Your Annual Spring Training Stats Warning

The dawn of a new spring for baseball is usually accompanied by a warning about spring training stats, especially if run in Sabermetric circles. In general, spring training stats do more harm than good for a plethora of reasons. Here are a few reminders from past springs.

Lou Montanez (2012)

Montanez hit well last spring, finishing with a .901 OPS in 49 at-bats. The Phillies, not fooled by his .347 spring batting average, didn’t bring him along when they broke camp at the end of March. With Triple-A Lehigh Valley, Montanez posted a .423 OPS in 44 AB before being released in early May. He joined the St. Louis Cardinals, but didn’t improve much, posting a .665 OPS for Triple-A Memphis.

Placido Polanco (2012)

Many thought Polanco had found the fountain of youth as the veteran hit .429 with a 1.050 OPS in 42 AB. The success didn’t translate, as you may recall. When he wasn’t on the sidelines battling injuries, Polanco hit .257 with a .629 OPS during the regular season, a disappointing end to an otherwise successful three-year stint with the Phillies.

Ben Francisco (2011)

Francisco hit his way into a starting role two springs ago, finishing with a 1.106 OPS, tied for the team lead with five home runs. When Francisco wasn’t able to replicate that success immediately, his playing time quickly vanished. His PA by month went from 107 in April to 74, 47, 23, 11, and 31 in the following months.

Brian Schneider (2011)

Schneider gave off the impression that maybe he had just a bit left in the tank when he ended his spring with a .901 OPS. He hit .176 with a .502 OPS during the regular season.

Joe Blanton (2011)

3.19 ERA in 31 spring innings. 5.01 ERA in 41.1 regular season innings before succumbing to injury.

Cole Hamels (2011)

6.67 ERA in 27 spring innings. 2.79 ERA in 216 regular season innings, finishing fifth in Cy Young voting.

There are many more examples, and surely you could point out a few that work the other way, such as Roy Halladay‘s spring last year. Overall, though, you could just as reliably predict regular season success by flipping a coin as opposed to relying on spring training stats, though.

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40 comments

  1. Keith

    February 25, 2013 06:24 PM

    Valid points. All in all, spring stats don’t mean anything. Having said that I sure am hoping to see good numbers from the squad. Especially from the core guys like Howard, Chase and J Roll. And definitely from the staff as well. You don’t think we should be worried about Pap, do you? He pitched well last year but wasn’t exactly Mr. Clutch.

  2. pedro3131

    February 25, 2013 07:37 PM

    Personally, I think given his 81.000 era this spring we should probably just release him or trade him for a player to be named later

  3. Pencilfish

    February 25, 2013 10:24 PM

    That’s fine for established players, but every team has a few spots up for grabs on the 25-man roster. If teams don’t use ST stats, how else should decisions on the final composition of the roster be made, then?

  4. Phillie697

    February 25, 2013 10:55 PM

    @Pencilfish,

    Here is a thought. In the off-season?

  5. hk

    February 26, 2013 06:48 AM

    While obviously there’s nothing of value to be taken from Papelbon’s performance yesterday, I would not mind if they could trade him for a PTBNL as long as the acquiring team picked up all of the remaining $39M/3 or $52M/4 on his contract. I don’t think they would find a taker.

  6. Ryan Sommers

    February 26, 2013 10:40 AM

    As much as I hate everything about Papelbon besides the actual transit of the pitch, he is an elite reliever. We’re going to need SOME things to watch this season.

  7. Phillie697

    February 26, 2013 11:26 AM

    Ryan, we still have Hamels you know… :)

  8. LTG

    February 26, 2013 04:06 PM

    On a completely unrelated topic, I have visited the Phillies site a number of times and seen in the stats corner of the homepage the following fact about 2012: Jimmie Rollins led the team with a .250 AVG and no one else qualified. It makes me chuckle. 2012 was weird.

  9. LTG

    February 26, 2013 05:38 PM

    TMac on Asche’s diving play:

    “Because the ball was hit so hard, the feed was right on the money.”

    True + True + Because = False.

  10. Kevin

    February 26, 2013 08:10 PM

    It’s idiotic to use spring training as competition for a job. A team ought to know who it’s most talented players are going into the season.

  11. LTG

    February 26, 2013 08:25 PM

    Kevin, that’s a bit extreme. Talent is dynamic, not static. Players can make adjustments over the offseason. Teams ought to look at whether those adjustments show up in game play as opposed to in the cage or in bullpen sessions or in fungo time. What is important is not to treat a stat line as definitive evidence of whether the player has improved. Spring training is a case where watching a player’s performance is much more important than looking at his results.

