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On Craig Monroe

He's awful. 

A short list of players who have a .320 average or higher in 25 or more plate appearances last year:

Cristian Guzman .383
Juan Pierre .379
Alberto Callaspo .378
Scott Hairston .377
Mark Loretta .375
Willie Bloomquist .372
Jason Bartlett .363
Omar Infante .360
Wladimir Balentien .353
Aaron Hill .352
Kevin Millar .341
Brian Barden .341
Jose Morales .340
Rod Barajas .333
Kurt Suzuki .329
Brendan Harris .327
Jose Bautista .326
Josh Anderson .326
Koyie Hill .323
Laynce Nix .323
Alex Cora .321
Pedro Feliz .321
Russell Branyan .320


Are these guys good at hitting for average? Would anyone seriously bet that Koyie Hill will finish the year with a batting average over .300? The reason so many mediocre players have such high averages right now is that crazy things happen in small sample sizes. These small sample sizes have a lot less predictive value than big ones, so what a player did in his last 1000 at bats is a much better indicator of how he'll do in the future than what he's done in 31 plate appearances this season. Everyone understands this principle writ small--if you're golfing and you hit a hole in one, you recognize it as a freak occurrence and don't assume you're going to hit all holes in one now that you've done it once. But for some people, this principle doesn't always make the transition to baseball, and suddenly Craig Monroe starts looking like Babe Ruth. 

Monroe is probably toast. His spring training stats mean virtually nothing, and his 31 plate appearances so far this year--during which he's posted an .840 OPS, which isn't even all that impressive--don't mean much more. In 2007 and 2008, he hit .219 with a .268 OBP and .202 with a .274 OBP, respectively. That's a much better indication of what he's likely to do if the Pirates put him in the lineup. It's like the last years of Neifi Perez, only with more power. Or remember Jeromy Burnitz's final season? Well, Monroe is almost that good. 

Monroe is also 32 and not under contract for next season (which is as it should be), which means he has no real chance of helping the next decent Pirates team. Putting him in the lineup now would be a decision that has absolutely no likely upside. The Pirates would have to bench a 25-year-old Brandon Moss to do it. Moss is cheap and under team control for several years, and while he isn't anyone's idea of a top prospect, he might be able to hit enough to be a useful complementary player for years to come. The Pirates need to find out what they've got there, and they have a limited amount of time to do it before Andrew McCutchen pushes either Moss or Nyjer Morgan out of the starting lineup. 

But let's say you're the type of person who sees Brandon Moss in right field and it gives you hives and stomach pains and you JUST CAN'T TAKE IT and you'll flip out and hurt someone if Moss isn't replaced, stat. Well, not that I'm calling anyone immature, but the inability to delay gratification is a sign of immaturity. A famous psychological study showed that children who were willing to sacrifice one marshmallow to get two marshmallows later were much more successful than those who weren't. Rebuilding baseball teams are the same way. The best ones plan ahead, even if that means not eating all your marshmallows right away. 

Also, Monroe isn't really like a marshmallow. He's more like that carton of cottage cheese in the back of your fridge that's three months past its sell-by date. Personally, I'd gladly deny myself some rancid cottage cheese now if it meant I could eat two marshmallows later.

WTM pointed out today that no matter how many times they encounter it, some fans never seem to get that a player's last 1000 at bats mean more than his last 50, or that to build a playoff team on a budget, you have to commit to young players. One would some folks would realize that they're making exactly the same mistakes some folks did when they crowed about Daryle Ward not getting an extension, or celebrated the signings of Burnitz and Joe Randa, or screamed about the Pirates not playing Josh Phelps enough (remember him?). This stuff happens all the time, but some people never seem to remember.