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What a difference a month makes

By Tom Tippett
June 29, 2001

It's been a while since we've written about lengthy streaks and slumps, a topic we explored in a three-part series in 1998, so it seems like a good time to revisit the subject.

If you're interested in this topic and you haven't already seen those previous articles, you can follow the links at the end of this page. If you did read those articles, the comments here won't shed any more light on the subject, but you might find some of the data from the 2001 season to be interesting.

This time around, we compared the stats for April and May to identify the hitters, starting pitchers and closers who improved the most, slipped the most, and were most consistent. As we expected, we had no trouble finding plenty of players whose first two months were dramatically different.

Hitters

We'll start with the hitters, and we'll use OPS (on-base plus slugging) as our measure of overall performance. Here are the hitters who (a) had at least 60 plate appearances in both April and May and (b) improved by at least 300 points:

Name               Tm  M  AB  H 2B 3B HR BI HB BB  K   AVG   OBP   SPC   OPS



Barry Bonds        SFN 4  75 18  5  0 11 22  2 13 15  .240  .363  .747 1.109

Barry Bonds        SFN 5  84 31  5  0 17 30  2 31 24  .369  .547 1.036 1.583



Ryan Klesko        SDN 4  81 20  4  0  3 11  1 17 16  .247  .384  .407  .791

Ryan Klesko        SDN 5  99 35  8  1 11 40  0 23 14  .354  .464  .788 1.252



Roger Cedeno       DET 4  70 12  0  0  0  3  0  7 11  .171  .247  .171  .418

Roger Cedeno       DET 5 118 38  4  5  1 11  0 12 20  .322  .385  .466  .851



Damion Easley      DET 4  83 16  4  2  0  5  3  9 16  .193  .295  .289  .584

Damion Easley      DET 5  91 32  6  0  5 13  1  9 13  .352  .412  .582  .994



Jim Thome          CLE 4  66 12  1  1  3 10  2 13 22  .182  .333  .364  .697

Jim Thome          CLE 5  84 25  6  0  8 20  0 20 28  .298  .433  .655 1.087



Marquis Grissom    LAN 4  60 15  3  0  3  7  0  0 14  .250  .250  .450  .700

Marquis Grissom    LAN 5  67 23  3  1  7 17  0  1 14  .343  .353  .731 1.084



Marvin Benard      SFN 4  82 11  3  0  0  5  0  6 10  .134  .193  .171  .364

Marvin Benard      SFN 5  94 24  2  2  3 13  1  9 19  .255  .327  .415  .742



Joe Randa          KCA 4  97 18  1  0  3 13  2  8 17  .186  .262  .289  .550

Joe Randa          KCA 5 106 38 13  1  1 20  1  5 13  .358  .386  .528  .914



Michael Barrett    MON 4  75 14  1  0  1  5  0  4 10  .187  .225  .240  .465

Michael Barrett    MON 5  76 21  7  0  2  4  1 10  4  .276  .368  .447  .815



Ray Durham         CHA 4  92 21  3  2  1  4  0 12 15  .228  .314  .337  .651

Ray Durham         CHA 5  98 32 10  0  6 17  1  7 16  .327  .374  .612  .986



Troy Glaus         ANA 4  92 21  4  0  6 14  1 12 25  .228  .318  .467  .785

Troy Glaus         ANA 5 105 35 13  0  8 24  1 17 22  .333  .427  .686 1.113



Omar Vizquel       CLE 4  89 18  3  0  0  7  1 10 10  .202  .287  .236  .523

Omar Vizquel       CLE 5  95 31  4  1  1  9  0 16 10  .326  .416  .421  .837



B.J. Surhoff       ATL 4  80 14  3  0  2 10  1 10 12  .175  .272  .288  .559

B.J. Surhoff       ATL 5  63 20  4  1  2  7  0  4  7  .317  .358  .508  .866



Jerry Hairston     BAL 4  84 16  3  0  1  5  2  6 11  .190  .258  .262  .520

Jerry Hairston     BAL 5  93 29  7  1  2 18  1  5  6  .312  .347  .473  .820

I was blown away when I saw that Barry Bonds at the top of this list. I figured it would be dominated by very good players who got off to awful starts and bounced back in a big way. But Barry's April OPS of 1.109 was only a few points below his career-best mark for a full-season, and he topped it by 474 points in May. With the MLB average OPS hovering around .760 this year, this means that Bonds was more than twice as productive as the league average hitter during the month of May.

