Getting through the winter can be difficult for baseball diehards, especially if they don’t like football (thankfully I do and my Lions are good again, but I still crave baseball throughout). Sure the Hot Stove League stays pretty active all winter with signings and trades and the MLB Network has continued to improve their offseason programming in each of their three years of existence. Of course we diehards love games so even the best offseason is still only going to satiate the appetite at something less than 100%. The crazed appetite for game action can be problematic by the time late February rolls around and Spring Training kicks into gear.
What starts to happen is that even the smartest, most well-meaning baseball people are desperate to attribute legitimate meaning to the stats being accumulated on their sets and in their radios. Laced with caveats and qualifiers, we still see pieces every year suggesting that this guy’s Spring Training numbers are meaningful. I understand that you can find a guy here and there who changed something, added something or got rid of something and it started improving his performance as early as March and carried throughout the season. Those are called outliers and for every one of those, there are 50 guys whose Spring Training numbers had no correlation to his regular season work.
This preseason we were regaled with the exploits of Francisco Liriano and Brian Matusz and led to believe that their impressive 25-ish inning samples were indicative of bigger things for the regular season commensurate with their perceived skill level whether in the minors or previously in their MLB career. Liriano, on the heels of a terrible season, threw 27 innings of 2.33 ERA and 1.11 WHIP along with 33 K and just 5 BB. Time to return to 2010 levels, or better yet 2006 levels, right? Perhaps not. He has allowed 5 ER in each of his three starts (11.91 ERA, 2.74 WHIP) going five innings or less in all of them with just 8 K and 9 BB.
Both samples are small, I get that. My point is that if his Spring was indicative of anything meaningful at all, would he really just COMPLETELY LOSE IT the second the regular season light flicks on? He is literally the direct opposite of what he was during Spring Training at this point. Sure it is just 11 innings, but they are more in line with his 134 from 2011 than anything we saw in the 27 from March.
They’ve yet to find a word to describe Matusz’s 2011 (10.69 ERA, 2.11 WHIP, 1.6 K/BB in 50 IP). It was such a far cry from the minor league pitcher who earned a pair of top 25 rankings in Baseball America’s Top 100 rankings include #5 in 2010. There was a lot of attention paid to his Spring Training performance, specifically the 22/3 K/BB in 25 innings. The 3.65 ERA, 1.30 WHIP and 29 H were given less mention as it is believed that Spring K/BB correlates best with regular season performance.
After two starts, that doesn’t appear to be the case with Matusz as evidenced by his 8.38 ERA, 2.17 WHIP and 0.6 K/BB in 10 innings. Ten innings is nothing. But again I reiterate that if his Spring Training really meant anything, ANYTHING AT ALL, would he really lose every single solitary bit of that effectiveness now that the regular season is upon us?
Stop trying to attribute meaning to Spring Training stats. It will only hurt you.
“But Paul, Luis Mendoza’s 417 years in the minor leagues with awful statistics aren’t important, rather his fluky-as-can-be 19 innings of 0.47 ERA against players wearing jerseys with triple digit numbers and name plates that simply say “PLAYER NAME” on them MUST mean he has turned the corner at 28 years old. His 10.0 K/9 and 4.2 K/BB are probably not a product of competition, rather his new established level of production. His 4.8 K/9 and 1.7 K/BB marks in 1111 minor league innings aren’t reliable!!1!!one!1!!!”
Mendoza has a 5.59 ERA, 2.28 WHIP, 2.8 K/9 and 0.4 K/BB in 10 innings across two starts thus far. He is still terrible.
The reason there is some measure of correlation between Spring Training K/BB rates and regular season performance is because every Spring Training there are several stars who perform well. Guys like Justin Verlander, Dan Haren, Cole Hamels, Zack Greinke, Matt Cain, James Shields, Felix Hernandez and Cliff Lee all had good preseasons and will likely have very good regular seasons, too. There were others, too, but that isn’t surprising since they are actually highly talented pitchers.
Stop giving value to Spring Training statistics.
Enjoy Spring Training as the signifier that baseball is back and fantasy draft season is upon us. Watch the games and see if someone has added a new pitch or if someone appears healthy after injury, but do not check the box scores and stat sheets and then start adjusting your rankings. Roy Halladay had a 5.73 ERA thanks to 7 HR this Spring? BFD!