Spring Training Stats
04-02-2015 / By:
Everyone should know better than to get overly excited or overly worked up about Spring Training statistics. Come April 6, they'll be largely irrelevant (sorry about that, Kris Bryant and Mookie Betts).
But that doesn't mean the numbers are totally useless. Some of them might be providing us a little bit of a window into what's ahead.
Here are 10 examples of exhibition output that might prove meaningful when the 2015 season gets real.
A-Rod's slugging percentage. In terms of scrutiny and something to prove, Rodriguez was really in a class of his own at the outset of camp. So, yeah, his spring numbers mean a little more than they do for most veterans.
Though he's certainly getting more hittable pitches in Florida than he'll get in the season proper, A-Rod's ability to drive the ball has demonstrated that he's still got the bat speed to at least be worth a look as the Yankees' designated hitter (the ball exploded off his bat when he connected with a Brian Matusz fastball for his third home run Sunday).
General manager Brian Cashman said A-Rod has shown he still has "a lot of life" in his bat and body. Enough life to be worth $22 million this season? Uh, not exactly. But perhaps enough life to keep the focus on the field for the first time in a long time.
Mike Trout's pitches seen per plate appearance. The non-binding nature of spring certainly allows an established hitter like Trout to take more chances, but this mark is well below that of his career rate of 4.23. So Trout is making good on his promise to be "locked and loaded" on first pitches this season after establishing a reputation for first-pitch patience.
We talked a bit about this earlier this spring, but the simple fact is that for Trout to maintain an MVP-caliber level, he's going to have to adjust to pitchers' attempts to exploit his biggest weakness at the plate -- high and tight fastballs. One way to do so is to change the way he approaches them, and a more aggressive mindset early in counts might help Trout limit the strikeouts that clouded an otherwise brilliant 2014 campaign.
By the way, Trout's aggression seems to be working for him. He has a 1.378 OPS and eight extra-base hits this spring.
This is the OPS of an exciting National League Rookie of the Year candidate, and it's not Bryant. It's Joc Pederson of the Dodgers.
Now, I'm not asking you to memorize this OPS or anything. Pederson obviously isn't going to post anywhere near this kind of mark in 500-plus plate appearances in the big leagues this season.
But there is meat on the bone behind the math, as Pederson has shown a clear shift in his stance, keeping his hands lower in his setup. This has helped him post outlandish spring stats more in line with his terrific Minor League numbers than his rather unimpressive showing last September (.494 OPS in 18 games). His strikeout rate this spring is still only a tick below what it was in Triple-A, but Pederson can atone for that if he can consistently produce. The Dodgers have to be feeling hopeful about him right about now, and this all points to Andre Ethier being baseball's most expensive fourth outfielder.
Joe Nathan's ERA -- beefed up, it must be noted, by two particularly bad appearances sandwiched around a few good ones. With most veterans, you shrug off the spring numbers, especially in such a small sample, but Nathan is worth scrutinizing because of the Tigers' glaring need for better bullpen performance and their continued World Series aspirations.
Nathan is coming off the worst season of his remarkable career and facing questions about whether he's washed up and whether Joakim Soria, who has had a terrific spring, is soon to supplant him in the ninth. So, no, the ERA is not especially encouraging, and Nathan's fastball is still sitting in the 90-92 range.
Bryce Harper's walk percentage, through 48 plate appearances. It's easy to harp on Harper's power and his health, because those are both keys to this Nationals season now that Harper is expected to take on a greater role in the offensive production.
But Harper appears to be making strides in selectivity, and that's no small thing. He had just a 9.6 percent walk rate in '14, down from 12.3 in '13. Nobody's expecting this spring mark to suddenly stabilize, but if Harper matures in the discipline department, he can put himself in better position to get pitches to drive.
These are the strikeout-to-walk ratios for the two 26-year-old starting arms who could lead the rotations of the Yankees and Mets.
