Does the strong finish of the Dodgers actually matter or do fans just want it to?

Mike Petriello recently wrote an post, titled, “Finishing Strong Could Impact More Than Just Playoff Hunt“, and a lot of fans felt it hit the nail on the head. That is, the strong finish gives fans optimism for 2013.

Now I’m not writing here to criticize his post, but it did get me thinking about the odd shift in mindset that Dodger fans seem to be going through upon being confronted with the reality that this much-hyped team won’t even make the expanded playoffs. The narrative has clearly gone from “oh geez, I don’t know if they can win 60 games next year” to “they’re going to destroy next year, just you wait”.

While it’s absolutely correct to say that the hot finish gives Dodger fans reason for optimism, should it?

As a fan myself, I understand looking for things to latch onto, but why does the strong finish indicate anything? Besides irrational hope, why do the last 10 games matter anymore than the first 10 or the middle 10?

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To me, Adrian Gonzalez‘s season is the perfect representation of everything that’s going on with Dodger fans right now.

A-Gon finished 2012 with a 15-game hitting streak after struggling immensely following being acquired by the Dodgers. Fans are using that streak as evidence that he’s “settled” or that he’s “back”, and while he was the sole reason I could see The Trade working out, I still see him the same as before: a potentially elite player with multiple concerning trends.

Why? Because during the 15-game hit streak, his line was .390/.429/.542/.971 with a .467 BABIP. When he struggled initially after being acquired, on the other hand, his line was .227/.288/.348/.636 with a .264 BABIP. During the streak, A-Gon had four walks for a ~6 BB%, and 12 strikeouts for a ~19 K%. What were those peripherals over the entire season? His BB% was 6.1 and his K% was 16.1. So the primary difference between the cold, “he’s gonna suck forever, isn’t he” stage and the hot, “A-Gon for 2013 NL MVP” stage is basically a ton more singles falling in than before. At the end of his Dodger stint, all of that equals out to a .297/.344/.441/.785 line, and that’s with a .351 BABIP. I don’t know about you, but that’s not anything to flip out about for me.

Over the entirety of 2012, the larger sample size at stake here, he has put up a .299/.344/.463/.806 line, and that’s with the third-highest BABIP of his career (.344). Yet because of a 15-game sample that fit a narrative, fans are automatically giving him his status back as an elite player despite the fact that he’s coming off his worst hitting season … uh … ever.

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Now as far as the team goes, from August 25th to September 25th, the Dodgers went 11-17. People panicked. People burned their cars. People ran around screaming “ANARCHY!” in the streets. But then they ran off eight wins in the final nine games of the year, and now the Dodgers are apparently setup perfectly to win the World Series in 2013 or something. I just don’t get it.

If fans were willing to chalk up the early struggles after the trade to small sample size, then why wouldn’t the strong finish, over an even smaller sample, be vulnerable to the same thing? Oh right, because the latter occurrence fits the narrative that they just needed to “jell” or because the players are “finally playing up to their potential” or they’re just now “getting it”.

I don’t buy it though, as fans seem to be currently chock full of confirmation bias.

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As far as individuals are concerned, there’s nothing wrong with optimism. Anything that makes a form of entertainment entertaining makes sense and is understandable to me, but I do start to worry when expectations get out of control, because it inevitably sets people up for fire and brimstone rage when their out-of-control visions are met with reality (see: uh … the 2012 Dodgers season ten days ago).

The point here isn’t to blunt excitement or to say that the team will be bad in 2013 (I expect them to make the playoffs), it’s more about imploring people to question why the extreme peaks and valleys of the 2012 season even happened, and whether or not they should have ever existed to begin with.

About Chad Moriyama

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