Fun with Small Sample Sizes: How Sustainable Are These Breakouts?

The good thing about the internet is you can judge even in April.

I’m going to admit something. When it comes to the sport world, I have a very difficult time seeing the big picture. I live and die by every single development as it happens. The long game doesn’t exist until well after I’ve exhausted myself getting caught up in present outcomes. One can understand how my life has been forever scarred by the 2022-2023 Chicago Bulls, given that.

Sure, I can look back or step out and objectively look big picture. But I’m just as prone to kneejerk reactions as most of the Twittersphere, albeit a little less likely to actually hit Send Tweet. Such a mindset is especially hilarious when applied to baseball. You’re talking about a season that consumes most of the entire calendar year. And yet, I know I’m not alone in my inability to see past present outcomes. A quick peak on social media in April provides some wild takes when the month will end with still around 140 games to go.

Nonetheless, I thought it’d be a fun thing to take a look at some of the early samples from players who are performing at a level that we might not have expected. The sample remains minimal, even as we start to reach the end of the month. But we’ll have some fun with it and throw around the idea of whether the sample, however outlandish, is even a little bit sustainable as the season wears on.

Five names were selected. Throughout April, there’s absolutely a lot of sample-size-related weirdness. Pete Alonso could shatter home run records. Matt Chapman might be the best hitter in baseball. Zac Gallen is coming off consecutive scoreless starts out of three starts. Those are names we’ve come to expect a certain degree of upper-tier performance, though, in one respect or another. So established stars or even younger guys with big upsides weren’t really considered (like the very fun Corbin Carroll).

Instead, we’re talking about more mid-tier players. Guys who have been around a bit, or maybe even a little longer, as we attempt to figure out just what their identity is in Major League Baseball. They’re thriving now, but how long can it last?


Trent Grisham, OF, San Diego Padres


Small Sample Declaration: Power Hitter


If you’ve read a sentence or two from any piece of mine over the past calendar year, Grisham’s name was likely included. I’ve long held that if  a player shows elite defense, there’s an untapped potential somewhere in the bat. I’m also susceptible to maintaining this belief in such a player long after the opportunity for upside has passed. Nonetheless, Grish has been a bopper for a San Diego offense that has been a little lethargic out of the gate.

At the end of last year, I noted that Grisham should be more aggressive in order to get the bat moving a little bit. He’s swinging to the tune of a 46 percent rate this year (an eight-point increase from last year). He’s striking out a little bit less, walking a little bit more, and showcasing more power outcomes than in years past (.254 ISO is almost 100 points more than in 2022). Sure, the SwStr% is higher, but the called strikes are fewer and there’s actual impact there. Especially when his swing rate on fastballs has jumped over 10 percent.

More aggressiveness has led to more power. It’s an oversimplification of Grisham, but I’ll certainly explore it in more detail as the season wears on. Particularly as to whether he can sustain it. In the likely dropping from the top of the order to the bottom upon the return of Fernando Tatis Jr, he’s going to need to be an on-base presence. Could this more effective Grisham stick around or will he get wrapped up in the cause of patience again? My money’s on the latter given our career sample. But this early aggressiveness is exactly what you want to see.


Patrick Wisdom, 3B, Chicago Cubs


Small Sample Declaration: Contact Guy


As much as the Cubs made marginal improvements to their roster this winter, they entered 2023 with massive questions at third base. Wisdom was the holdover, with Christopher Morel poised to make a run at the job, along with Edwin Ríos and even Nick Madrigal. Our April sample indicates that the Cubs may very well have the position settled at this point.

Wisdom’s skill set, as something of a journeyman, is well known. Huge power and a lot of whiff. He struck out 41 percent of the time in 2021 and did so at a 34 percent rate last year. This year? Well, the K% is still there (30.8 percent to date), but Wisdom’s looked like a guy capable of drumming up a little more contact. His 69.0 percent contact rate is his best since a nine-game sample in Texas in 2019. Whiffs are down a touch, with a 15.7 SwStr%, despite actually swinging at a slightly higher rate than last year.

What’s even more encouraging for the Cubs is that the power hasn’t faded even with the uptick in contact. His 20.0 Brl% is in the 90th percentile and his 35.3 percent HC% is in the 87th. He hit his seventh and eighth home runs of the year on Monday in Oakland. In terms of sustainability? Given his career trends, it’s not a terribly encouraging outlook. But the Cubs look good lately and Wisdom’s improved contact without a power decline is in the middle of everything.


