In Defense of Vague, Early Spring Training Reports

It’s become a running joke on the internet for years now that X player is “in the best shape of their life” or “is adding a changeup in spring training” or whatnot. Without much to write about in early spring training, we see a lot of these kinds of stories. While sometimes they can be meaningless or inaccurate, I’d like to offer a brief defense of these types of stories.

Chad Jennings wrote this kind of post yesterday. Phil Hughes, following a disastrous season, worked his butt off over the offseason and came into camp in great shape. We’ve been hearing that story for months, so it’s nice that Jennings confirms earlier reports. Joe Girardi adds,

“I think his curveball has been a little bit more crisp,” Joe Girardi said today. “I think there’s more arm speed there. I think the ball’s coming out better. We’re gonna truly find out when the games start, but it just looks like he’s throwing the ball better this spring than last year at this time… He was hurt last year and that didn’t help. I can’t tell you what I attribute it to, but we know that (better condition) can’t hurt.”

All good news. Conditioning isn’t everything, but it definitely does matter. Major league players tend to be consistent in their conditioning regimes, so we don’t notice it all the time. If Phil Hughes did have a conditioning problem last season, it could have explained his drop in velocity, trouble staying healthy, and general lack of ability. He may have been one of those rare MLB players who got fat enough for it to really affect his play.

We’ve seen some other stories like this out of the Yankee camp so far, notably C.C. Sabathia’s lost weight. Weight is a very real concern for someone like Sabathia, and if the weight loss sticks it will mean good things for the latter part of his contract with the Yankees. I’m curious about how Alex Rodriguez looks, particularly in regards to his knee, and how Francisco Cervelli is doing following his 4th concussion.

So let’s not immediately deride these stories, and take them for what they are: small pieces of a big picture. We’ll get bigger pictures further down the line, but for now this is what we’re working with. When you have baseball fever, sometimes that’s what you have to settle for.

E.J. Fagan been blogging about Yankee baseball since 2006. He is a Ph.D. student at University of Texas at Austin.