Spring flings

Anyone who thinks spring training stats are wholeheartedly dumb, I’d like to introduce you to Michael Morse. After the 29-year-old blasted 15 homers in less than half a season in 2010, he continued his torrid pace the subsequent spring, painting himself as a worthy sleeper and affirming (perhaps wrongly) his previous season’s performance. And what an affirmation it was. He slugged nine homers in 66 at-bats, and followed said spring up with 31 dingers and a .300 average. Not bad, Morse.

Of course, that’s an incredibly small sample of meaningful spring stats: one single player. I could find hundreds of breakouts, slumps, tumbles and rises that can be correlated to superb springs. And on the contrary, I can find hundreds more that meant absolutely nothing.

You need to know what to be looking for, of course, and I have my eyes on a handful of springs that mean something to me. I thought of the idea and threw together a makeshift list on my twitter (@fishfle) which I will expand upon below.

Whether it’s an uncharacteristic home run rate, a pathetic showing at the plate, or a leash that was thinned, there are a handful of reasons the following “bad” spring trainings mean something to me. Likewise, there are a lot of “good” spring training showings that are worthwhile of consideration and dissection, whether it’s because they set a player up for a promotion, sealed him a job, or prove to me that an injury is far in the rear view mirror. Let’s jump in.

Bad, yet meaningful, springs

Tyler Pastornicky’s leash just got shortened
Pastornicky was entrusted with the starting shortstop gig on the Braves this offseason despite zero major league at-bats, a testament to both their thrift and his excellent minor league numbers. Lo and behold, though, Pastornicky allowed low-minors straggler Andrelton Simmons, a 22 year old speedster who still hasn’t touched Double-A, to enter the picture and serve, seemingly, as a check for Pastornicky. And he deserves one after a 5-for-40 showing (equating to a .125 batting average) with one single walk and only one stolen base (his calling card). I’d be worried if I were Tyler Pastornicky.

Devin Mesoraco didn’t buy himself any at-bats
Mesoraco enters 2012 in an undefined role, seemingly stuck behind Ryan Hanigan in Cincinnati, but looking at 300+ at-bats per some projections. I’d take the under—perhaps well under—after an unimpressive cup of coffee in the majors last year and an equally anemic spring. Given that he plays for Dusty Baker, hater of all that is young, and that he hit .180 in his 53 late-season at-bats and .136 in his 22 at-bat cameo this spring, I wouldn’t touch him in fantasy leagues this year.

Justin Morneau looks overmatched
There was some talk this offseason and spring—from Twins camp—that Justin Morneau may be at the end of the road in his career, which was/is badly derailed by concussions and other injuries. He’s followed up his weakest showing in the majors, a .227/.285/.333 triple-slash last year, with an equally underwhelming (if you even want to call it that) spring training, where he’s garnered only three hits in 30 at-bats, good for a .100 average. That’s not going to cut it.

Roy Halladay’s home-run rate is uncharacteristically high
His velocity is down, and in his own words, “”I’m 34 and (with) 2,500 innings, it does take a while to get going.” Chalk this up to my paranoia if you will, but it’s not just the 6+ ERA that has me scared. Hell, you can throw that number out for all I care. Doc has given up five homers in a mere 13+ innings. For illustration’s sake, he gave up 10 round-trippers last year in 233+ innings. His fastball had a negative pitch value last year for the first time since 2003, and if his velocity diminishes on said pitch just one mile per hour, the biting 91 mile per hour cutter will be the same speed as his heater, which has been historically in the 92 range; thus, the cutter would likely be far less effective. I’d be worried enough to pass on him for another ace early—there’s too much money tied up in a Halladay investment to carry any doubt. I’ll take the Cy Young winner from last year, please.

Good springs that mean a lick

Jeff Samardzija earned himself a rotation spot
Always possessive of a nasty slider, Samardzija’s main hindrance was his subpar control. His career BB/9 mark of 5.30 just wasn’t going to cut it as a starting pitcher, but by all accounts, the Cubs are going to give him a shot based off his advances last year and his gleaming spring training. His 1.61 K/BB rate in 2011 was not impressive by any means, but was a far cry from his previous 0.45 mark. Couple that with his 9:0 strikeout to walk ratio this spring in 10 six-hit innings, and the suits in the Cubs’ front office are believers. Thus, I am too.

Juan Nicasio proved the gruesome neck injury to be behind him
Nicasio suffered an injury that could’ve well killed or paralyzed him last August. So what is he doing on this list? Rocking. His 9:2 strike to walk ratio in 12 innings is fairly indicative of his true skill level, and his Double-A numbers should provide all the context you need: a 10.01 K/9 ratio supported by a mere 1.59 walks per nine innings. The kid’s got talent and has sealed his rotation spot with a solid spring showing. Cheers to that.

Zack Cozart is as healthy as can be
A hyperextended left elbow ended Cozart’s September run, where he turned heads with a couple of long balls and a .324/.324/.486 triple-slash in just 11 games. All is well in Cincinnati camp, though, as Cozart went 12-for-29 in his springtime games. A clean bill of health, a hot bat, and a job sealed, all of which is supported by solid minor league numbers. Sounds like a 26-year-old breakout to me.

Starling Marte may have set himself up for a mid-season promotion
So the kid can play. One would assume that Marte is one of the central figures in the Pirates plan to compete in the next several years after an incredibly impressive showing in Double-A. He boasted speed (24 stolen bases), power (12 home runs), average (.332), leaving only plate discipline to be desired (a 3.8 percent walk rate). Marte backed up his power-speed-average showing last year with a .520 average, three homers, and two steals in just 25 at-bats. For fun, those extrapolate to 72 homers and 48 steals over 600 at-bats, and while I’m obviously kidding about such potential, he can fit into the Matt Kemp, Justin Upton, Carlos Gonzalez, and Andrew McCutchen category of triple-threat outfielders one day; that is, as soon as he gets the opportunity. Alex Presley, Jose Tabata, and the aforementioned McCutchen are all occupying spaces in the Pittsburgh outfield and Nate McLouth is hoping for a bounce-back as a fourth outfielder. If Marte mashes in Triple-A, he could force the Pirates’ hands in giving him at-bats. If Tabata or Presley stumble big time, then watch out.

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What about Liriano and Matusz? Both sporting ridiculous BB/K ratios after terrible seasons – Liriano has done this before (i.e., shown up in spring training after bad season, and then dominated in regular season) and Matusz WAS a rated a top prospect before his disastrous 2011.

Nick Fleder
Nick Fleder

Thanks, Kevin. I pinpointed guys and lines that caught my eye,  but of course it’s by no means all-inclusive. Liriano is still a huge injury question mark and is inconsistent as hell. I would invest cautiously because it’s a low risk, high reward pick still (can probably snag him for dollar in most leagues). Matusz intrigues me big-time. But he went for $7 in one of my drafts and that’s just too much risk for me. His control is certainly a plus where it was the biggest question mark last year; let’s see if his HR rate stays down.


This is the exact kind of article I come to THT for. Looking beyond the cookie cutter “nothing matters!” thought process, looking beyond statistical anomalies and highlighting the stories combined with the statistics.

With sample sizes so small, and so much external noise going on as well, the stories matter. You nailed it, Fleder.