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Do Spring Stats Count?


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Spring stats: Do they carry any weight?

 

For hitters, they can indicate fast starts; for pitchers, not so much

By Tom Singer / MLB.com

 

Baltimore's Jake Fox is cutting through the Grapefruit League like a Ginsu knife through, well, a grapefruit. The Royals' Melky Cabrera is hotter than the midday sun in Arizona. Philadelphia's Roy Halladay and Minnesota's Carl Pavano are two pitchers who have been way ahead of hitters.

 

So should Fox be considered a bona fide candidate to be 2011's Jose Bautista? Should Cabrera clear shelf space for a batting crown? Should Halladay and Pavano be working on their Cy Young Award acceptance speeches?

 

In other words, are Spring Training statistics reliable indicators of the seasons to come? Should we trust them?

 

The answer might come as a surprise. The traditional view of exhibition numbers as totally worthless has been challenged by the recent history of fast starters and major award winners.

 

The value isn't in the stats themselves, of course. On Opening Day, everything is reset to zero. The confidence fueled by a good preseason, however, carries over the line between friendlies and championship play.

 

 

2010 Spring Training - Major League Baseball

 

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You can begin with Bautista, the Toronto slugger who broke out spectacularly last season with 54 homers. The erstwhile journeyman's breakthrough actually began in Spring Training, when he hit .439, with five homers.

 

Similarly, MVPs Josh Hamilton (.373-3-8) and Joey Votto (.352-3-13) used solid springs as catapults. While being used conservatively in the preseason, American League Cy Young Award winner Felix Hernandez had an ERA of 0.71 in 12 2/3 Cactus League innings.

 

Does it also work the other way? Do poor springs wave red flags? Before embarking on a 4-16 season in which he had a 5.10 ERA, veteran Baltimore right-hander Kevin Millwood a year ago had a preseason ERA of 12.95.

 

Granted, these are selective examples. In any sample size as big as Major League Baseball provides, you will find support for both sides of the argument.

 

Yet it is difficult to dispute the relationship between a hot spring and a hot start, providing perhaps the most compelling evidence for keeping spring stats out of the virtual shredder.

 

For the most part, the first AL and NL Players of the Week in each of the past eight seasons -- 16 players -- earned their citations after having productive camps. Sure, exceptions pop up -- such as Pittsburgh's Xavier Nady in 2009 after hitting .139 in exhibitions, and Houston's Richard Hidalgo in 2004 off a .200 spring.

 

 

SPRING'S TOP HITTERS

Leaders in batting average this Spring Training, through March 21 (minimum 40 at-bats): PLAYERAVG.Marlon Byrd, Cubs.488Melky Cabrera, Royals.488Scott Hairston, Mets.425Chipper Jones, Braves.420Travis Buck, Indians.419Wilson Valdez, Phillies.419Chris Denorfia, Padres.415Willie Bloomquist, D-backs.412Chris Davis, Rangers.409Matt Holliday, Cardinals.405Jason Michaels, Astros.405

 

But far more prevalent are such first-week POWs as Pat Burrell in 2005 (after a .344-6-20 spring card) and Chris Shelton in 2006 (.274-5-15).

 

Moving beyond that opening-week buzz, is there a long-term effect from raking and dealing in preseason play? Or do March's headlines become June's footnotes?

 

Baseball is such a game of momentum -- the next day's mood stoked by the last day's fortunes, the days revolving without letup -- that springs can only influence how seasons begin, not how they end.

 

Albert Pujols was the 2005 National League MVP off a spring in which he hit .452 with six homers and 19 RBIs. Justin Morneau earned the 2006 AL MVP nod after a .405-2-12 preseason. In 2003, Barry Bonds took home his third consecutive NL MVP Award after having destroyed the Cactus League to the tune of .400-10-21.

 

But Boston's Dustin Pedroia reigned as the 2008 AL MVP after an invisible spring, hitting .179 before getting to the starting line. Joe Mauer was the AL MVP in 2009, a year in which he didn't even participate in preseason play, recovering from back pains.

 

Spring performance is an even less reliable prologue for pitchers' seasons, for reasons that should be transparent: The established ones spend most of the exhibition circuit virtually pitching in a vacuum, concerned with refining their stuff and control and not with results.