Roger Cedeno's on-base percentage was above .380 in both 1999 and 2000, making his April mark of .247 look even more dismal by comparison. Or, to put it another way, he reached base only 19 times via hit or walk in the entire month of April, then trod the basepaths 50 times in May. To add to Detroit manager Phil Garner's problems, Cedeno's teammate Damian Easley batted .193 with no homers the first month.

Among the others . . . Jim Thome started very slowly, returned to normal in May, caught fire in June, and is now among the league leaders in OPS . . . Joe Randa was one of the most consistent players in the game last year; not so this time around . . . the oldest and youngest players in the game are usually most at risk of losing their jobs when they have such a rough beginning to the year, but fortunately for B.J. Surhoff and Jerry Hairston, nobody else on their respective teams was hitting, and both players rewarded their managers for sticking with them.

Now let's see who went in the other direction, using the same criteria (minimum 60 PA, 300 point drop in OPS), with the players with the biggest declines at the bottom of this list:

Name               Tm  M  AB  H 2B 3B HR BI HB BB  K   AVG   OBP   SPC   OPS



Juan Gonzalez      CLE 4  93 36 10  0  8 26  0  6 19  .387  .416  .753 1.169

Juan Gonzalez      CLE 5 101 31  6  0  5 22  1  8 18  .307  .351  .515  .866



Andres Galarraga   TEX 4  92 25  7  0  5 17  5  8 26  .272  .362  .511  .873

Andres Galarraga   TEX 5  92 16  5  0  3  8  3  5 25  .174  .240  .326  .566



Chipper Jones      ATL 4  90 32  4  0  7 23  0 19  9  .356  .459  .633 1.093

Chipper Jones      ATL 5  85 16  3  0  7 14  0 16 20  .188  .317  .471  .787



Richard Hidalgo    HOU 4  91 29  7  1  6 22  4  5 23  .319  .373  .615  .988

Richard Hidalgo    HOU 5  80 18  2  0  3 11  1 10 19  .225  .315  .363  .678



Shea Hillenbrand   BOS 4  99 34  9  1  2 11  1  1 11  .343  .356  .515  .872

Shea Hillenbrand   BOS 5 101 23  1  1  2 10  0  1 12  .228  .235  .317  .552



Shannon Stewart    TOR 4 100 39  9  1  3 10  1 11 10  .390  .455  .590 1.045

Shannon Stewart    TOR 5 119 33  7  1  1 11  1  8 16  .277  .328  .378  .706



Larry Walker       COL 4  88 33  7  1 11 30  3  9 18  .375  .446  .852 1.298

Larry Walker       COL 5  92 27  5  0  5 20  4 20 21  .293  .432  .511  .943



Charles Johnson    FLO 4  75 25  8  0  9 20  0  7 29  .333  .390  .800 1.190

Charles Johnson    FLO 5  87 26  5  0  3 19  2  7 28  .299  .365  .460  .824



Jim Edmonds        SLN 4  70 28  6  1  5 21  0  7 16  .400  .443  .729 1.172

Jim Edmonds        SLN 5  87 20  6  0  3  9  2 21 29  .230  .384  .402  .786



Carlos Delgado     TOR 4  82 24  3  0 10 22  5 26 18  .293  .478  .695 1.173

Carlos Delgado     TOR 5 106 24  3  0  7 13  1 16 35  .226  .333  .453  .786



Jose Macias        DET 4  62 22  4  1  4  8  0  4  7  .355  .394  .645 1.039

Jose Macias        DET 5 105 29  4  1  0 12  0  6 13  .276  .310  .333  .643



Mark Quinn         KCA 4 105 34  6  1  9 24  0  4 13  .324  .345  .657 1.003

Mark Quinn         KCA 5  76 18  5  0  1  4  0  2 14  .237  .256  .342  .599



Jay Bell           ARI 4  74 26  6  0  4 17  0 15 12  .351  .456  .595 1.050

Jay Bell           ARI 5 110 25  5  0  3  9  1  7 19  .227  .275  .355  .630



Mike Piazza        NYN 4  79 26  3  0  8 18  0 14 11  .329  .430  .671 1.101

Mike Piazza        NYN 5  93 19  2  0  6 13  0  5 18  .204  .245  .419  .664



Paul Konerko       CHA 4  87 29  8  0  5 14  0  6 15  .333  .376  .598  .974

Paul Konerko       CHA 5  92 14  4  0  3 10  2  9 22  .152  .240  .293  .534



Kevin Young        PIT 4  62 18  4  0  4 10  4  1 21  .290  .338  .548  .887

Kevin Young        PIT 5  76 11  3  0  0  6  0  6 20  .145  .207  .184  .392



Reggie Sanders     ARI 4  64 22  4  0  8 19  1  6 20  .344  .408  .781 1.190

Reggie Sanders     ARI 5  94 17  3  0  7 19  3  6 30  .181  .250  .436  .686

A lot of these guys were just playing way over their heads in April, but some (especially Mike Piazza and Paul Konerko) are very good hitters who went into a terrible funk and stayed there for a few weeks. Another hitter worth mentioning is Chuck Knoblauch, who saw his OPS drop from .845 to .588, not exactly what the Yankees had in mind when they shuffled their defense to keep his bat in the lineup.

Finally, two players emerged as the most consistent hitters:

Name               Tm  M  AB  H 2B 3B HR BI HB BB  K   AVG   OBP   SPC   OPS



Bubba Trammell     SDN 4  76 21  5  1  3 14  0 10 13  .276  .356  .487  .843

Bubba Trammell     SDN 5  84 21  3  0  6 24  2 10  7  .250  .344  .500  .844



Edgar Martinez     SEA 4  89 27  9  0  3 17  1 23 14  .303  .451  .506  .957

Edgar Martinez     SEA 5  97 30  8  0  4 25  2 22 20  .309  .432  .515  .947

More evidence for those who have referred to Martinez as a hitting machine.

Starting Pitchers

Of course, hitters aren't the only ones who are subject to extended streaks and slumps. Here's a list of starting pitchers who improved their ERA by at least two and a half runs from April to May (minimum 15 innings in each month):

