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Domonic Brown’s Spring Is Still No Guarantee

Posted By Bill Baer On March 20, 2013 @ 8:28 am In MLB,Philadelphia Phillies,Sabermetrics | 36 Comments

Domonic Brown is tied with Mike Morse for the spring training lead in home runs with six and we still have a week and a half of games left. The once top prospect had a questionable future with the team entering spring training, but he has played his way into an everyday job in the Phillies’ outfield. Aside from the home runs, he is hitting .397 and has drawn nearly as many walks as strikeouts (six to eight) in 63 at-bats. That makes this perhaps the most appropriate time to flash the reminder: spring training stats aren’t predictive of regular season success or failure.

Last year, 15 players hit six or more home runs in spring exhibition games in the range of 45-80 at-bats. There was no correlation whatsoever between their spring hitting and regular season hitting.

Note: at-bats were used instead of plate appearances because MLB.com doesn’t list PA with their spring stats.

Spring Training Regular Season
Player Team AB HR AB/HR OPS AB HR AB/HR OPS
Freeman, F ATL 78 7 11.1 .959 540 23 23.5 .796
Hague, M PIT 55 7 7.9 1.200 70 0 0.0 .527
Pujols, A LAA 60 7 8.6 1.287 607 30 20.2 .859
Boesch, B DET 73 6 12.2 .928 470 12 39.2 .659
Duncan, S CLE 56 6 9.3 .759 232 11 21.1 .676
Dunn, A CWS 57 6 9.5 1.005 539 41 13.1 .800
Gamel, M MIL 63 6 10.5 .879 69 1 69.0 .641
Guzman, J SD 65 6 10.8 .999 287 9 31.9 .737
Hughes, L MIN 66 6 11.0 .984 23 0 0.0 .255
Raburn, R DET 56 6 9.3 .994 205 1 205.0 .480
Ross, C BOS 46 6 7.7 1.257 476 22 21.6 .807
Soriano, A CHC 56 6 9.3 .963 561 32 17.5 .821
Trumbo, M LAA 58 6 9.7 1.030 544 32 17.0 .808
Uggla, D ATL 65 6 10.8 .999 523 19 27.5 .732
Young, Delm. DET 63 6 10.5 1.156 574 18 31.9 .707

Even if you remove the three players who didn’t get much playing time (Hague, Gamel, Hughes), the correlation doesn’t get any stronger. But that is a sample size of only 12. Let’s go back further in time.

2011 had only eight players hit six or more home runs during spring training:

Spring Training Regular Season
Player Team AB HR AB/HR OPS AB HR AB/HR OPS
Fox, J BAL 74 10 7.4 1.122 61 2 30.5 .756
Morse, M WSH 66 9 7.3 1.239 575 31 18.5 .910
Ka’aihue, K KC 58 7 8.3 1.306 96 2 48.0 .612
Gordon, A KC 70 6 11.7 1.187 611 23 26.6 .879
Huff, A SF 65 6 10.8 1.084 521 12 43.4 .676
Hughes, L MIN 65 6 10.8 .834 287 7 41.0 .627
Rodriguez, A NYY 49 6 8.2 1.342 373 16 23.3 .823
Trumbo, M LAA 74 6 12.3 .978 539 29 18.6 .768

2010 had eight as well:

Spring Training Regular Season
Player Team AB HR AB/HR OPS AB HR AB/HR OPS
Johnson, C HOU 62 8 7.8 1.182 341 11 31.0 .818
Bowker, J SF 77 6 12.8 1.010 151 5 30.2 .652
Hill, A TOR 48 6 8.0 1.371 528 26 20.3 .665
Napoli, M LAA 50 6 8.3 1.128 453 26 17.4 .784
Rodriguez, S TB 63 6 10.5 1.373 343 9 38.1 .705
Upton, J ARI 57 6 9.5 1.224 495 17 29.1 .799
Young, Delw. PIT 53 6 8.8 .986 191 7 27.3 .700
Zimmerman, R WSH 56 6 9.3 1.182 525 25 21.0 .899

With our sample size expanded to 28 players, the r-square between spring AB/HR and regular season AB/HR is .001. Interestingly, there is a .1 r-square between spring OPS and regular season OPS, but it is still very weak and easily explained by survivorship bias. In other words, players who perform well in spring (who, more often than not, are good players) both get more spring training playing time (and aren’t cut mid-way through March) and earn regular season playing time.

As fun as Brown has made an otherwise boring spring training, there is still no guarantee that he will enjoy tremendous success during the regular season. Hopefully, the mechanical changes Brown has made are parlayed into a breakout 2013 season.


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