 

 

SPRING'S TOP HR HITTERS

Leading home run hitters this Spring Training, through March 21: PLAYERHRJake Fox, Orioles7Aubrey Huff, Giants5Luke Hughes, Twins5Ian Kinsler, Rangers5John Mayberry, Phillies5Mike Morse, Nationals5Alex Rodriguez, Yankees5Mark Trumbo, Angels5

 

Prior to his scintillating 2009 season with the Royals, AL Cy Young Award winner Zack Greinke had a 9.21 ERA in 28 1/3 spring innings. And Cliff Lee, who was spectacular in 2008 for the Indians? His spring ERA was 8.31. Such blowups in the laboratory of the preseason are far more common than 2004 NL Cy Young winner Roger Clemens' 1.59-ERA spring with the Astros.

 

For Cubs Opening Day starter Ryan Dempster, good numbers merely translate into good feelings.

 

"It means we're throwing the ball well, for the most part," Dempster said. "The job is to carry that over into the season. At the end of the day, if we win or lose a Spring Training game, [it] doesn't matter, but I think the way we play the game matters."

 

Thus, team records are totally dismissible, particularly wins and losses. The reason should be obvious: At least until the last 10 days or so before Opening Day, exhibitions are all-comers affairs involving Minor Leaguers and non-roster players who won't affect regular-season play.

 

That makes Cactus League and Grapefruit League standings baseless. The 2001 Mariners, who tied the all-time record with 116 wins, were 13-19 in the preseason. The 1984 Tigers' record 35-5 getaway was preceded by an 11-19 exhibition record. The NL Championship Series that same season was between the Cubs and the Padres, who had gone 7-20 and 13-17, respectively, in the Cactus League.Players prefer good springs to bad ones -- especially those who are trying to win jobs. The numbers don't go into the books but into the head and into the heart, to influence what is to come.

 

Tom Singer is a national reporter for MLB.com. Follow @Tom_Singer on Twitter. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.

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So for those that said not to worry about the long losing streak because it is only spring training, it may be worth rethinking that line of reasoning.

 

 

I don't mean this to sound as rude as it might, but your article comes to the precisely opposite conclusion. It seems like you didn't even read it.

 

Thus, team records are totally dismissible, particularly wins and losses. The reason should be obvious: At least until the last 10 days or so before Opening Day, exhibitions are all-comers affairs involving Minor Leaguers and non-roster players who won't affect regular-season play.

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So for those that said not to worry about the long losing streak because it is only spring training, it may be worth rethinking that line of reasoning.

 

 

 

The article says that team win-loss record is irrelevant. Check out the Ryan Dempster quote.

 

Also, some of the examples given are horrible. Albert Pujols doesn't have great seasons because he's carrying the March momentum with him. He has great seasons because he's Albert Pujols.

 

And Bautista's success didn't begin in Spring Training last year. It began in September playing in real games the year before.

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I find spring training to be a good barometer for seeing if young players are ready to make the jump, or for veteran players who are down on their luck and having to compete just for a job. In other words, it matters for the guys it actually matters for. For a lot of other guys, they are simply preparing themselves to be truly competitive once opening day starts.

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Making roster decisions based solely on spring training while ignoring larger sample sizes (Gaby v. Bono being the landmark case) is silly.

 

Decisions can't be made based on 50 PA sample sizes.

 

 

Definitely, but while I am a big fan of Gaby he really choked his way out of the job that year. Still, with all the options that we had, there were too many different things we could have done to settle on Bonifacio.

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Definitely, but while I am a big fan of Gaby he really choked his way out of the job that year. Still, with all the options that we had, there were too many different things we could have done to settle on Bonifacio.

 

 

Didn't he have something like 30 PAs total?

 

I remember more that his defense was completely terrible, so bad that the team just didn't have confidence because he was suffering mentally on the field.

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I find spring training to be a good barometer for seeing if young players are ready to make the jump, or for veteran players who are down on their luck and having to compete just for a job. In other words, it matters for the guys it actually matters for. For a lot of other guys, they are simply preparing themselves to be truly competitive once opening day starts.

 

 

 

This.

 

For the guys that basically have locks on their job, they are working on different aspects of their game. Hitting the other way, situational hitting, etc.... Pitchers are working on newer things and/or just getting their timing down, etc... ST stats "lie" when it comes to that.

