The Unknown
As we know,
There are known knowns.
There are things we know we know.
We also know
There are known unknowns.
That is to say
We know there are some things
We do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns,
The ones we don’t know
We don’t know.

—Feb. 12, 2002, Department of Defense news briefing

Why, you may wonder, a I opening with a 14-year-old Donald Rumsfeld quote that was shaped into a poem? Because it gives me a good opening to talk about the things I want to talk about.

In baseball, we have our known unknowns. We call them prospects. We have hope about them, sure, but who really knows. We have our known knowns. Joey Votto will get one base and Zack Cozart will get to that ground ball.

But, on a young team like the Reds, it is often tempting to make declarations about these new players. To declare and believe that we know something when, perhaps, we don’t know as much as we think we do. These are our unknown unknowns. The things we don’t know we don’t know.

Ballplayers change. We all know that. The 35-year-old isn’t the same player he was at 25. We also know that you can’t assume anything based on a few games. If Billy Hamtilon hits two homers in two days, we don’t assume he’s suddenly the premier power hitter in baseball. The murky part comes in-between. How much do we have to see before we can feel confident in what we’re seeing. The asnwer is: It depends.

For a few years now, I have constantly been referring this portion of the FanGraphs library to remind myself that I don’t always know what I think I know. It provides a guide for how many plate appearances (or innings or whatever) a player needs before we can expect that what we’ve seen represents something close to his true talent. To that end, I’m going to go through the various young hitters and pitchers and articulate what we do and do not know.

I’ll start with position players and look at batting average, on base ability, power, and fielding prowess. If I have time, I’ll come back next week with something on the pitchers.

Eugenio Suarez – Suarez has taken a lot of flak this year because he’s looked less than stellar at his new position and hasn’t exactly been a world-beater with the bat.  As a hitter, however, we’re only just now getting enough of a picture to say. It takes 910 ABs for a batting average to be reliable. 460 for OBP and 320 for SLG. So, we can say, that true-wise, Suarez is likely a .250/.310/.400 hitter or so. Which is pretty much his career line.

Further, while he certainly hasn’t looked good at third, we aren’t anywhere near being able to rely on the numbers (you need 3 seasons of defensive data for that). Of course, the eye-test here does seem pretty conclusive.

Billy Hamilton – As with Suarez, Hamilton is only just a bit over what we need to see to get an accurate read. As such, we can say he’s probably pretty close to what he’s done this year (which tracks along his career line). Fortunately, it seems he has made a bit of leap with power (though, given the scale, we should perhaps call it more of a hop). So .240/.285/.350 it is.

Of course, the real value for Hamilton comes from his fielding. And on that scale we’re still short. Hamilton has about 2 1/5 years of playing time in the field. That’s enough to tell us he’s great (because he’s already so far on the positive side of the ledger) but not exactly how great.

Adam Duvall – The darling of the season only has 438 ABs and so we can’t say much about his average. Other wise, what you see is more or less what you should expect from him. Lots of power, lots of Ks, not many walks. His longterm value is going to have a lot to do with how he ages and where his BABIP settles. You should expect Bruce-level erraticism from him as a hitter, but with a lower ceiling. While he’s looked very good in left, we can’t say anything for certain about his fielding yet.

Tucker Barnhart – Barnhart is right on the cusp of decent. Like Duvall, he needs to more or less double the number of ABs he has before we can know something about his average. We can say that he will walk some, but there isn’t any power there. If he’s a .240 hitter, he’s a backup at best. If he’s in the .260-.270 range, his OBP will be high enough for him to be an adequate starter. Defensively, he’s looked good so far, but we need a lot more innings to say for sure.

Jose Peraza – Jose Peraza has 97 PAs in the major leagues. 97. He’s a known unknown. We need to see a lot more before we pass any judgements.