On Spring Training Stats

I was going to write about who’s hot and who’s not in spring training, but after giving it some consideration, I thought that instead we should talk about why spring training stats can be so misleading.

When looking at spring training box scores, the key isn’t if a player had three hits. The key is who he got them against.

Spring training games feature mass substitutions resulting in strange and unrealistic match-ups.

The easiest way to explain this is just to show an example from a game. Let’s look at Thursday’s Mariners – Cubs game, which the Mariners won by a score of 10-3. You can look at the box score right here.

The Mariners started about half of their opening day lineup: Dustin Ackley, Jesus Montero, Justin Smoak and Miguel Olivo were all in there. They were facing a major league starting pitcher, Chris Volstad of the Cubs.

The Cubs used major league pitchers for the first five innings. Volstad shut down the M’s for three innings, and then Kerry Wood pitched a scoreless fourth.

Then the Cubs brought in super-reliever Carlos Marmol, and the Mariners rocked him. Ackley launched a three-run homer as a part of a four-run rally against one of the NL’s best relievers – this definitely made the Eric Wedge and his staff happy.

From that point on, the Cubs used primarily minor league pitchers. The Mariners tacked on six more runs against this crew, including a two-run homer by Rainiers catcher Guillermo Quiroz off Cubs reliever Casey Weathers – a guy who struggled mightily at the Double-A level last year.

There is a big difference between Ackley’s homer off a top major league reliever, and Quiroz’s homer off a pitcher who has yet to master Double-A.

I’m not trying to take anything away from Quiroz – he would be the first to agree with me. Quiroz has played quite a bit in the majors, and he fully expects to hit the ball hard against a guy with Weathers level of experience.

In Thursday’s game, eight of the Mariners 14 hits and six of their 10 runs came against minor league pitchers.

This one-game example reveals a situation that happens in every spring training game, from Florida to Arizona.

You can even see the managers adjust for it. Look at the boxscore again: both teams used their ace reliever early in the game. Mariners closer Brandon League pitched the fourth inning, and Marmol the fifth. Why? Because the teams want their top relievers to face opposing hitters who are big leaguers. Bringing in League to face a bunch of minor leaguers in the ninth inning doesn’t really help him prepare for the season.

When the Mariners assess their own players, they are considering match-ups. If Wedge sees Michael Saunders have a good at-bat against a major league starter, even if it results in an out, that will impress him more than seeing Saunders blast a homer off a reliever from Class-A.

Match-ups. It’s what spring training games are about.

We received some bad news this week: catcher Adam Moore, who I have pegged as Tacoma’s starting backstop to open the season, is out of the lineup with a small broken bone in his wrist.

The good news is that it’s not serious. Moore had a bone chip break away, he won’t need a cast and he should return in 3-4 weeks. There is a possibility he could be active for the Rainiers season opener on April 5.

The Mariners made their first transactions of the spring, transferring pitchers Jarrett Grube, Stephen Pryor, Philippe Valiquette, and Steve Garrison to minor league camp.

All could be Rainiers – we’ll see how it shakes out.

Here is what the phrasing means on these spring training send-downs:

If a player is not on the 40-man major league roster, he is “transferred to minor league camp.” At the end of spring training, the Mariners can assign him to any minor league affiliate.

If a player is on the 40-man roster, he is “optioned to (Tacoma, Jackson, High Desert, etc).” Usually the player will open the season with the named team – but it is not binding; the Mariners can still send the player to whichever affiliate they want to later on.

REMINDER: The Rainiers job fair is tomorrow (Saturday). If you want to be an usher, or a hot dog seller, or a beer man (or beer woman – we need a beer woman!), or a parking lot attendant, or a team store employee, or a stadium clean-up expert, or any other of the many gameday positions, show up tomorrow. Here are the details.

Links:

  • Geoff Baker has a blog post on Adam Moore’s injury.
  • Greg Johns has an entry on the first round of Mariners transactions.
  • The unusual early season opener in Japan will set up the Mariners for some roster shenanigans, as Larry Stone writes.
  • Larry LaRue has a story on reliever Steve Delabar, who is working to add a quality slider to his selection of pitches.
  • Carlos Peguero is working hard to make more contact. Wouldn’t it be great to see improvement there?
  • Here’s a cool video of Rick Rizzs talking about his job.
  • Speaking of Rizzs, he wrote about the career of Carlos Guillen.
  • Jamie Moyer looked sharp in his first outing for the Rockies on Wednesday.
  • The new trend in individual-game ticket sales is called “dynamic pricing,” and the Mariners are doing it this year. Cliff’s Notes: the Yankees and Red Sox fans who pack Safeco Field when their team comes to town are going to have to pay more. Also, you will save money if you buy tickets in advance – particularly for the weekend games. 
  • For those who like giveaway items, we have a fun blog post from an Indians fan about great promotional items (with photos).

Have a great weekend. We’ll have a news round-up on Monday, and then later next week things are going to heat up: I’m going to spring training in Arizona on Thursday morning, and I’ll have blog posts and twitter updates all weekend.

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One Response to On Spring Training Stats

  1. Paul B. says:

    Great write-up Mike. Definitely have to take all spring training stats with a large grain of salt. Like you said it’s really all about the match ups. Plus I assume that most of the veterans who are assured roster spots use spring training more to hone and tune specifics in their own game rather than to try and exploit an opponents weakness. I doubt pitchers and catchers spend any time scouting opposing hitters at all in these games.

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