 

But for the other guys......You can learn alot just by watching gus hitting in ST. Do they look comfortable at the plate or do they look confused and/or overwhelmed when facing the ML ready pitchers. Are they able to shake off a bad AB and come back with some good ones. Do they take a bad AB into the field with them. Are they able to work out of mini slumps. Just some quick examples. Same can be said for the pitchers.

 

For the ML coaching staff this is a great opportunity for them to draw their own conclusions on guys they rarely get to see and only have reports to go on. And a great chance for them to also evaluate their minor league coaches.

 

So for anyone to say if the games don't matter, they don't matter, is total bunk. They do matter to all. Some more than others. Performances far more than stats.

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I find spring training to be a good barometer for seeing if young players are ready to make the jump, or for veteran players who are down on their luck and having to compete just for a job. In other words, it matters for the guys it actually matters for. For a lot of other guys, they are simply preparing themselves to be truly competitive once opening day starts.

 

 

I agree with this for the most part. During ST, I like to look at the guys who are a) trying to make the jump into the big leagues, b) coming off an injury plagued season, and c) players acquired via trade or FA signing during the offseason.

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But for the other guys......You can learn alot just by watching gus hitting in ST. Do they look comfortable at the plate or do they look confused and/or overwhelmed when facing the ML ready pitchers. Are they able to shake off a bad AB and come back with some good ones. Do they take a bad AB into the field with them. Are they able to work out of mini slumps.

 

 

But once again, you're talking about like 7 full games worth of ABs. There are 7 game stretches where Dan Uggla looks totally unprepared to face major league pitching. Judging based on those 7 games worth of information is jumping the gun. Some guys go into 30 at bat long slumps, that doesn't mean they aren't ready.

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But for the other guys......You can learn alot just by watching gus hitting in ST. Do they look comfortable at the plate or do they look confused and/or overwhelmed when facing the ML ready pitchers. Are they able to shake off a bad AB and come back with some good ones. Do they take a bad AB into the field with them. Are they able to work out of mini slumps.

 

 

But once again, you're talking about like 7 full games worth of ABs. There are 7 game stretches where Dan Uggla looks totally unprepared to face major league pitching. Judging based on those 7 games worth of information is jumping the gun. Some guys go into 30 at bat long slumps, that doesn't mean they aren't ready.

Dan Uggla is a good example, since he historically was horrible in ST.

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But for the other guys......You can learn alot just by watching gus hitting in ST. Do they look comfortable at the plate or do they look confused and/or overwhelmed when facing the ML ready pitchers. Are they able to shake off a bad AB and come back with some good ones. Do they take a bad AB into the field with them. Are they able to work out of mini slumps.

 

 

But once again, you're talking about like 7 full games worth of ABs. There are 7 game stretches where Dan Uggla looks totally unprepared to face major league pitching. Judging based on those 7 games worth of information is jumping the gun. Some guys go into 30 at bat long slumps, that doesn't mean they aren't ready.

 

It's a job interview. Of course they are going to look at the resume to see if you qualify, but those guys who are playing for a job know exactly what they are playing for and know that they need to show something. If I went to a job interview and completely blew it, that employer wouldn't want to hire if there was a guy with a reasonable background of his own that stepped up to the plate.

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But for the other guys......You can learn alot just by watching gus hitting in ST. Do they look comfortable at the plate or do they look confused and/or overwhelmed when facing the ML ready pitchers. Are they able to shake off a bad AB and come back with some good ones. Do they take a bad AB into the field with them. Are they able to work out of mini slumps.

 

 

But once again, you're talking about like 7 full games worth of ABs. There are 7 game stretches where Dan Uggla looks totally unprepared to face major league pitching. Judging based on those 7 games worth of information is jumping the gun. Some guys go into 30 at bat long slumps, that doesn't mean they aren't ready.

 

It's a job interview. Of course they are going to look at the resume to see if you qualify, but those guys who are playing for a job know exactly what they are playing for and know that they need to show something. If I went to a job interview and completely blew it, that employer wouldn't want to hire if there was a guy with a reasonable background of his own that stepped up to the plate.

 

It's the equivalent of a 5 minute interview. If you're interviewing someone for 5 minutes, you aren't making a good decision, no matter what that person does in those 5 minutes.

 

Also, Bonifacio didn't have a reasonable background, especially when compared to Gaby.

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