Matt Harvey has answered any question about his post-Tommy John preparedness for 2015, logging a 1.45 ERA and 0.80 WHIP in 18 2/3 innings. He had the Cardinals totally crossed up in and out of the zone on Friday (his 26th birthday), and he has effortlessly been hitting the upper 90s on the radar gun.
Michael Pineda is not penciled in as the Yankees' ace, but the concerns about Masahiro Tanaka's elbow and CC Sabathia's overall aging curve make Pineda, who has battled shoulder woes, a focal point for '15. Though it remains to be seen if his body cooperates, his stuff appears to be in working order, as he, too, has posted a 0.80 WHIP to go with a 1.32 ERA in 13 2/3 innings.
Jackie Bradley Jr.'s slash line in 16 games this spring. Yep, we've been here before. Bradley was the talk of the Grapefruit League two years ago, and he was a bust when the calendar flipped to April. Last year, he was given a legit starting opportunity and responded with a .198/.265/.266 slash in 127 games. He entered this spring camp basically a forgotten man, and there wasn't anything he could have done to win a starting job in Boston's overcrowded outfield.
Perhaps, though, Bradley is building up some trade value this spring. We've focused more on the potential movement of veterans Allen Craig and Shane Victorino, but Bradley's youth makes him inherently more interesting, and, while it's quite possible we're being fooled by yet another March mirage, he does appear to have made adjustments at the plate this month.
Opponents' OPS against the Indians' Trevor Bauer. Now, we'll quickly add that Bauer hasn't walked anybody, and that merits mentioning when discussing a guy trying to prove he can command the strike zone. But Bauer, the Tribe's mad scientist, also holds the rare distinction of having given up back-to-back-to-back home runs (by Jorge Soler, Javier Baez and Kris Bryant) and four triples in a single inning -- all in the same spring.
I bring all this up because Bauer's an important X-factor in the AL Central this season. I loved Will Leitch's dubious description of these Indians as a "hipster World Series pick." Frankly, I'm stunned that drumbeat has gotten so loud in recent weeks, culminating in a regional Sports Illustrated cover that, if we know absolutely anything about Cleveland sports, can't end well.
Much of the hope and hype associated with these Indians revolves around the youthful upside in the rotation, but it's hard not to feel uncomfortable about the erratic Danny Salazar requiring yet another Triple-A stay, especially with veteran acquisition Gavin Floyd likely out for the year. Bauer's numbers have to be at least a slight source of worry, too.
Opponents' slugging percentage against the Mariners' Taijuan Walker, especially impressive in an Arizona atmosphere where the ball notoriously flies. It would surprise nobody if Lloyd McClendon names Walker his fifth starter following Monday's outing, and it would surprise nobody if Walker quickly asserts himself as a star in this game.
The Mariners, a team with serious World Series aspirations, had a really strong rotation last year, but they were shaky from the No. 5 spot. Walker is a No. 5 with the stuff and athleticism to pitch more like a No. 2 to Felix Hernandez's No. 1, and he has shown that this spring.
Javier Baez's strikeout percentage. This area simply isn't getting any better yet. This kid could be a star-in-the-making. He's tough, he's fast, he's athletic. He also has his manager's backing. Joe Maddon dismissed the strikeouts as surface-level issues that conceal the strides Baez is making in the cages. So you could say Baez is the anti-Kris Bryant at the moment, in that his frustrating spring showing seems to be having no effect on his Opening Day job security, whereas Bryant's Home Run Derby disguised as an exhibition season won't help him avoid another couple weeks in Iowa.
But with Baez, the strikeouts aren't exactly a new concern. He struck out a ton in the big leagues and in the Puerto Rican Winter League last year, so there are clearly some plate discipline issues that remain in need of ironing out. Again, the Cubs see progress behind the scenes, and, though they could temporarily go with Tommy La Stella and Arismendy Alcantara at second base, it appears Baez will get the opportunity to improve at the Major League level.