Spring stats: Do they carry any weight?
For hitters, they can indicate fast starts; for pitchers, not so much
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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Spring Training Info
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
|Marlon Byrd, Cubs||.488|
|Melky Cabrera, Royals||.488|
|Scott Hairston, Mets||.425|
|Chipper Jones, Braves||.420|
|Travis Buck, Indians||.419|
|Wilson Valdez, Phillies||.419|
|Chris Denorfia, Padres||.415|
|Willie Bloomquist, D-backs||.412|
|Chris Davis, Rangers||.409||Matt Holliday, Cardinals||.405||Jason 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
|Jake Fox, Orioles||7|
|Aubrey Huff, Giants||5|
|Luke Hughes, Twins||5|
|Ian Kinsler, Rangers||5|
|John Mayberry, Phillies||5|
|Mike Morse, Nationals||5|
|Alex Rodriguez, Yankees||5|
|Mark Trumbo, Angels||5|
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.