Say it with me: Spring Training stats do not matter.
Again: Spring Training stats do not matter.
It does not matter that Jose Osuna is en fuego right now. It does not matter that Tyler Glasnow is throwing meatballs. Why? Because Spring Training stats do not matter.
There. I ruined the first bit of fun anyone had this baseball season. Let’s see, what else can I ruin? Snape kills Dumbledore on page 556 of Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. ZIP Code stands for Zoning Improvement Plan. John Connor turns into a Terminator in Genisys, tarnishing his role in the franchise.
Are you good and angry? Good. Now let’s talk about how you can’t trust the numbers of Bradenton.
Let’s start with hitters. Osuna is killing it. He’s second on the team in hits (15) and has the highest OPS of anyone with more than four at-bats (1.389).
So I got curious. Over the last five years, what happened to the top three guys who led the team in hits? To have a lot of hits, they had to have been given a good share of at-bats, meaning they had at least a shot of making the club. Sounds like a perfect description for Osuna. These are his contemporaries.
Just about everyone did worse in the regular season than they did in Spring Training. That is not exactly shocking. The sample size is larger and the competition improves.
The other part that was not shocking was there were a lot of duds in that group.
Presley won a starting job in 2012, but he lost favor quickly after hitting .220 through May. Hague made the roster the same year, and while he got a fair look in the majors, he regressed. Pie made it to the majors in 2013 after being absent the year before, but hit just .138. Michael Morse was DFA’d after eight plate appearances in 2016. Mercer held off Jung-ho Kang for the starting job in 2015, only to suffer through a terrible start to the season and a poor offensive campaign.
Snider was the only one to have a breakout season, and that was a one year fluke before regressing in 2015.
The OPS leaders of hitters who made the team in that same five year stretch were Andrew McCutchen in 2016 and 2014, Tony Sanchez in 2015, Gaby Sanchez in 2013 and Hague in 2012. That’s three dud seasons out of five. The other two were prime McCutchen and a platoon player.
Tony Sanchez is a golden example of the other way Spring Training stats don’t matter: the organization has given up on the player, and no matter how well he mashes in March, it’s too little, too late. Sanchez barely had a cup of coffee in the show that year. Morse suffered a similar fate in 2016. Michael Martinez hit .382 in Grapefruit play in 2014. All he got out of it was a cameo later in the season. Those three had some of the best springs the past three seasons.
Those great stat lines did not matter. Why? Because Spring Training stats do not matter.
Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum: what happens when you struggle at the dish during spring? The players with the lowest batting average and still made the team the last five years were Sean Rodriguez in 2015 and 2016, Clint Barmes in 2014, Russell Martin in 2013 and Pedro Alvarez in 2012.
Alvarez and the 2016 version of Rodriguez both finished in the top three on the club for wRC+. Martin was a little above average in 2013, and Barmes and 2015 Rodriguez were on the team for their gloves. They all contributed one way or another. Some were great.
Pitchers are a lot harder to quantify, mainly because this is their experimental time of the year. Glasnow used his two-seamer a ton in his start on March 18. It’s a pitch he’s trying to bring back because he feels he can control it better, according to Stephen J. Nesbitt. Control has been Glasnow’s biggest problem in organized ball and if he has a get-me-over pitch that he can work on, now is the time to do it.
It might lead to some ugly stats. It might even cost him a spot in the rotation at the start of the year. It’s the right thing to do and it’s the right time to do it, because Spring Training stats don’t matter.
Hughes is a classic example of someone who experiments a lot during the spring. Sean Riley at Pirates Breakdown recently ran a story about his approach, highlighting a few outings. He worked on problem pitches rather than just pumping sinkers in the bottom of the zone, regardless of how many men were on base.
He got hit. Hughes gets hit in Spring Training often. This is the third straight year his Spring Training ERA was over 10. The other two years he produced a great ground ball rate. He absolutely could do it again.
If there was one stat you can take even a little seriously for pitchers this time of year, it’s strikeouts. It’s not a great translation because they get to face backups who will never make the majors, but a pitcher still has to earn them.
From 2014-16, the strikeout leaders were Edinson Volquez, Arquimedes Caminero and Juan Nicasio. All three had good years. In 2013, it was Jonathan Sanchez. Glasnow is leading the spring squad this year. Take that anyway you want to.
The Pirates are fortunate that most of the 25-man roster was decided before camp broke. There may have been a competition for the fifth starter job and perhaps a gig on the bench and in the bullpen, but this spring was more of a tune-up. For those competing for a job, the front office is right to look for who is executing better rather than just going with the player with the best results.
When someone like Matt Joyce made the team last year, it was because he showed patience at the plate and a better swing. His good stats were just the cherry on top.
That does not mean Osuna isn’t going to have a breakout season. He had an .815 OPS in AAA last year. He’s obviously talented, and the organization knows it. That is why they put him on the 40-man roster this offseason. If an outfielder hits the DL, he might get his shot in Pittsburgh.
It also does not mean Glasnow is a guaranteed future ace. The control problems are still there, but he’s making a clear effort to address them. He was the minor league pitcher of the year last season. The talk of him being a bullpen arm because he struggled in his first few major league outings and Spring Training is ridiculous.
What does this all mean? I’ll tell you: Spring Training stats do not mat- holy cow, have you seen what Frazier is hitting? He’s gonna have a breakout year!