MLB: Spring Training-Toronto Blue Jays at Baltimore Orioles

Belittling Spring Training is easy. It is easy to build up an immunity to the banality of Spring Training, the increasingly profitable exhibition season that seems to drag on forever. Too many years investing too much energy is following spring boxscores and attempting to extrapolate team results from the Grapefruit or Cactus League schedule generates a lot of scar tissue in a hurry.

But Spring Training isn’t about results or immutable truths. Spring Training is about hope and joy. It is about winter-weary folks from norther climes hastily tossing wrinkled shorts and misshapen tshirts into a suitcase, sitting in the sun and basking in the glory that is baseball. A stakes-free version of baseball played as close to halfspeed as baseball can manage? Sure. But who cares?

Even the baseball-adjacent activities of early spring beats the pants off pre-playoffs NHL and NBA action. Those sports feature a conspicuous lack of sunlight, which Spring Training offers in spades.

So get as excited as your heart allows when your favorite team wins a bunch of home ST games against 2/9ths of a contending team, take the “he looks greats/he’s just working on some stuff” reports in stride, and do the impossible: enjoy Spring Training. It won’t be too long before you’re complaining about how much stupid coverage NFL mini camps get, enjoy the time in the sun for the scant minutes in which it actually shines.

Awash in the Data Stream

MLB: Spring Training-Atlanta Braves at Washington Nationals

The biggest baseball story of the weekend took place far from the sun-bleached backfields of Arizona and Florida. It was in Boston, during the Sloan Analytics Conference and Nerd Meatmarket that MLBAM announced a completely new model for tracking on field activities. A different flavor of the pitch fx/hit fx/field fx models that tantalized us in the past, MLBAM is working with a new partner to provide never before seen data visualizations and potential for player and play analysis.

This has huge potential for front offices as a means to better drill down into what makes their fielders great or their base runners efficient. Like anything in the data field, it isn’t about obtaining the information as much as making it dance. A recent Grantland piece on 3D real-time data in the NBA reveals the sheer amount of computing power and programming know-how to generate anything meaningful out of a veritable mountain of data is the greatest challenge in making these numbers work for the clubs that purchase them.

For a fan, it is a different story. Some fans might watch the Jason Heyard highlight above and marvel at the nuts and bolts adding perspective to his great play. Other watch the video and see a cluttered display distracting them from a great, game-saving catch.

No explanation of “route efficiency” makes Jason Heyward‘s catch any more awesome. Just watch it – he made a breathtaking play when his team needed it most. It passes the eye test with flying (diving?) colors. The game they love is already choked with numbers, why pile on with esoteric numbers and measures building towards a nebulous idea of value? Most people don’t care about value, they care that Jason Heyward made an amazing catch. The end.

But breaking down not only his reaction time and distance traveled right works for me and a growing percentage of the audience. It helps deliver context to my appreciation for the play and for the athlete. Adding this catch to a larger body of work will help those seeking to quantify Jason Heyward’s overall defensive worth. Does Jason Heyward’s defense help the Braves win more games? By how much? Stripping value metrics down to these details is a great way to bring more folks onboard.

How much, if any, of the data MLBAM decides to make public remains to be seen. This one-stop shop for measurements could potential unlock hidden gems and perhaps help players fighting the uphill battle against scouting tropes and biases. They say technology is the great democratizer and in this instance it has the chance to play that role. Who hits the ball hardest? Who goes and gets it the best? Who gets rid of the ball more quickly and accurately? Cold hard facts are about to worm their way into the codified language world of “scouts as gatekeepers.” Just the facts, ma’am. Just the facts.

Anatomy of Any Spring Training Broadcast Selected At Random

[Scene - the bottom of the fifth inning begins with the ritual sending in of the clowns. Nearly all starters or noteworthy players finish their day's work after two good at bats or so. The threadbare story lines and positional battle talking points long used up, the hot topic of the day appears on the horizon.]

  • Color Guy – Well you know Bob, skip has a whole new set of responsibilities to consider this season. The video challenges and replay system are here and they could potentially change the game.
  • Play By Play Bro – Look, you know me. I’m old school. I welcome any tool that will help the umpires get the calls right but I don’t want to see the game slowed down any further.
  • CG – [Reads video rules from press release]
  • PBPB – Like I said – I’m old school. Hope these rule changes help the umpires get the calls right. We’ve seen a similar system work with home runs and most of the crews
  • CG – Well, except the one crew that seems to have it out for LOCAL TEAM
  • PBPB – harf harf harf, that’s true. In the end, the players want the calls to be right. The umpires want the calls right. Nobody wants to see the game get too slow, is all.

Important note: this entire conversation occurs between pitches in spring at bat with nobody on base.

Paging Mr. Goodman…paging Mr. Feels Goodman

Yup. Still good.

RELATED

Sounds like Mike Scioscia plans to hit Trout second with Albert Pujols behind him in an attempt to leverage the best player in the game into some run-scoring opportunities with the team’s second best hitter behind him. With Kole Calhoun holding the early edge for leadoff, the everyday Angels batting order might look something like this?

  1. Kole Calhoun
  2. Trout
  3. Pujols
  4. Josh Hamilton
  5. David Freese
  6. Raul Ibanez
  7. Howie Kendrick
  8. Chris Iannetta
  9. Erick Aybar

The Angels featured a top five offense in all of baseball last year…somehow. The 2014 Halos lost Mark Trumbo but can’t expect to receive less than what Josh Hamilton and Albert Pujols gave them last summer. Does their batting order have a real impact on the total number of runs they score?

Unlikely. As far as situations go, I might want to flip Hamilton and Pujols as Trout seems reluctant to run when Albert Pujols is at the plate (hardly a scientific observation.) Maybe if Trout is on first, Josh Hamilton might take a pitch or two. Could do him some good. Also: David Freese! On the Angels! Wow. This offense will score a ton of runs almost in spite of itself.

Quote of the weekend

Trevor Bauer, in a rare moment of clarity, on why he chose to turn and watch the towering home run Dustin Ackley just hit off him:

“The only question was was, ‘Would it go over the batter’s eye?’” Bauer said. “I originally wasn’t going to watch it, but then I was like, ‘That might go over. That might be impressive.’ So I turned around. He hit it and it was like, ‘Ah, well. Give me a new ball.’”

Where were you when Dustin Ackley took Trevor Bauer into the desert? Bauer himself wanted to make sure he knew the answer.