Far too much of the mainstream coverage of baseball in April is–making up a word here–overrreactive. Guys who get off to notably hot or cold starts make the front page of Web sites and the back page of the paper. Teams that win five in a row or lose seven of eight find themselves saying things like, “This is a special group of guys,” or having closed-door meetings to figure out what’s wrong.
It’s not that the first two weeks of the season aren’t potentially meaningful or indicative of what’s to come. Its just that we can’t know on April 18 whether they are. Players and teams perform well above and well below their true level for short stretches all the time. The 2004 Devil Rays went 70-91; in June, though, they ripped off a 12-game winning streak and spent a few weeks around .500. Cory Lidle had his basic Cory Lidle season last year, sucking up 211 innings with an ERA above the league average. Late in the season, though, he threw back-to-back shutouts against two of the worst hitting teams in the league. It happens. We just care more when it makes the guy 2-0, 0.00 than when it leaves him 9-12, 5.01.
We overreact when those things happen to start the season. We’re eager to do analysis, to find meaning in the things we see, to be the one who anticipates the breakout season or the collapse of a dynasty. It’s particularly dangerous when the first two weeks confirm what we suspected in March; the Yankees may win fewer than 90 games and miss the playoffs, but their starting the season 4-8 doesn’t make me right about that. Not yet, anyway.
Sheenan’s rational words will come as a rude awakening to fantasy owners counting on Jon Lieber to win 30 games. Likewise, those of us who’d like to see John Smoltz lose 30 games will have to find someone else’s misfortune to revel in, sooner or later. Hopefully later.