  12. Pete

    February 27, 2013 12:44 AM

    Thank you LTG for injecting a little perspective. I think there’s a tendency to get a little carried away in rightly rejecting the relevance of spring training stats to erroneously rejecting the relevance of spring training itself. I’ve seen some strange comments by what are ostensibly Phillies bloggers who make it a point of pride to have nothing to say about spring training. While the analytical shift that is occurring in baseball is a great thing overall, gleefully ignoring spring training seems to be a negative, if somewhat unimportant, consequence of it.

  13. Bill Baer

    February 27, 2013 01:06 AM

    If “ostensibly Phillies bloggers” refers to me, I love spring training! I just know that the analytics aspect of it is useless.

  14. Pete

    February 27, 2013 01:33 AM

    Apologies, Bill. In no way was I referring to you. I’m genuinely embarassed to realize that my comment could be interpreted as a shot at you. Your work has my utmost respect, and that even extends to your decisions not to write about certain topics.

  15. Pablo

    February 27, 2013 08:34 AM

    I’d love to see some .GIFs of Browns swing just to get an idea of how it has changed over the last 2-3 years.

  16. Phillie697

    February 27, 2013 11:05 AM

    Spring training should be used to prep the players for the season. A good GM should know who he has before the season even starts. Granted, sometimes you may have a couple of youngsters who are on the cusp of promotion, and to a GM, they are pretty close to each other on the developmental path. In that case, a little spring training “competition” wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world; after all, it’s not like if one wins the job you’ll just release the other one or something. The same, but in a significantly less meaningful way, could be said about invitees who might be coming in to compete for the 25th spot on the roster or something, but I would argue that if you can’t find someone to fill that spot in the entire off-season that you have to hold an audition at spring training, you kinda failed your job as a GM, although in the grand scheme of things, that’s a minor gripe than real damage.

    Of course, I can guarantee you, none of the above applies to the Phillies. If Douchbag Betancourt hits .410 with 4 HRs in spring training, you can bet your life savings and your inheritance that Phillies will give him a roster spot.

  17. Jonny5

    February 27, 2013 12:18 PM

    Pablo, I’d say his swing is the same, it’s only his stance they’ve been able to change. He still has a Ryan Howard-eque loopy low golf like swing. He’s going to be learned by Lefties just like Howard. It’s sad but I fear true. My kid calls him little Ryan because of his swing. lol…

  18. LTG

    February 27, 2013 01:36 PM

    Jonny5,

    Given the video I’ve watched of Brown’s swing, I wouldn’t call it “loopy”. But, of course, I wouldn’t call Howard’s swing early in his career “loopy” either. But even if I grant that Brown and Howard have the same type of swing, Brown is still a much different hitter than Howard. Brown swings at fewer pitches out of the zone, swings at about the same percentage of pitches, and makes contact at a much higher rate. This suggests that Brown has better control over the zone and his bat in it than Howard does. One thing this could mean is that Brown will hit for less power…no surprise. It could also mean that Brown won’t be as susceptible to lefties as Howard has become. Indeed, Brown has not yet shown a platoon-split (caveat: splits always need regressing).

  19. Chris S.

    February 27, 2013 02:22 PM

    Spring stats or not Brown has been impressive early on, maybe he will still turn into the new face of the franchise.

  20. Jonny5

    February 28, 2013 10:21 AM

    LTG, Yeah and Brown has a best OBP of .333 in 3 seasons of getting chances. Howard can even laugh at that. You can pick and choose what is “better” about Brown’s swing, but it has never even come close to Howards on the major league level. Of course it would be great to see, but he’s failed every time he’s given a chance.

  21. LTG

    February 28, 2013 11:14 AM

    Dude, I never claimed Brown will produce as well as Howard. Nor even that Brown’s swing is “better”. In fact, for argument’s sake I granted that their swings are the same and distinguished their approaches. But again I never said that Brown’s is better, just different. You said that Brown’s swing will be susceptible to lefties in the same way that Howard’s is. I said that there are key differences between their approaches at the plate such that Brown probably won’t be susceptible to lefties in the same way as Howard is. That, of course, leaves open the question of whether Brown will produce nearly as well as Howard because it leaves open questions like will Brown hit for as much power, will Brown draw as many walks, will Brown make as good contact as Howard, etc. Don’t conflate claims.

