The magic of Spring Training. The dew-glistened grass and the crack of the bat. All the things baseball fans miss the most about the Boys of Summer come rushing back when camps open and the Grapefruit/Cactus League schedule kicks into high gear.

This juncture of Spring Training (most teams are about ten games in) is exactly when something else kicks into high gear: total and complete separation from reality.

After ten games – ten MEANINGLESS games – an ever-growing segment of the population is either folding up the tents on the season or planning the victory parade for October. Ken Rosenthal, probably the best baseball reporter working right now, is already freaking out over the Braves slow Spring start. He mentions slow starts at the plate for Jason Heyward and shortstop-elect Tyler Pastornicky, wondering if the Braves 1-10 record might be hangover from last year’s September collapse.

It is worrisome stuff, right up until the money quote from an “unnamed excec” – “I don’t think it’s reflective of anything one way or the other.” Good call, because it is not reflective of anything, other than dog whistle column to stoke the fears of sensitive fans.

The games are meaningless for a host of reasons, best summed up in two words: Split. Squad. The Braves have played eleven games, the Cardinals and Tigers just seven. There is a lot of talent in a given Major League system but enough to support two full teams of players in two simultaneous games? Not so much.

The quality of competition is diluted. In these early contests, most big league starts only throw three innings. Most pitchers take the mound with a very specific mandate that isn’t “get them all out.” The annual “Roy Halladay gives up four runs in two innings because he is throwing 50% changeups” starts always brings out the wackos.

Looking for a dead giveaway that spring results need a heaping spoonful of salt accompaniment? Watch for the coded language and back-peddling that always precedes effusive praise. “Well, it is only against one big league regular, and that guy only got his job because of injury, but boy! Did Player X look sharp today!”

The soft language says one thing and the hard numbers backs it up. The worst spring team in 2010? The AL Champion Texas Rangers. The 2011 Arizona Diamondbacks lost more spring games than any team in baseball. They won the NL West going away.

In keeping with the tiny sample-sized and wholly unscientific theme, I compared \the spring records of all thirty teams in both 2010 and 2011 to their regular season action. Guess what? It doesn’t mean much.

Good teams have good springs, bad teams have good springs. Good teams have bad springs. Most importantly, spring training is so completely unlike regular season in just about every way, attempting to draw grand conclusions between holding the Nick Johnson-led Baltimore Orioles scoreless and actual regular season success is folly.

When watching spring games, I like to look for two things: home runs and strikeouts. Hitting home runs is good, provided they come off legit pitching. Strikeouts, especially swinging, are important when it is big league talent flailing away. Are pitchers hitting their spots? That matters too.

Other than that..let Spring Training be what it is: a fun exhibition, an opportunity for players to work themselves into game shape and chance for the clubs to line their pockets a little bit. That’s about it.

Comments (20)

  1. 2005 Spring Training – Gabe Gross – 8 Home Runs – Blue Jays Franchise Record – That is all.

  2. Only in Toronto would it be acceptable or thought useful for a writer to explain why spring wins are meaningless. This was the blogger version of Zaun 101. Not to mention, the only educating this piece might do is make someone who was in realistically happy about the Jays’ Spring Training a little less happy. A worthy contribution from a Blog edited by Dustin Parkes. Careful, Mr. Fairservice, this article combined with that Vice article is concerning. The Parkes influence may be growing. You may be degenerating into a similar sort of sub-human. Using baseball merely as a medium to prove your own cleverness I can understand. “Pounding” a can of red bull on air and then grinning with absurd self-satisfaction, well, that I don’t forgive.

  3. In line with the ‘level of competition’ argument, not only are you facing lineups without a lot of regulars, but look at the teams Toronto has played so far: Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Houston, and Minnesota….

    Sure they have played Boston, NY, and Detroit, but the majority of our spring wins have come against teams expected to finish last or near last in their respective divisions.

  4. It’s cool that you tried, but maybe you should leave the stats and charts to the pros. Only looked at your 2011 data, and it’s way off. You plotted a team that did about .350 in the regular season, but over .650 in the spring. Which team was that? I don’t see one.

    The whole thing is off. Your plot shows a negative relationship, while in reality it is a positive one. A small and statistically insignificant one, mind you, but certainly not the negative relationship you managed to conjure up.

    Try again?

    • I’ve looked back to 2007 now, and in 2007-2011 combined, the spring winning percentage explains 11.3% of the variation in regular season winning percentage. Hardly significant, but definitely not a negative relationship. In fact, in some years the R^2 was greater than 0.2.

    • Statistics, the last refuge of the charlatans and pretenders.

  5. Clearly, the Braves need a guy like Simon Pond.

  6. Probably beating a dead horse here, but…

    http://sportsillustrated.cnn.com/2010/writers/sky_andrecheck/02/17/spring.training/index.html

    As you can see, 2003-2009 yielded an R^2 of 0.21. That’s not meaningless.

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