There are a few parts of the year that I always look forward to. Christmas, Thanksgiving, the Super Bowl, Opening Day of Hunting Season, and Opening Day of Baseball. However, the biggest enjoyment I get throughout the year is the beginning of Spring Training. We wait the entire winter for this. Snow turns to sunshine, cold winds turn into refreshing breezes, and my sanity returns to normal. Along with that comes some unreasonable expectations.
Each year the Orioles fan-base (and all fan-bases in general) are extremely excited for the season to start. Besides the notable pessimistic fans, most are generally optimistic for a fresh season. This is especially true after your team wins 93 games in the most magical season in the past decade +. However, it is important to realize what Spring Training is.
The one word I like to correlate with Spring Training is hype. Each year there are players that are hyped by the fan-base or media. Some of these guys might end up doing something during the regular season, but most end up an afterthought.
As my colleague Lance Rinker has learned in the past (sorry for the call-out buddy), players can be the king of Spring Training and never display any offensive production in the regular season. Check these hitter stat-lines out below.
Jake Fox: 2011 Spring Training: .297/.325/.797 batting line with 10 HR in 74 AB
Lou Montanez: 2010 Spring Training: .319/.360/.426 batting line in 47 AB
Scott Moore: 2009 Spring Training: .333/.373/.587 batting line with 3 HR in 63 AB
Jolbert Cabrera: 2009 Spring Training: .457/.469/.609 batting line in 46 AB
There is actually not a great example for the Orioles in 2012. Perhaps the closest example would be Endy Chavez, whom hit .444/.500/.556 in 36 AB. Chavez had past success in the majors though, so it is not a great example.
Some other examples from around the league:
Matt Hague: 2012: .400/.400/.800 batting line with 7 HR in 55 AB
Eric Almonte: 2011: .416/.438/.636 batting line with 3 HR in 77 AB
John Bowker: 2010: .312/.386/.623 batting line with 6 HR in 77 AB
Mitch Maier: 2010: .475/.530/.814 batting line with 3 HR in 59 AB
Mike Wilson: 2009: .261/.316/.681 batting line with 8 HR in 69 AB
Matthew Brown: 2009: .468/.527/.787 batting line with 3 HR in 47 AB
Zach Phillips: 2012: 1.35 ERA in 13.1 IP with 8 K, 2 BB
Chris George: 2011: 2.25 ERA in 12.0 IP with 9 K, 1 BB
Josh Rupe: 2011: 1.23 ERA in 14.2 IP
Around the league:
Yohan Flande: 2012: 0.73 ERA in 12.1 IP
Steve Edlefsen: 2012: 1.50 ERA in 12.0 IP
Jo-Jo Reyes: 2011: 3.52 ERA in 23.0 IP with 18 K, 8 BB
There are plenty more examples of this. It is important to remember that this is not always the case either. Some players DO end up carrying spring training over to the regular season.
A few things should always be remembered during Spring Training:
1. Hitters generally have the upper-hand – I’ve always imagined pitchers as a car engine on a cold day. They need some time to warm up. Spring Training is that time for them. This is not always the case as to why a pitcher will struggle, but it is certainly one aspect to always consider. For a hitter, they cannot simply pick the bat up and say “go”, but they do not need as much time to find their groove. Again, this is not for everyone, but I believe the general population.
2. Competition level is watered down – When a team has 50 + players in camp, it is obvious that most of them are not Major-League-caliber players. In fact, some of those players may not even see the big leagues. A lineup with Justin Maxwell in CF instead of Curtis Granderson is obviously going to be worse. It is also important to look at when a player is getting into a Spring Training game. If they are pitching the 7-8-9 innings of the game, that is usually when all the subs play.
3. Spring Training is a time for learning – It is something that I strongly remind people of each year. Some of these prospects will not see major league coaches the rest of the season, so this is a time for a manager to see what he has (not to discount any MiLB coaches, we all know you guys work your butts off with these guys too!). This is a time where a player can grow and it’s not really all about the numbers at this stage of their career. Sometimes it is more important for a coach to let a player experience situations where they fail and struggle. There is not a better time for this than Spring Training.
So remember, while Spring Training is exciting and a sign that Baseball is almost here…Remember that it is not entirely relevant from a statistics standpoint. Save the worry, anger and excitement for the regular season.