Obligatory Spring Stats Proviso

Our friend Sam Miller wrote about spring stats yesterday for the Orange County Register. He notes, sadly, that most spring training statistics don’t exactly carry over into the regular season. Bummer, right? How many Angels fans thought Jeff Mathis was going to continue hitting at a .390 clip after his amazing spring of 2011?

Which isn’t to say all Spring Training stats are totally useless. One number in particular has shown itself to be only mostly useless for predicting future success — making it one to keep your eye on.

Research done by very smart people (aka not me) indicates a large increase in slugging percentage — more than 200 points over career average — suggests a player is prime for a breakout season. Last spring, Bill James Online highlighted several players who posted just such a slugging increase. Many interesting names surfaced.

Breakout stars like Matt Kemp, Mike Morse, Ryan Roberts, Asdrubal Cabrera, Melky Cabrera, Alex Gordon, and even Jose Bautista pop off the page. Of course, the names of guys who were awful in 2011 (like Alex Rios!) show up as well.

Jacoby Ellsbury might well be the poster boy for this phenomenon. After slugging under .400 over his previous three seasons, Ellsbury mashed the ball during the spring of 2011. He posted a .565 SLG with three home runs in twenty spring games.

Ellsbury, of course, went on to knock a career high 32 home runs (more than his career total to that point) and posted a regular season slugging percentage of .552 and nearly winning the American League MVP award.

Nothing foolproof and (all together now) correlation is not causation but at least it gives something worth watching during the spring. If a player on your team (fantasy or otherwise) posts a significantly higher SLG than you expect this spring, get ready to celebrate! Unless it is Alex Rios. That ship sailed, I’m afraid.