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Miami Marlins Prove Momentum Means Nothing

Maybe manager Ozzie Guillen got ejected two nights ago to fire up this team's momentum. But is that really going to work when momentum simply doesn't predict anything?  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
Maybe manager Ozzie Guillen got ejected two nights ago to fire up this team's momentum. But is that really going to work when momentum simply doesn't predict anything? (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)
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Momentum? Momentum is the next day's starting pitcher.
- Earl Weaver

Earl Weaver was a wise man and an even wiser manager. So when he says something about the way the game is, you tend to listen. One of my favorite quotes from him is this one regarding momentum, something the Miami Marlins have going in a completely non-productive direction. The point of the quote is that the team's current performance means nothing more than the next day's group of players. Of course, Weaver was fond of pitching as the key to winning, but this quote intimates that whatever happened before means nothing compared to how the next guy will play

This quote came back to me because of something Fish Stripes author FishNFinz said two days ago in the game thread.

well last nights game was really a defining moment for this team

after the player meeting, everyone had hope they could turn this around.

after the heart breaking loss i just dont see this team recovering unless its really just the june curse. this team hates the number 6.

The bolding is for my own emphasis. This quote really describes the "acceptance" fan that I discussed last week, the type of fan who is fully accepting of what he sees in front of him as the whole truth of the team rather than gathering all the data from the past. One of the things that goes along with this belief is the idea of momentum, the idea that once a team gets the ball rolling, it snowballs into success. In contrast, once a team begins struggling, everything goes wrong and they can never recover. It all speaks to believing that the team really is as good or as bad as their last game showed.

The problem is that in this very season, the Marlins have proven that concept to be completely incorrect.

In April, the Marlins were 8-14, losing close games, blowing bullpen leads, and not scoring runs. Everyone in the offense was collectively slumping. And what did I say?

Yes, the Marlins have disappointed in 2012 thus far on offense. But it is not as if the players are all hitting as they are expected to going forward. In fact, most of these hitters are well known to be better than this, and the projections say that they should improve a great deal as the season wears on. Unless something utterly unexpected occurs (and of course, we cannot rule that out certainly), the Marlins should start scoring runs very soon, and they are going to need to if they are going to match their preseason expectations.

In other words, we knew they were not as bad as they showed. Then, in May, they showed that they were not that bad by absolutely demolishing their competition en route to a really hot month. Everything was going right and it seemed like the Marlins could not lose. If momentum was a true concept, this sort of thing just could not happen, just like how the Marlins could not have dug out of their 8-14 start. If momentum were true, the Marlins would have lost a ton more games in May than they actually did, because they were clearly as bad a team as we saw that month.

Similarly, if momentum is to be believed, the Marlins would have just continued rolling through their competition, destroying everything in their path, even though the schedule and projections suggest that the team would have been more likely to split their games in June. Yet, momentum did nothing for us after May and the Marlins floundered despite having everything go their way. Momentum cannot explain the sudden, overwhelming struggles of this team?

Twice this season, the Marlins have proven that momentum means nothing. Regression, on the other hand, means everything. The Marlins started hitting better in May because they were never as bad as they were in April. But certain players on the team obviously hit too well to be believed, particularly Giancarlo Stanton. As a result, heading into this month, the hitters and pitchers played a little worse because they were never as good as they were in May.

And now the team is struggling mightily, and some fans are once again ready to write them off, despite having seen the team play poorly in the first month of the season. Fans have to believe that regression to the mean is on the way, as it is with every player and team. Sure, it was not all bad luck that cost the Marlins 18 of 23 games this month, and a good deal of fault definitely lies with the players. But judging players based one month of play rather than their entire body of work is short-sighted and can be misleading. Sure, players go on hot and cold streaks and performances vary, but you never know when those streaks, even collective team slumps like the ones through which the Marlins are suffering, are going to end.

In essence, you can never tell when the momentum is going to stop or keep going. As Earl Weaver pointed out, momentum is a fickle mistress. The best thing we can do is lean on what we think of the players based on all of the available data and hope they meet expectations, knowing full well that all of this is a crapshoot.