Geraldo Perdomo, SS, Arizona Diamondbacks


Small Sample Declaration: Best Hitter in Baseball…? 


With the return of Nick Ahmed, there was a chance that Perdomo was set to see a decrease in playing time, likely being largely deployed as a utility infielder. In a way, that’s sort of been the case. He’s appeared at shortstop, third base, and second. Regardless of where we see him, though, he’s going to force his way into the lineup everyday.

Perdomo has a small sample size even within the context of this discussion. He only had 33 plate appearances heading into Monday. But hitting .400, reaching base at a rate over .515, and posting a .240 ISO is going to get people talking. He went 10 for his first 25 at the plate. What’s more is that Perdomo has been patient. He’s walking at a rate of about 15 percent and maintaining a reasonably low swing rate in the low 40s. That’s an important element.

The 2022 season was Perdomo’s worst as a professional hitter, even if his first full campaign in the bigs. That patience, though, was always there prior. Last year was his lowest BB% across five professional seasons. Getting that figure back up to maintain a regular on-base presence will absolutely keep Perdomo in the lineup. The BABIP will dip and the power is almost certainly an aberration. But for a Snakes team that strives to be a nightmare on the basepaths, Perdomo’s early start could make him a big factor there.


Kris Bubic, SP, Kansas City Royals


Small Sample Declaration: Kansas City Ace


At present, there is not a lot to be pleased with out of Kansas City. They’re off to a miserable start in a bad division. Ironically, the name even featured on this list is out for at least two weeks with a left flexor strain. But through three starts, he gave us enough to talk about. Bubic went 0-2 with a 3.94 ERA across the first trio of outings. Unremarkable on the surface. But with a K% that jumped about five percent (23.5) and a BB% that has shrunk to almost nothing (2.9), along with a 2.70 FIP, it’s easy to see why people were quick to jump on the excitement train.

His start against San Francisco was especially impressive, as he posted a 43.4 CSW% and 25.0 SwStr%. Even his first start, in which he only allowed two earned runs to a really strong Toronto squad, illustrated the signs of improvement. While his third start against Atlanta didn’t yield quite the same results, it’s fairly clear that mechanical tweaks to his already-existing arsenal has led to some enhanced results, along with the slow introduction of a slider. Just two walks across 16 innings—given that he had a BB/9 well over four the last two years—lends itself to a level of anticipation as to what the upside looks like. This is a guy who went from the fringes of the rotation to locking down a spot.

Of course, one hopes that the health factor doesn’t hold him back from what could be a breakout year.


Ron Marinaccio, RP, New York Yankees


Small Sample Declaration: Star Reliever of 2023


It seems weird to include a guy who is essentially a middle reliever on a small sample list. But if things keep trending as they are, Marinaccio has the change to evolve into something far more essential as the season progresses.

Not that Marinaccio didn’t have a fine season last year. He did, to the tune of a 2.05 ERA, 2.41 xERA, and a 30.9 K%. It’s just that he’s been so much better this year. Thus far, Marinaccio has gone for a 1.50 ERA, a 1.66 xERA, and a 47.8 K%. He’s generating more whiffs (16.3 SwStr% is about a two percent bump) and a ton more groundball contact. That GB% is the most intriguing of the small sample. He’s launched that number up almost 20 percent, to 57.1.

More encouraging is the fact that Marinaccio has yet to allow a single barrel on the ball this year, in terms of contact. Really. He has a Brl% of exactly 0.0. And while he’s not the only pitcher to do that to this point, the combination of zero barrel contact and extremely high groundball volume is extremely enticing, especially when you talk about high-leverage situations. There’s been a tweak to the arsenal, as Marinaccio has gone heavy four-seam, with the changeup as the secondary pitch and slider fading as the third. He’s getting strikes roughly 70 percent of the time with that four-seamer, including an eight-point jump in whiffs.

It’s a great pitch and the results have allowed Marinaccio to be as effective as any reliever in baseball. But, of course, it’s only April.

Randy Holt

Randy Holt is a staff writer for Pitcher List & a depth charts analyst for Baseball Prospectus. He's a self-identified Cubs fan who has become more agnostic, instead obsessing about quality defensive baseball wherever he can find it. Randy has a sport management degree from the University of Florida, as well as degrees from Embry-Riddle & Arizona State. When not wasting away on the husk of Twitter/X, Randy is a high school English teacher & a baseball and golf coach.

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