Spring Training Stats

Pitchers and catchers report to their team’s camps in Arizona and Florida today, kicking off the beginning of spring training and the 2010 baseball season. It’s a good day.

However, with spring training starting off, it’s time for the annual reminder to not pay any attention to numbers for the next six weeks. We like our stats here, obviously, but spring training numbers just don’t mean a thing. At all. Anything. Need proof?

Last year, 7 NL players hit .400 or better in spring training. Included in that list of guys who tore it up in March were Jeremy Reed, David Eckstein, Khalil Greene, and J.J. Hardy. Reed played badly enough that he was non-tendered, and is now a non-roster invite with the Blue Jays. Greene did even worse than Reed, and is also now trying to fight his way back into Major League Baseball after losing his job with St. Louis. Hardy had the worst year of his career, then got shipped to the Twins over the winter. Eckstein posted the lowest wOBA of his career, and that’s saying something.

Okay, you say, batting average is flukey, but power, that’s legit. After all, Ryan Howard hit 10 bombs to lead all NL players in spring training a year ago, and he’s a monster. Sure, I’ll give you that.

But Craig Monroe finished second with 8 spring home runs, followed closely by Travis Ishikawa with seven. It’s even better when you look at the AL leaderboard – the immortal Mike Wilson out-homered all of the junior circuit competition, then forgot how to hit minor league pitching once the season started. Not too far behind Wilson are the immortal trio of Mike Jacobs, Mark Teahen, and Wilson Betemit. Yeah.

The lowest ERAs of any AL pitcher last spring? David Purcey and Chris Jakubauskas. Brian Moehler was second in spring training ERA for NL hurlers.

The games don’t count, and the players know this. They’re working on things. They’re facing minor league players or guys trying to come back from injury. Half the teams play in a desert atmosphere that helps the ball travel like its Colorado. I know its easy to get sucked in by the story of a new swing, a new pitch, a winter full of hard work, and I’m sure some of that is true. But you won’t find those guys by looking at the stats. Ignore the numbers coming from the Cactus and Grapefruit Leagues. They don’t mean a thing.

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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.

31 Responses to “Spring Training Stats”

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  1. Bah! says:

    This is the paradox of spring training: the numbers mean nothing, the games don’t count, and yet rather than get depressed about meaningless baseball we’re all excited that there is baseball being played.

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    • Evan says:

      I’m not excited. Not anymore. Thanks for ruining Spring Training Dave.

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    • Bryz says:

      More like….

      This is the paradox of spring training: the numbers mean nothing, the games don’t count, and yet jobs are won and lost based on some players’ performances during the month.

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    • SMorin6 says:

      Hey Guys,
      I just wanted to let you know about this raffle that is going on by Rosie O’Donnell and CFC for Rosie’s Broadway Kids Charity. Rosie is raffling off a Luxury Suite on April 3, 2010 for a Nationals preseason game against the Boston Red Sox. The suite has 19 seats and includes In-Suite food and beverages for the winner and guests. The raffle tickets are only $2 with a minimum purchase of 5 tickets. You can get your tickets at http://www.netraffle.org !

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  2. Temo says:

    At the same time, we can look forward to seeing if guys Jason Heyward stick with the big league club. Stats might not matter for Jeremy Reed and Khalil Greene, but certainly if Heyward hits .400 this spring, the pressure on Braves management to keep him with the big league team will be immense.

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  3. Joe R says:

    To be fair to Eck, it was not his lowest wRC+ season of his career (after all, he was playing at PETCO).

    But good news, guys, he’ll be Hall of Fame eligible once he starts this season!

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  4. Snake says:

    Spring training numbers can be somewhat helpful. For instance, I drafted Kevin Brown in 2003. He was injured in 2002 and very few people thought he would be worth anything in 2003. 2003 was his age 38 season. His numbers were dominatn in spring training and the reports about him were good. He finished the 2003 season with a 2.38 ERA in 211 IP with outstanding peripherals.

    I think spring training numbers are helpful when it comes to players coming back from injury (especially pitchers). I do think you have to look beyond the numbers to a certain extent and pay attention to what the scouts are saying though.

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    • Jimbo says:

      I disagree on the stat portion of the K Brown pick. Could have had a miserable spring and still done well in ’03. The fact that scouts and ‘reports’ were positive probably was more telling.