Name                   Tm  M    ERA   W  L  S    INN  H BB  K



Ryan Glynn             TEX 4  11.09   0  3  0   18.2 31 15  7

Ryan Glynn             TEX 5   2.28   1  1  0   23.2 19  8  7



Mark Gardner           SFN 4   9.78   0  3  0   19.1 26  7 14

Mark Gardner           SFN 5   1.69   1  0  0   32.0 15 14 12



Odaliz Perez           ATL 4   8.68   1  4  0   18.2 27 14 10

Odaliz Perez           ATL 5   3.51   2  0  0   25.2 31  8 21



Randy Wolf             PHI 4   6.46   1  4  0   23.2 32 11 24

Randy Wolf             PHI 5   1.53   3  0  0   35.1 25 17 45



Tim Hudson             OAK 4   6.35   2  3  0   34.0 38 17 29

Tim Hudson             OAK 5   2.18   3  0  0   45.1 31 12 35



Gil Heredia            OAK 4   9.24   1  4  0   25.1 40 11 16

Gil Heredia            OAK 5   5.24   2  1  0   22.1 33  5  9



Jarrod Washburn        ANA 4   7.56   0  3  0   16.2 26 11  6

Jarrod Washburn        ANA 5   3.73   3  1  0   41.0 37 13 30



Jose Mercedes          BAL 4   7.92   0  4  0   30.2 36  9 28

Jose Mercedes          BAL 5   4.15   1  3  0   39.0 49 13 25



Blake Stein            KCA 4   8.10   1  3  0   23.1 24 19 19

Blake Stein            KCA 5   4.50   1  1  0   24.0 22 17 24



Sidney Ponson          BAL 4   6.62   0  3  0   17.2 19  4 19

Sidney Ponson          BAL 5   3.22   2  0  0   22.1 23  7 20



Al Leiter              NYN 4   5.87   0  3  0   23.0 28  1 22

Al Leiter              NYN 5   2.50   2  0  0   18.0 17  3 14



Jimmy Haynes           MIL 4   6.33   2  2  0   27.0 31 15 10

Jimmy Haynes           MIL 5   3.00   3  3  0   42.0 38 10 33



Javier Vazquez         MON 4   6.60   2  3  0   30.0 38 11 35

Javier Vazquez         MON 5   3.30   3  2  0   43.2 32  9 39



Pat Rapp               ANA 4   6.60   0  3  0   30.0 27 12 12

Pat Rapp               ANA 5   3.34   1  2  0   35.0 36 12 24



Octavio Dotel          HOU 4   5.82   1  2  0   17.0 19 12 15

Octavio Dotel          HOU 5   2.57   0  1  0   21.0 18  9 24



Rick Helling           TEX 4   8.07   1  4  0   32.1 46 12 31

Rick Helling           TEX 5   4.85   2  2  0   39.0 49 16 20



Jose Lima              HOU 4   8.42   1  1  0   25.2 40  9 22

Jose Lima              HOU 5   5.57   0  1  0   21.0 28  5 15



Jeff Weaver            DET 4   4.36   2  4  0   43.1 50 14 24

Jeff Weaver            DET 5   1.64   2  1  0   38.1 28 14 31



Shawn Estes            SFN 4   4.18   2  1  0   28.0 29 15 26

Shawn Estes            SFN 5   1.50   2  1  0   30.0 18  7 15



Mark Buehrle           CHA 4   5.52   1  3  0   31.0 27 12 25

Mark Buehrle           CHA 5   2.86   1  0  0   28.1 20  5 21



Mike Mussina           NYA 4   4.78   1  3  0   32.0 37  2 31

Mike Mussina           NYA 5   2.25   4  2  0   44.0 34  9 42



Ben Sheets             MIL 4   4.91   1  2  0   18.1 20  9 16

Ben Sheets             MIL 5   2.39   4  2  0   37.2 34 16 16



Randy Johnson          ARI 4   4.03   3  3  0   44.2 38 11 61

Randy Johnson          ARI 5   1.54   2  1  0   41.0 21 16 62

These guys are particularly interesting because it takes a while for their overall stats to start looking good after such a bad start. Glynn's improved May never appeared on my radar screen, partly because his overall ERA never got below 6.00, and partly because he was hammered in his first June start and promptly went on the DL with a strained back. It's also interesting to note that a number of these guys were coming off good seasons, but somehow still managed to spend an entire month with their ERAs north of six or seven or even eight runs per game.

This list also serves as a reminder that ERAs are quite volatile. A pitcher can have a bad stretch look downright horrible if the hits and walks happen to cluster together into a few big innings. At the other end of the continuum, if you can scatter those baserunners and keep the ball in the park for a few starts, microscopic ERAs are achievable. Consider Blake Stein, who allowed 43 baserunners in 23-1/3 April innings and 39 in 24 May innings. That's not a big drop in runners per inning, yet it translated into an ERA that was lower by 3.60 in May. It helped that he allowed two fewer homers in May, but those two homers aren't nearly enough to account for the change in ERA.