  22. Jonny5

    February 28, 2013 01:22 PM

    Yes, I still believe Brown will be feasted upon by lefties once/if given the chance at a ML level. I see long swings like theirs as a handicap. It requires you to start your motion of hitting sooner, making it more difficult to lay off pitches you need to lay off of. When I described his swing as Ryan Howard-esque. I wasn’t telling you they were the exact same swing, they resemble pretty closely though. It seems you must have thought I meant they were exactly the same and I thought you were saying Brown is better. Is this my fault or yours? Not sure, but I don’t wish to “conflate claims”

  23. LTG

    February 28, 2013 01:37 PM

    If that is all you meant, why not just look at their swing percentage at pitches outside the zone? So far, Brown is better than Howard has ever been at laying off pitches outside the zone. He isn’t as good at it as Utley. And he’s around as good as Heyward, although Heyward’s numbers are weird (23, 28, 33 the last three years).

    I haven’t found splits for plate discipline yet. That would be the next place to look.

  24. Phillie697

    February 28, 2013 02:45 PM

    @LTG,

    In defense of Jonny5, it is possible the pitch profile that lefties use against Howard and Brown are significantly different; every lefty and their lefty mothers know how to get Howard out at this point, so their pitch selection will be heavily skewed towards what works, whereas for Brown, maybe that book hasn’t been written yet. It is still possible Jonny5 could be right once lefties catch up to Brown.

    @Jonny5,

    That said, your analysis forget one thing, bat speed. It is entirely possible that Howard was not as bad against lefties earlier in his career because his bat speed allowed him to start his swing later than he has to now, but as he aged and his bat speed slowed, he has had to start earlier and earlier, and his long loopy swing is now a real vise. Fortunately, Brown is 25… I’m thinking even if you are right, that problem may not be as pronounced until 5 years from now.

  25. LTG

    February 28, 2013 03:01 PM

    Phillie, if that were the case Howard and Brown would probably be similar in O-Swing% early in their careers. But they aren’t.

  26. Phillie697

    February 28, 2013 04:13 PM

    @LTG,

    I agree with your view, but I’m saying Jonny5’s view is at least defensible :)

  27. LTG

    February 28, 2013 04:29 PM

    Is a position defensible when the probability of its being true is 50%?

  28. LTG

    February 28, 2013 04:31 PM

    That is not what I typed. Here is what I actually typed:

    Is a position defensible when the probability of its being true is less than 50% given the evidence set available and its negation is greater than 50%?

    I got had by the inequality signs.

  29. Jonny5

    February 28, 2013 04:31 PM

    LTG, Brown is better at laying off pitches outside the strike zone by the eye imo.. I didn’t even look it up because to me it’s obvious by eye even. So yeah, your assessment of “far better” in that dept I think is spot on. But the fact remains that the guy hasn’t been able to prove he deserves to play for the Phillies. His ML numbers are terrible. His Defense is improved, but not to the point it needs to be even if he could hit at a ML level. He may have the tools to be a great player, but he hasn’t figured out how to use them properly as of yet. Much to do with being drafted as a pitcher could have something to do with that too. You know specialization in pitching has probably killed off some promising careers. Dom came to the Phills farm system with limited defense and hitting training I’m pretty sure. And his improvement lately defensively may be a testament to that. I just don’t get all warm and fuzzy watching him. He looks like future heart break for Phills fans honestly.

    697,I worry today about Brown, not 5 years from now. I worry that his hitting will suffer once pitchers learn his tendencies. It may not be Howard’s age that hurt him as much as what i just mentioned. Predictable tendencies.

  30. Jonny5

    February 28, 2013 04:40 PM

    Phillie697,I guess LTG NEVER plays the lottery….

    LOL. Hey, the odds of just under 50% are pretty damn good actually.

    All I said was Brown and Howard have similar long swings, I think it goes without saying. I also see this as a handicap. I don’t need to argue about it really. It’s OK if LTG doesn’t agree. I welcome it.

  31. LTG

    February 28, 2013 06:31 PM

    True, I never play the lottery. I also consider this a virtue.

    Anyway, things Jonny5 said before changing the subject:

    “I see long swings like [Brown's and Howard's] as a handicap. It requires you to start your motion of hitting sooner, making it more difficult to lay off pitches you need to lay off of.”

    “Brown is better [than Howard] at laying off pitches outside the strike zone.”

    Perhaps not a contradiction. But we’re getting awfully close.

    “All I said was Brown and Howard have similar long swings”

    Yep, that’s a contradiction.

  32. LTG

    February 28, 2013 06:38 PM

    Also, I didn’t say “just under 50%”. Setting the bar at 50% was for the sake of the epistemological question. As I see it, you committed yourself to a prediction. And so far the evidence does not support that prediction. So, I’d say the probability is well under 50%. I further speculated that the prediction went astray because you abstracted a swing similarity from the hitters’ approaches. This seems to me an analytical mistake.

