujols had played so brilliantly in Division and League Championship Series. Still, knowing how these things work, I can't hep suspecting that "some" at least mentioned Pujols's World Series statistics, and at least implied that those statistics said something more than, "Hey guys! Anything can happen in small sample sizes!"

I got to thinking about this not because of Pujols's three home runs, but because of Michael Young's one home run, which for a while seemed like it might actually matter.

Shortly after Young homered against Kyle Lohse in the fourth inning, Buster Olney tweeted thusly:

Waiting for someone to write again that Michael Young's three homers in 30 ABs against Lohse before tonight wasn't predictive in any way.

Gosh, you would almost think that Buster was trying to start a Twitter War, because of course referencing small sample sizes is like catnip for a certain youngish segment of the Twitterverse.

Oh, take our own Jeff Sullivan for example. He fired off three tweets in quick order:

One of those home runs was in 2004 and the other two were in 2005 - When else do we care about what happened six or seven years ago? What about the eight strikeouts? - There might be something there, but the overwhelming likelihood is that it's noise, no?

One thing about Buster Olney ... He doesn't consider himself above a Twitter War. Immediately, Olney responded to Jeff:

He's got four HRs in 32 ABs against Lohse, and you don't think that's at least a clue he sees the ball well against him?

You might guess that the youngish segment does not think that's at least a clue, at all. That segment weighed in, and Olney weighed back.

But then there's our friend Carson Cistulli, a gentle soul who doesn't use curse words and really, down deep, just wants everyone to get along.

Can someone w/ a copy of The Book please answer this?// @Buster_ESPN How many at-bats are needed before it's not too small of a sample size?
Oct 23 via webFavoriteRetweetReply


Why, yes. Someone can. From The Book:

You see, we're not saying that it doesn't matter which pitcher is facing which pitcher. It most certainly matters. Every person is different, and there's no reason to think that two overall equally talented pitchers, but talented for different reasons, will necessarily have the same success level against the same hitter. However, you can't tell by looking at the numbers from twenty-five or sixty PA. There is simply too much noise masking the truth under those numbers... For you to say that a certain hitter owns a certain pitcher, you have to go beyond the numbers. You have to look at the very specific traits of the players...

Among "the noise" is this profound truth: Young's three home runs against Lohse could almost as easily have been two home runs. Or one, or none. Think about it. Couldn't Lohse almost as easily have thrown three slightly better pitches? Couldn't Young have taken three just slightly worse swings?

We cannot know that Young's previous 30 at-bats against Lohse weren't instructive. We can know that the statistics, in isolation, tell us virtually nothing that will help us predict what will happen in the next at-bat. Just as Albert Pujols's World Series struggles before Game 3 told us virtually nothing about what would happen in Game 3.

Is this an apples-to-apples comparison?

No, not really. Call it instead tangerines-to-oranges. In both cases, the numbers just aren't big enough to drown out all the truth-masking noise. We all would be just slightly better off if everyone stopped reporting these numbers. Yes, they're now easy to find (thanks a lot, and easy to tweet (thanks a lot, Twitter). And depending on your particular bent, they might well be sort of fun. But none of that makes them meaningful.

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