Let's move on to the hurlers who saw their fortunes dip substantially in the season's second month:

Name                    Tm M    ERA   W  L  S    INN  H BB  K



Wade Miller            HOU 4   2.15   4  1  0   37.2 22 13 44

Wade Miller            HOU 5   4.62   3  1  0   39.0 41 12 26



Osvaldo Fernandez      CIN 4   5.27   4  1  0   27.1 34 13 12

Osvaldo Fernandez      CIN 5   7.81   1  3  0   27.2 36 12 13



Kevin Brown            LAN 4   1.03   3  1  0   26.1 18  5 24

Kevin Brown            LAN 5   3.66   3  2  0   39.1 34 12 40



Amaury Telemaco        PHI 4   3.25   2  0  0   27.2 25  9 18

Amaury Telemaco        PHI 5   5.97   2  1  0   31.2 35 11 24



David Wells            CHA 4   3.23   2  2  0   39.0 36 11 22

David Wells            CHA 5   6.03   1  3  0   34.1 47  6 22



Jason Bere             CHN 4   3.60   3  0  0   25.0 19 10 26

Jason Bere             CHN 5   6.44   1  2  0   29.1 33 16 28



Bruce Chen             PHI 4   3.58   1  1  0   27.2 27  9 26

Bruce Chen             PHI 5   6.46   0  2  0   23.2 25 10 19



Brad Radke             MIN 4   2.23   5  0  0   48.1 44  4 25

Brad Radke             MIN 5   5.13   2  1  0   33.1 41  1 23



Scott Schoeneweis      ANA 4   2.91   2  2  0   43.1 40 19 23

Scott Schoeneweis      ANA 5   6.00   2  1  0   24.0 31 12 10



Jamey Wright           MIL 4   3.32   3  2  0   38.0 30 20 24

Jamey Wright           MIL 5   6.55   1  2  0   22.0 27 12 19



Julian Tavarez         CHN 4   1.53   2  1  0   29.1 29 14 22

Julian Tavarez         CHN 5   4.99   1  2  0   30.2 28 11 22



Pat Mahomes            TEX 4   3.72   1  2  0   19.1 19 11 12

Pat Mahomes            TEX 5   7.50   2  2  0   24.0 31  9 13



Britt Reames           MON 4   3.33   2  1  0   27.0 23 18 17

Britt Reames           MON 5   7.16   0  6  0   27.2 36 17 23



Mac Suzuki             KCA 4   2.16   2  1  0   25.0 22  5 15

Mac Suzuki             KCA 5   6.00   0  3  0   21.0 26 13 16



Pedro Astacio          COL 4   3.09   3  1  0   35.0 28  8 37

Pedro Astacio          COL 5   6.95   1  4  0   33.2 37 16 35



Paul Wilson            TBA 4   6.35   1  3  0   28.1 32 13 19

Paul Wilson            TBA 5  10.43   1  4  0   29.1 45 15 18



Esteban Loaiza         TOR 4   2.77   4  1  0   39.0 43  8 31

Esteban Loaiza         TOR 5   7.12   0  4  0   36.2 49 13 25



Willis Roberts         BAL 4   1.95   4  0  0   27.2 20 10 27

Willis Roberts         BAL 5   8.07   1  4  0   29.0 36 14 21



Albie Lopez            TBA 4   2.60   3  2  0   45.0 39 21 28

Albie Lopez            TBA 5   9.45   0  4  0   26.2 41 11 14

Several of these pitchers -- Wells, Loaiza, Lopez -- have been mentioned as trade candidates in recent weeks, but they'll have to show these results were a fluke if they're going to attract any serious bidders.

Julian Tavarez is the Blake Stein of this list, seeing his ERA balloon by more than three runs despite a small decrease in runners allowed per nine innings. Tavarez gave up a respectable three homers in May after yielding none in April, but that's not the whole story. His April ERA of 1.53 was more than two full runs below the normal level for someone who allows 29 hits, 14 walks, and no homers in 43 innings.

