Caring About Spring Training for the Wrong Reasons
By Stuart Jones
Spring Training is a beautiful thing. It’s baseball taking place when we have been tortured with months of other games of $-ball that involve pigskin, baskets, and maybe even a net but not all in the same sports. A lot of cities that have professional clubs have weather in February or March that would make for insufficient preparation time, so they head to Arizona. If you’re OK with the occasional weather storm and want to keep your fans close, you go to Florida.
I went to Arizona this past weekend and went to a couple games, however I didn’t get to see Mr. Amazing (pictured above) because it was a day off for him. Sad face. Seeing the Dodgers lose one game on a big walkoff homer to Rockies prospect Tim Wheeler, and then tie one off of mostly the offensive efforts from Brandon Belt sure made the weekend just a touch sweeter, but I think some people have the wrong idea. The idea that Spring Training is about winning and losing. That it’s about being the best hitter/pitcher in the Cactus or the Grapefruit. This is not College Basketball where your non-conference “pre-season” games count towards your rankings (but your season can sure take shape with some injuries and trades), so my plea to fans is this: stop treating these games like the regular season games we go crazy over.
Winning in the Pre-Season means we’ll win in the Regular Season!
False. Want to guess which teams led the Cactus and Grapefruit leagues respectively in 2011? That would be the Kansas City Royals and Minnesota Twins. The Yankees were 13-15 while the Diamondbacks were last in the Cactus at 12-25. And that was just last year. Sure, Tampa Bay was 20-8 and the Giants were 23-12, but 3 teams weren’t even .500 when the pre-season ended. Don’t tell me they had a “bad month.” If you’ve watched a Spring Training game you know that players are working on mechanics, different strategies, different pitches, different methods, and that’s not even getting into who plays in the game. Take a look at the dugout and you’ll see it’s packed for most of the February and March months. A lot of those guys get put into a game, too, with the starters only playing a portion of the game as long it’s not a Split Squad (SS). That’s from both benches, not just from your San Francisco Giants. If they wanted to win the pre-season games so bad (which thank goodness, they don’t), don’t you think they’d use their position players more? Or even their pitchers? Spring Training is for some to fine tune things, for others to audition for a spot, and for more of them, to give management a reason not to forget them for later in the season (or beyond).
OK, Smart-Alleck, but Stats are Pretty Important, Ya DoinkHead.
A heavy, disgusted, and annoyed sigh is released. Melky Cabrera led the Spring Training in 2011 with a .468/.471/.742 line, and did end up getting 200 hits, but wouldn’t you be disappointed if he couldn’t hit Minor League pitching? Here’s a good one: Kevin Kouzmanoff hit .413/.449/.571 in ST 2011. In 46 games he went .221/.262/.353 with Oakland. That was so bad even Aaron Rowand was like, “Dude, come on.” Oh, here’s a favorite of mine from last year: Brewers OF Erick Almonte (if you’re saying “who?” — exactly) in ST 2011 hit .416/.438/.636. He got 29 plate appearances in his age 33 season, going .103/.103/.207 with an OPS+ of -18. He had the fourth highest batting average that year in ST. Oh, you want homers? Ok, Jake Fox who was with the Orioles hit 10 in ST 2011, and only 2 in the regular season. John Bowker was T-2nd in 2010 with 6 (Houston Astros catcher Chris Johnson led that year, and actually got one more homer in the regular season than he did in ST: 11/10), and we know how that worked out. By the way, Ryan Raburn is leading the Spring Training world with 6 HR right now, and Lorenzo Cain has a .500/.556/.906 line going. No projection system on Fangraphs has Cain going higher than a .284 batting average, and Ryan Raburn having 18 HR.
Oh, and by the way, Albert Pujols and Jose Bautista both have 3 HR.
So temper that excitement you might have for a certain player, or turn down the volume of panic or sadness you have for your team because of their record, that they didn’t win today, or lack of RBI, because really, there are so many other things in Spring Training to worry about.