  33. Jonny5

    March 01, 2013 12:35 AM

    Abstracting a swing similarity from a hitters approach is not an analytical mistake just because you think it. And my prediction that he isn’t going to amount to much unless he changes his swing is supported by plenty of actual evidence. It’s called an OBP and OPS nobody should be too proud of when it includes as a majority their minor league stats. Actually my “eye test” and your comment saying Howard swings on more pitches outside the strike zone are false. Fangraphs lists under plate discipline Brown as having a higher rate of swings outside the strike zone than Howard.Plate discipline -pitch f/x it goes the other way. They are similar enough to where I shouldn’t need to defend my stance. Do you think this is debate club?

  34. LTG

    March 01, 2013 03:14 PM

    Pitch f/x is more accurate.

    Again, I didn’t say anything about Brown’s quality as a player. However, I would say that his production numbers (as opposed to his peripherals) are tainted by his injuries (hamate and leg), which leads me to conclude that he has a very wide scope of possible outcomes. We just don’t know how he will turn out yet. Maybe his long swing will keep him from becoming an even average OFer, or maybe he’ll be Jason Heyward, who has a similar swing, for a few seasons or so. We just don’t have very good evidence yet.

    And, no, it’s not debate club. I don’t like debate because it has silly rules. But it is a reasoned discussion. Being responsive to evidence and not contradicting oneself are presuppositions of the practice. Maybe we are just participating in different practices. You want to air your opinion. I am trying to figure out what the best thing to believe is on the basis of the reasons available.

    Also, the analytic mistake is making a projection on the basis of one aspect of a hitter. It’s a mistake not because I think it, but because the results of hitting are determined by swing + approach + etc. (e.g., speed). Predicting results for hitter A on the basis of comparing A’s swing to B’s while disregarding differences in approach or other variables makes the analysis incomplete at best. (Hell, approach itself could be broken into components that could affect the analysis.) Don’t you agree?

  35. Jonny5

    March 01, 2013 04:31 PM

    Don’t you agree?
    I do, even if I don’t proclaim to be somebody who values statistical analysis, I value it very much. I just don’t find it necessary to drag it into every topic or use it to deflate a passing opinion of a fellow baseball fan. My use of stats relates more to my desire for fantasy domination and my own personal use to compare certain players if I feel the need.I think you may have a problem with people expressing opinions without stating statistical evidence of why they think what they think. I myself enjoy talking opinions based on personal experiences and what people see with their eyes, as much as I do talking about why fWar is more better than bWar imo, and how xFip has made pitching analysis much more accurate. Etc… I had no desire to get into every facet of Brown’s batting issues, I just had an opinion on his swing and the length of it being a negative impact on his game. It’s quite obviously a problem with Howard. Again, everyone can see that without looking up his fan graphs page. Stats are great in their own way, but seeing things for what they are have a value too. Just my take.And no I don’t wish to debate the validity of stats versus what people can see with their eyes. I think that’s a waste because obviously statistical analysis has the upper hand there. We may as well argue what “scrappy” means. Hey,I may be wrong when it’s all said and done, I hope I am and Brown turns into a great batter, that would please me soooo much more than being right. Have a good weekend LTG.

  36. Phillie697

    March 01, 2013 11:21 PM

    Jonny5,

    No one proves that they are ML talent by not playing. Unless you’re willing to argue that Brown’s “potential” as a MLer is somehow smaller today than it was before he even got one single ML at-bat, your whole “he hasn’t proven himself” is a non-starter.

  37. Jonny5

    March 04, 2013 12:47 PM

    “your whole “he hasn’t proven himself” is a non-starter.”

    He’s had just shy of 500 PA’s in the major leagues. I’m sorry but he’s had his chance imo, and he failed to prove himself. So far. Trying to pretend he hasn’t been given a chance is the real non-starter here. It’s the rallying cry of the people pining for him. With that said, Dom Brown or Delmon Young? I go Brown. Shane Victorino should have been signed at the discount we all knew he’d give Philly, then a platoon of Dom B and Ruff, with Ben R. and Shane V. isn’t such a bad OF anymore. Don’t get me wrong, I want him to do great, It would be great for the team.

  38. Phillie697

    March 05, 2013 11:49 AM

    If a player amassed 500 PA in 10 seasons, would you still call that “I’m sorry but he’s had his chance imo”? Total number of PA doesn’t present the whole picture.

  39. Jonny5

    March 08, 2013 12:59 PM

    But…. He had them in 3, not 10 (442 in the last 2 seasons). You cant change the facts to fit your narrative. He’s blown his chances thus far. I really hope he excels this season though. It’ll really benefit my fantasy team.

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