Spring Training records don’t matter, right up until the moment that they do. When things go badly for a team during Spring Training, it’s only spring. When a team or player shines under the Arizona/Florida sun, it’s great! It’s all deadly. Swing changes taking effect, players learning how to win, great evidence of organizational depth, the whole nine yards.
It’s all bunk, of course. Bunk. Trash. Hooey.
The Kansas City Royals are currently undefeated in Cactus League play, sporting a sterling 11-0-1 record. This is, of course, attracting a
fair amount next to no attention, which is still more than it warrants.
Dick Kaegel of MLB.com caught up with several current Royals to gauge their feelings on the current undefeated run and, surprise surprise, they don’t put any stock in it whatsoever.
“Yeah, it’s great to win but it doesn’t really mean anything,” left fielder Alex Gordon said. “It’s like some guys hit .100 in Spring Training and then when the season starts, they bat .300. We’re trying to get our work in, we’re trying to get ready for the season. Yeah, we’re going out there trying to win and it’s good that we’re winning, but it doesn’t mean anything to the regular season.”
Bless you, Alex Gordon. You know of which you speak. Most of the other quotes feature players straining to extract value from an early run of Spring Training wins.
Great volumes of research already exist disproving the value of Spring records. There isn’t any need to re-create that here, but there is one very interesting fact which is worth mentioning. The differences between Spring Training and the regular season are obvious. The nine players who start for a given team are rarely still on the field for the last pitch. The pitch counts and specific work plans differ greatly from pitchers simply trying to get hitters out.
Morrow stuck to his gameplan and threw first-pitch curves to every LHB, he said. Mixed in a few changeups to righties #Bluejays
— Chris Toman (@Chris_Toman) March 6, 2013
Everybody knows this stuff and it is pretty damning for those who wish to graft meaning onto spring wins and losses. The games aren’t played the same way from a personnel standpoint and from an individual approach standpoint. Another key difference: the strategic elements.
Many baseball fans have come to loathe many small ball elements of the grand old game. Sacrifice bunts in a non-endgame situation are rightfully viewed as wasteful uses of an offense’s most valuable commodity. Intentional walks needlessly put runners on base, playing into the opposing team’s hand too often.
Relics of a bygone era or otherwise, they remain integral parts of the game, as baseball orthodoxy often trumps the rational or quantifiable. Such is the way of the game. Teams bunt and intentionally walk in pursuit of victories, looking for the key run in a high leverage situation.
Except during Spring Training, when all that strategizing goes out the window.
Entering spring action today, there have been a grand total of 24 sacrifice bunts. Only six teams have attempted more than one. The Padres lead the way with five sac bunts this spring, three executed by non-pitchers.
That breaks down to a rate of 0.18% of plate appearances ending in sac bunts. Spring box scores are generally unreliable but the 2012 regular season average is more than four times higher at 0.8%.
The 2012 regular season saw more than 1000 intentional bases on balls issued by worrisome managers, a rate of 0.57% per PA. So far this spring? One. For whatever reason, according to MLB.com. the Houston Astros issued an intentional walk at some point this spring. Worth noting: Baseball Reference just began tracking spring stats on their site and their numbers don’t show any IBBs by the Astros staff.
No bunts. No intentional walks. Isn’t anybody trying to actually win these games?
No, no they most certainly are not. Players are trying to get themselves into shape and round their swings into form. They are working on individual pitches or just stretching their arms out for the long season. That’s it. No wins, no losses, these things just don’t matter.
Not that there is no point to playing the games. Nothing substitutes for game speed, even if the focus isn’t solely on picking up a W as during the regular season (assuming, of course, that is the motivation during the regular season. Which it likely is not.) Stolen base attempts occur at nearly the identical rate during the spring compared to the regular season (using this tiny sample)
There is definitely value in getting some SB reps in during spring. Base larcenists can time new pitchers or work to get their own timing down, an invaluable practice impossible to sufficiently replicate away from game action. Interestingly, base thieves are less successful during spring (compared to the regular season) as they work out the kinks.
So Spring Training is far from useless. But please, please ignore the wins and losses. Not only does the cast rotate during the performance – they aren’t even reading from the same script. Take spring for what it is: nothing. Unless, of course, it is something. Then it is time to FREAK OUT.
Spring stats via MLB.com and