Among starting pitchers, the Mr. Consistency award nominees are:

Name                    Tm M    ERA   W  L  S    INN  H BB  K



Jon Lieber             CHN 4   2.92   2  1  0   37.0 29  9 30

Jon Lieber             CHN 5   2.98   3  2  0   42.1 35  8 23



Greg Maddux            ATL 4   2.48   2  2  0   32.2 25  1 24

Greg Maddux            ATL 5   2.54   2  3  0   46.0 44 11 44



Aaron Sele             SEA 4   2.61   4  0  0   31.0 32  5 12

Aaron Sele             SEA 5   2.72   4  0  0   39.2 39  6 20

I'll declare this a tie between Lieber and Sele. Maddux's ERA is the closest, but he allowed many more baserunners in May, so the smaller difference in his ERAs is more of a coincidence than anything.

Closers

Let's wrap things up with a quick look at the closers. The following list includes everyone with at least three saves in both April and May, so it leaves out guys like Ryan Kohlmeyer who lost their jobs.

The players are listed in alphabetical order, so you'll need to scan this list to find the guys whose ERAs have changed the most in either direction. But you'll have no trouble finding a whole bunch of pitchers with performances at one extreme or the other during one of these two months. In fact, there are four examples of closers who went an entire month without allowing an earned run, and eight others who saw their ERA climb above 6.00 for a month. And three of the four guys -- Danny Graves, Jason Isringhausen, and Curt Leskanic -- who made the 'zero' club were also members of the 'over-six' group.

