Guide to Spring Training Performance

3) If you are going to look into stats, make sure you take them into context. Keep track of how well the player is doing against MLB players and close-to-ready top prospects. Otherwise, they are just taking advantage of lesser players (if they suck against them, that might be a slight cause for concern, but I wouldn’t even worry that much). Next, give more weight to end of ST stats because the players have finally become acclimated to the game and the routine again. I’ll mention this again—be careful about doing even this as the samples become much smaller and less able to indicate a player’s ability.

4) Instead of stats, pay attention to the scouts. OMG! Idk that sabermetrics guys were allowed to say that?! Yes, I can and did. Stats are essentially meaningless here, but performance can still be evaluated. When you read articles about the team for the next month and a half, listen to the scouts. They have seen these players more often than anyone, and they are the most likely to notice if something is different, for better or worse. If a player is doing something different, they’ll know.

5) Don’t freak out about the last-on-the-roster players. This is the only time we care about the fourth outfielder, the utility infielder, the fifth man in the rotation, and the last bullpen spot. While the season rages, injuries and underwhelming performance keep our focus on starters and main cogs, but with those players unlikely to find injury here, we only have the 21st-25th men to care about. Don’t worry about these guys. Very seldom do these guys make much of a difference—fourth outfielders and utility infielders are replaced by mid-season trades, fifth starters don’t usually last more than 120 innings, and the seventh guy in the bullpen is rarely used anyway. I realize you don’t have much else to pay attention to, but worrying about those spots isn’t helpful.

6) Don’t worry about records. For all the reasons mentioned above, ST isn’t even a time to worry about the team’s record. Teams do so many things differently in ST from split-squad games to playing prospects for significant time to having starting pitchers pitch 3-4 innings only to having set substitution schedules that the games aren’t close to being played they would be during the regular season. If you don’t like that, the Yankees had a sub-.500 September, the Reds had the same record (12-15) in the same month, and the Braves started and ended the season with losing months, so one month of bad play isn’t the end of the world, especially when it doesn’t count.

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People usually think that Spring Training is a time when players duke it out for a spot on the team, and while that is partially true, it’s really not. Teams come into ST with a player in mind for the spot, and unless another option outperforms him by a significant margin, he’s going to get the spot. It’s the illusion of a battle because, in the end, this is just glorified practice. Teams just need to make sure that everyone, especially the fringe guys, are doing their best to win a spot, and in order to promote this illusion, the team claims that it’s a battle for a final spot. In some ways it is (nothing is written in stone), but teams generally realize that a half month’s worth of at-bats isn’t enough to make a decision with.

5 thoughts on “Guide to Spring Training Performance

  1. Great post, Mark. Although it's sad that after this much time people still need to be reminded to not put that much, if any, weight into ST numbers.

    You would think by now fans could relax, watch guys get into game shape, and then start focusing on numbers when the games really count.

    • Mark Smith

      We're conditioned to care, which isn't a bad thing. When you're a fan and want games to start, I think we're all a little too overanxious to get going, and we forget the players still need some time to get going again. It's not a big deal, but we all need to be reminded of such things every once in a while.

  2. LarryAtIIATMS

    Mark, nice! Very rational, if I do say so myself.

    • Mark Smith

      Just following the leader. :)

  3. Taylor_C

    Who here has been to Tampa for Spring Training before? I used to go when I was younger with my dad every year, but haven't gone in awhile. Was always the highlight of my year.

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