Hello, dear reader. Did you know that spring training stats are kind of silly? Did you know that they really don’t mean much? You probably knew that stuff, but did you also know that these same stats are the most pliable numerical substance known to man?
Brandon Belt is hitting .400 this spring: He’s probably going to hit .400 this season, win a couple of Silver Slugger awards, and finish third in MVP voting.
Matt Cain’s ERA is 6.75: PANIC, except, lol no. Matt Cain hasn’t finished a season with an ERA over 4.00 since 2006 (4.15). And he’s never finished a season with an ‘ERA of 4.50. He’ll be fine.
Brandon Belt is hitting .400 because he’s good at not beating up on A-level pitchers. Matt Cain has a high ERA because he’s been unlucky and he’s pitched less than 10 innings
See! Pliable! It’s like numerical mayonnaise. You can spread it on anything and it’s good. (Unless you’re some sort of mayonnaise hating monster, then I’ve got no room for you in my life.)
The thing I love about numbers is that they are almost always — when taken in context and used properly — informative, instructive, and valuable. There’s that stupid Mark Twain quote that people who, a) neither understand Mark Twain or b) understand how statistics work, like to bring out when making arguments, but the point stands — numbers are really cool, guys. Spring training numbers, however, aren’t as cool. We all know the problems inherent in drawing conclusions from spring training numbers. We know that the numbers are jammed with problems. Take varying levels of competition, the general randomness of baseball, and cram them into “live” hitting environments while also rolling in small samples and you’ve got, essentially, spring training statistics.
Of course the numbers themselves aren’t totally worthless, but when looking at things like AVG, SLG, ERA, Ks, BBs, or whatever, it’s best to not look at them and make any grand proclamations In other words: we shouldn’t give a crap if Brett Pill is slugging over .800 this spring. And, inversely, we shouldn’t care about Matt Cain’s ERA. We just shouldn’t. Because it’s silly.
So in essence, this is pretty much the yearly “don’t freak out about spring stats” post. If you want to try and project players, you’re better off just taking a weighted average of a player’s past three seasons, throwing in an aging adjustment, and go on.
Hooray for baseball being back. Hooray for hearing Jon Miller and Duane Kuiper on the radio again. Hooray for all that stuff. Just ignore most of the numbers. You’ll be happier that way. Though, if Brandon Belt is still hitting .400 at the end of spring I’m calling an MVP award in his future.