Spring training is coming to a close, which means we have 50-80 at bats to consider. I know what you’re thinking, because it’s conventional wisdom: “It’s just spring training. Those stats don’t mean anything.”
This is certainly true to a point. A great spring training doesn’t guarantee a great year any more than a poor spring training means the season is lost. But spring training stats do mean something, so don’t disregard them entirely. They mean more than the nothing you’ve been told. I’ll share a few things to look for as you make your final tweaks to your Opening Day rosters.
First, the primary thing that can be taken away from spring training is that it can help us determine a player’s opportunity to get at bats.
For as much talk around the accuracy of player projections, it shouldn’t be forgotten that projections are only as good as the estimate of the number of at bats a player receives. Guaranteed at bats and playing time are particularly a consideration when drafting later round players. If a player isn’t getting playing time, then he’s not contributing stats for your fantasy team. Opportunity matters.
Taking a gamble on a player like Domonic Brown is a calculated guess using evidence from his strong spring. Taking all skill out of the equation, we now know he will see opportunities to swing the bat this season.
There is the argument that most fantasy players know guys are going to get playing time because of injuries or roster depth even before spring training starts. Valid argument. But that is confirmed during spring, plus you get an idea of how they’ll fit into their teams’ offense. There are things that you can speculate on prior to spring training, but are confirmed over the six week during spring training.
Spring training offers a sanity check against rumors flying around. When Mike Trout reported to camp having added 20 pounds of muscle, the rumors immediately began flying around the internet that he was now too big to steal bases. The idea was that he was too heavy and that his speed would decrease, which would lead to a drop in steals, a huge fantasy asset.
Mike Trout has 6 spring training steals. It’s foolishness to project those out as a regular season estimate. That’s not how it works. But what it does show us is that he’s running just fine. Concerns about his size were hyped and overblown. Spring put those fears to rest.
A quick glance at spring training stats can serve as evidence to either confirm or deny the stories floating around about players and their skills.
Speaking of steals, Ezequiel Carrera has 11 spring stolen bases. Exactly who is Ezequiel Carrera, you ask? He’s a young outfielder for the Cleveland Indians who will not make the team and who realistically has the ceiling of a fourth outfielder. But he clearly has speed, so scratch his name down for future reference. If an opportunity arrises due to injury or he simply gets a September call, you have a candidate for cheap late-season steals.
Jackie Bradley and Yasiel Puig are others examples after their strong springs. Puig has already been sent down and Bradley is likely next. But pocket the list, and use it for future reference. You’ve just done some cheap scouting for potential second half value on your fantasy baseball team.
A player’s offseason preparation – or lack there of –is revealed to everyone during spring training. Ask yourself ‘why’ when a player is performing either unexpectedly worse or better during spring training. Did they change their batting stance? Are they trying a new pitch? Avoid the “best shape of their life” clichés, but do ask why. The answer to the why question can indicate if a good or bad spring training is a long-term change or “just spring training stats.”
The rule of thumb is that “best shape of my life” rarely is an indicator that translates into a full season of improvement at the plate. Likewise, “fixed a hole in his swing” has dubious long-term success. But when you hear that a pitcher has “added a new pitch” you’d be be wise to pay attention. That can often be more than mere noise. These things can be seen during spring training.
Again, no one is saying that there is a direct correlation between spring training stats and season long success. In that regard, those who say that “they are just spring training stats” are correct. But spring training stats are useful in determining opportunity, to test the validity of rumors, to scout future value, and to judge a player’s new approach. In short, spring training stats mean something, which is more than nothing.