Name               Tm   M   ERA   W  L  S   G  INN  H BB  K



Antonio Alfonseca  FLO  4  1.74   1  1  3   9 10.1 11  6  7

Antonio Alfonseca  FLO  5  3.38   1  1  8  13 13.1 11  5  8



Armando Benitez    NYN  4   .75   2  0  3  10 12.0  6  8 14

Armando Benitez    NYN  5  7.36   1  2  5  11 11.0 16  3 14



Keith Foulke       CHA  4  1.80   1  2  4  10 15.0  8  6 14

Keith Foulke       CHA  5  2.13   0  1  5  11 12.2 10  4 11



Danny Graves       CIN  4   .00   0  0  8  12 13.1  4  2  7

Danny Graves       CIN  5  7.94   2  2  3   9 11.1 19  4  3



La Troy Hawkins    MIN  4  1.80   0  0  8  12 10.0  7 10  6

La Troy Hawkins    MIN  5  5.40   1  0  6  11 10.0 12  4 12



Roberto Hernandez  KCA  4  8.25   0  2  6  12 12.0 18  5  7

Roberto Hernandez  KCA  5  2.53   1  0  2   9 10.2  7  6 12



Trevor Hoffman     SDN  4  3.48   2  1  2  10 10.1  7  4  9

Trevor Hoffman     SDN  5  4.76   0  1  9  11 11.1 12  5 13



Jason Isringhausen OAK  4   .00   0  0  4   9  8.1  3  2  9

Jason Isringhausen OAK  5  6.08   1  1  5  13 13.1 20  6 13



Jose Jimenez       COL  4  5.40   1  0  6  13 11.2 14  5  6

Jose Jimenez       COL  5  5.87   0  0  3   8  7.2  9  5  4



Todd Jones         DET  4  7.56   0  2  5  10  8.1  9  8  4

Todd Jones         DET  5  4.09   2  1  5  12 11.0 19  3  9



Billy Koch         TOR  4  4.15   0  1  7  12 13.0 12  5  9

Billy Koch         TOR  5  5.91   0  0  3  10 10.2 12  5  6



Curt Leskanic      MIL  4  6.94   0  2  2  11 11.2 14  5 14

Curt Leskanic      MIL  5   .00   2  0  3  10 10.0  4  1 11



Derek Lowe         BOS  4  6.75   1  4  3   9 13.1 20  6  9

Derek Lowe         BOS  5  2.81   1  1  2  12 16.0 14  5 13



Jose Mesa          PHI  4  3.48   0  0  6  11 10.1 12  7 14

Jose Mesa          PHI  5  3.29   1  0 10  13 13.2  9  6  9



Robb Nen           SFN  4   .82   1  0  6  11 11.0  3  4 17

Robb Nen           SFN  5  4.63   1  1  5  12 11.2 11  4 13



Troy Percival      ANA  4   .00   1  0  4   7  6.1  1  3  6

Troy Percival      ANA  5   .64   1  1  8  13 14.0  7  1 20



Mariano Rivera     NYA  4  2.19   1  1  6  11 12.1  9  1 13

Mariano Rivera     NYA  5  3.14   0  2  9  12 14.1 10  4 14



John Rocker        ATL  4  3.97   2  0  6  10 11.1 10  5 12

John Rocker        ATL  5  2.61   0  0  8  10 10.1 11  7 14



Kasuhiro Sasaki    SEA  4  4.05   0  1 13  15 13.1 10  3 13

Kasuhiro Sasaki    SEA  5  2.03   0  1  8  12 13.1  7  2 13



Jeff Shaw          LAN  4  4.15   0  1  8  13 13.0 10  5 19

Jeff Shaw          LAN  5  1.35   1  0  8  13 13.1  7  1 11



Ugueth Urbina      MON  4  2.19   0  0  4  12 12.1  5  3 14

Ugueth Urbina      MON  5  9.26   0  1  4  13 11.2 17  9 17