      For me, the important thing is to watch as much as I can in spring. Last year I SAW justin verlander and knew I wanted to draft him. He walked more than he K’d (16:15 in 32 innings), but it was the life on his fastball that caught my attention.

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      • Snake says:

        The stats backed up the reports and visa versa. Since both were positive, I had a strong belief that he would play well. I was right.

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  5. John says:

    Quote “Pitchers and catchers report to Arizona and Florida respectively”

    Are pitchers reporting to Arizona and catchers to Florida this year. Long toss is getting way outta hand.

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  6. Sandy Kazmir says:

    John Kruk is in the best shape of his life.

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  7. don says:

    Crashburn Alley had a post about this with respect to Phillies players and reached the same conclusion.


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  8. The Hit Dog says:

    I think Fox should purchase the broadcast rights for all Spring Training games and then the team with the best record from each league gets to swap its worst player for the worst team’s best player, a la “Asshole.”

    And then obviously the marketing pitch is: after the Fox robot throws a 200mph fastball, he says, “Spring Training 2010: This time, they’re playing for keeps.”

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  9. Mike says:

    Does this also apply to players who do poorly in spring training? Did any of the top ten 2009 MVP or Cy Young vote-getters have egregiously bad spring numbers?

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    • geo says:

      Zack Greinke’s ERA coming out of spring last year was almost 10.00, as he spent the entire camp working on his changeup – sometimes throwing nothing else in some games.

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  10. Jeff says:

    Though it takes some fun out of spring training I would agree except when it comes to pitchers and their ability to get the ball over the plate. If a pitcher is granting way too many walks that would be a huge concern, even if he is ‘working on a new pitch’ or whatever. Either last spring or the one before (could have been both, really) Dontrelle Willis couldn’t throw strikes and he didn’t in his limited opportunities in the regular season, either.

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    • Mike D says:

      I disagree with the statement that spring numbers don’t matter. It just depends on what you’re looking for and who you’re looking at.

      For established players, yes the numbers don’t mean much. For players who are up-and-comers who are fighting for a starting/bench spot, good numbers also don’t mean much, but bad numbers matter.

      Important stats to look at are at-bats and innings pitched. If someone is getting lots of playing time, this is a sign the team is focusing on the player. Brad Bergesen got lots of innings last spring – after realizing this and looking at his minor league #’s I put him on my radar, and took him in my reserve draft.

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  11. Mike D says:

    FYI above wasn’t a response to Jeff, just a general statement… Always forget I shouldn’t hit ‘Reply’ and to just hit ‘Submit Comment’…

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  12. Paul says:

    Not sure where the numbers are coming from. MLB.com has a lot more than 7 hitters with a BA over .400 and at least 50 ABs in ST 09. Tex was one, so was Miguel Cabrera. And since when is BA definitive of anything at Fangraphs?

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  13. a few yrs ago, Pudge hit more HR in spring training than he did all season

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  14. BATTLETANK says:

    ST 2009: 21.1 IP with a 2.53 ERA and 25 K’s – all starting

    Regular Season 2009 as a STARTER:
    8 GS started with a 7.02 ERA and 21 K’s in 34 innings.

    /tugs collar

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  15. David C. says:

    Ricky Nolasco pitched a combined no-hitter last spring, and then collapsed in the beginning of the season. Take from that what you will.

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  16. aweb says:

    It’s not that the numbers mean nothing, it’s just a noisier sample than usual, with lots of outliers that might need to be thrown out (like a pitcher throwing nothing but changeups). There are lots of examples after the first few weeks of a season too – strange guys hitting .400, random hitters with 10 HRs in the first month. Of course, those numbers “count”, and are also rarely good indicators of season-end leaders.

    Taken as a whole, I’d be surprised if spring training numbers were a better indicator than previous track record in the minors/majors, so in that sense the numbers would be useless. But if no other information was available (say baseball didn’t keep records, just started fresh every year), I would think spring training numbers would be better than nothing.

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  17. MICHAEL says:

    You tell us spring training means nothing.. You tell us they’re working on stuff.. Ok, fine.. But then you gotta go and say the power numbers are helped because they play in the desert.. Just please remember one thing Dave.. These guys are GOOD!! **** C’mon Dave, give the boys of summer some deserved credit!!

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