Nationals Baseball: The month-long slog

Tuesday, February 25, 2014

The month-long slog

Spring Training, how I loathe the coverage of thee.

There isn't enough actual baseball related news to fill the daily demand for stories so beat guys are forced to make do. They write human interest pieces on players. They write full articles about things that might be worth a paragraph mid-season.  For example, there were two meaningful stories yesterday - one was Clippard coming back to throw and one was Mattheus being looked at for an injury. Injuries matter. But ill-defined seemingly recoverable injuries a month away from first pitch?  Those aren't stories, those are footnotes you come back to later. It's not their fault. That's the job presented to them. "We need 3-4 stories from camp a day. Make it happen"  It's one I don't envy.

Along with my annual complaint, I'll get my annual warning out of the way right now.

Do not pay attention to spring training stats.

If you must you can look at just power numbers and maybe an increase in power might be meaningful. Might. The rest is noise.

Best springs at the plate last year? Bryce Harper (disappointing regular season), Anthony Rendon (didn't break out), Micah Ownings (now selling cars in Phoenix I think). Among the more disappointing showings was Ian Desmond. Ryan Mattheus and Chris Young were two of the best pitchers last March. Ohlendorf and ZNN looked worrisome.

It's not real baseball. The players are working out things and the players they are facing are working out things. They are playing against guys that might have no chance of making the big leagues. Add to that a small sample size and it's a recipe for stats that are as close to meaningless as we keep track of.


Positively Half St. said...

So noted. I can't help enjoying the games, anyway. I admit I don't read the stories as breathlessly as I used to, though. Every story that doesn't feature an injury is a good one.

cass said...

But they're in the best shape of their lives! And they've added new pitches! World Series!111!!!

NotBobby said...

the updates I like are of specific player changes in their game. Like adding a pitch and whether it looks to be something that can be thrown in a big league ballgame. Additional velocity, or decreased velocity for a pitcher. A hitter changing his swing. Stuff like that I love to hear about. the rest? meh.

Bjd1207 said...

It's hard to not latch onto every story when they seem so few and far-between as you said. It's like searching for the cigarette butts in your couch when you don't have the money for a pack (or comparable analogy with semi-illicit drugs). I appreciate your attempts to keep us even keel Harp.

My take on Spring training, look for things the player is/isn't doing that he didn't/did do last year. Much more noticeable for pitchers, at least to me, because I'm not nearly as well trained on picking up differences in swings. But for example for Detwiler, I'll be watching how often and how effectively he uses his cutter (supposedly found it this offseason). I'll make sure his control is what I saw last year before the injury pain, I'll be comparing his velocity to previous years (especially toward the tail-end starts of ST). I'll watch if he sticks with the slider (small curve? dunno what to call it) as the outpitch on lefties, if he's still comfortable using the change late-count on righties like he was at the end of his run last season.

Those are the types of things I keep my eyes on in Spring training, and hardly every look at stats, never at W/L obviously. My advice is to pick a couple players each game to watch, really watch. And focus on their individual performance

Sirc said...

This morning's Post main bar was a Roark profile by Kilgore that sure made it sound like Roark is a sure thing to be on the final 25. This is a paraphrase, but there were multiple references to preferring to be the fifth starter but a willingness to pitch from the pen. Didn't Kilgore just post his 25 man prediction, which did not include Roark?

Anyway, I think that it illustrates the underlying point of filler pieces. At least until Rendon breaks his foot or Gio blows up his elbow.

Merry Spring Training!

John C. said...

I absolutely, 100% agree with your point about Spring Training stats. They're small sample sizes produced under artificial conditions.

But I think you're reaching a bit on a couple of the examples to prove the point. Harper was "disappointing?" He tore the league apart in April and early May before he got hurt, and even with injuries by just about every available metric improved over his previous season. He was really only disappointing if your standard was "did not conquer the league and leave cities burning in his wake."

The same for Rendon. Didn't break out? He OPS'd over 1.000 in the minor leagues, and then after a total of only 79 games in the minors (only 8 at 2b) he put up a league average offensive stats in his first taste of big league action. And given Rendon's batting eye (as shown by his swing% in and out of the zone and his contact%) and batted ball profiles, he was unlucky to boot. Although I took no message from his ST stats, I was impressed by Rendon's first season.

John C. said...

And yeah, Spring Training stories are a bit of a slog. But how soon we forget - just a few weeks ago there was nothing going on, and we were pleading for ST to start! Let's be grateful that baseball is back in town, even if that town isn't DC just yet :)

Hoo said...

It's my traditional rebuttal. Stats matter as an indicator, especially for people that don't have an established track record.

Joel Hanrahan blew up in spring training and had a streak as an excellent reliever then a not good reliever and then excellent again in Pittsburgh. His stats were a good indication that the light had come on for him.

Ditto the following year for Mikey Morse. Huge spring followed by career year. Exceptions may prove the rule but their stats stood out and then they had opportunity.

That said, if Espinosa is at .220 with high K's, that's a terrifying stat and not because it's a change.

So spring training stats matter but less so for the established guys who are experimenting or just tapering.

Harper said...

+1/2 st - oh to be young again, mainly for the youth but a innocence toward spring training would be fun too.

cass - I've always wondered, who cares what kind of shape these guys in. Unless you've been so fat you can't do anything I don't care if you look like Adonis. Plenty of guys in good shape can't hit or pitch.

NB - I like it too but I feel likeit can all be summed up in one daily catch-all column.


Definitely like your take. I think being in ST and seeing guys can be informative. Requires the time and patience but you can learn. ST is about the only time I take spoken info over stats (but not over previous MiLB or MLB stats, just over ST stats)

Sirc - Maybe things have changed? Or maybe tomorrow comes the Taylor Jordan "even better than Roark" article.

John C - OK Bryce was a bit of a fudging, though honestly we can't be sure he was going to be awesome.

Rendon is there because people saw ST as proof he was ready to own the majors. ROY starts in eyes. He wasn't. That's all.

I'm always happy baseball is back, but nothing going on. Someone doesn't love the luge!

Hoo - I just don't agree. Take a look at last year. I picked on 5 guys who were surprising in ST and being touted as good players for 2013. In the end it was the two established players, Baker and Lind, who carried over success. Solano, Bradley Jr, and Robinson did not. For every example you find I can find a bunch of counters. Paul Goldschmidt big spring big year? Ok Smoak, Belt, Chisnehall, Moustakas big springs not big years. And that's just the CI that were around him in leaderboard I pulled up. Didn't even poke around.

Unknown said...

There are a few stories that might be filler, or might be well worth remembering. I'm thinking about Kolko's story on Hensley's rehab process; first I've heard about this technique, and we may hear much more about it if it's influence spreads.

Nattydread said...

I was waiting for this blog. "Spring training games are meaningless". We know we know.

But seriously. How can you not have appreciated the pitchers bunting/advancing-runners competition? Classic entertainment!