Billy Wagner       HOU  4  4.09   0  1  5  11 11.0  9  4 13

Billy Wagner       HOU  5  2.13   2  1  7  12 12.2  8  7 19



Bob Wickman        CLE  4  2.70   1  0  4  11 10.0  7  5  9

Bob Wickman        CLE  5  1.35   1  0  7  14 13.1  8  2 18



Mike Williams      PIT  4  2.70   2  1  4   8 10.0 15  3  9

Mike Williams      PIT  5  3.65   0  1  5  12 12.1  6  9 14



Jeff Zimmerman     TEX  4  2.19   1  1  2  12 12.1  7  3  9

Jeff Zimmerman     TEX  5  4.63   0  2  2  10 11.2 13  1 11

What does it mean?

There are lots of reasons why players see their numbers rise and fall so dramatically from one month to the next. Sometimes a guy tries to play through an injury and just can't do it. A hitter might run into a stretch where he's facing a bunch of top pitchers and/or playing in a series of good pitcher's parks, so he might appear to be in a slump when his performance hasn't changed much at all. And if you look through the game-by-game logs on ESPN.com or elsewhere, you'll have no trouble finding pitchers who had a sequence of five or six starts against the worst-hitting teams in the league (or vice versa).

But a lot of what you see in these monthly numbers is just the nature of baseball. Lengthy streaks and slumps are very common, and there's no telling when someone is about to go into or come out of them.

When a very good hitter like Jim Thome gets off to a slow start, he'll usually bounce back. Great hitters like Chipper Jones and Mike Piazza can scuffle for several weeks, but you know they're going to hit eventually. So-so players (e.g. Shea Hillenbrand) can catch fire for a while, but they'll usually come down to earth, often sooner rather than later. Closers pitch only about a dozen innings per month, so when a long fly ball leaves the yard for a three-run homer instead of getting caught on the track, that's an extra 2.25 runs on the ERA.

In other words, these ups and downs usually don't mean a whole lot in terms of their ability to predict future performance. Sure, there will always be guys who start hot or cold and stay hot or cold far longer that you'd ever imagine. But those are pretty rare exceptions. Of course, the guys who start cold and stay cold tend to lose their jobs, at least for a while, and often find themselves in another uniform, before we get a chance to find out whether they'll bounce back.

Related articles

If you're interested in this topic, you might also enjoy the following series of articles we posted in 1998:

An Early Season Reality Check

Fun with streaks and slumps, part 1

Fun with streaks and slumps, part 2

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