Depending on your narrative you can take the paint that is Spring Training games and create just about whatever picture you want to. So how can you tell the difference between real player progress and taking advantage of players working on something?
First of all, ignore the scores entirely. Just yesterday the Pirates scored 13 runs and had one inning shut down or “rolled over” while they had runners on 2nd and 3rd with one out. So they truly could have scored even more.
MLB has changed the way Spring Training is executed and I get it, but as soon as you play games with, well, the game, it becomes very difficult to take anything real from the scores.
Oh I still enjoyed the hell out of it, it’s been forever since I watched the Pirates in any form beat the tar out of an opponent. That said, you’d hardly call this club a juggernaut because they just laid 13 on the real worst team in MLB this year in a meaningless Spring game.
How about pitching? Can we take anything from how the pitchers perform? I mean I’ve heard we can’t because the pitchers are all working on different things and aren’t trying to pitch like they would in a game. For instance, the goal in a particular game might be to work on the curveball, specifically the control aspect of the pitch. So the pitcher might throw 3 or 4 curveballs in a row and the last one gets hammered into the wind for a homerun. So, how can we tell what’s worthy of note?
The simple answer is, just about everything needs to be viewed a bit sideways. For instance, Kyle Crick had up until yesterday not ticked his fastball above 92 MPH, a huge issue for his chances of making the club. He needs to be able to pop that velo at 94-96 to get the slider to play. In yesterday’s contest he hit 94 for the first time this Spring and after the contest we heard that the coaching staff intentionally told him to not go full bore in his first two outings.
So, what was a story (his low velo) is not just doing what the coaches told him to do. Even if he never hits 94 again this Spring, we can no longer say he isn’t capable of it. We can still feel he’s ultimately an ineffective pitcher, but this is just one example of when Spring is just Spring.
Now what about something positive like the way Ke’Bryan Hayes has beat the bejesus out of the ball from the first game of Spring? Well, while it is true he is facing pitchers who could very well be working on something it’s also worth noting that Key isn’t just hitting fat fastballs, he’s taking all kinds of pitches, to all parts of the ballpark and doing it with authority. In other words, even if the pitchers are working on something, it’s not like they told Key before he stepped in the batter’s box, and he isn’t missing.
What this results in for me, is a general feeling that Hayes is ready, and the way he hit the ball wasn’t a fluke in 2020. But, you probably won’t see me quoting his batting average.
Adam Frazier made his debut in yesterday’s game and performed well, do we just ignore that or accept it for what it is? Adam saw 7 different pitch types during his at bats in the contest and he performed. One of his hits came against a player who most assuredly won’t be an Oriole on April 1st, and one came off their closest approximation to an ace.
The reason Spring stats are so suspect didn’t just start with MLB jerking the rules around for 2021, but if you have evaluated Spring stats for any length of time it also hasn’t changed much for you.
How about Bryan Reynolds, he’s batting .250 so far, time to panic right? Not really, he’s making good contact and he’s drawn 3 walks to go along with his two hits. This is the balance that Reynolds lost last year. Part of what makes him such a good hitter is his ability to spit on bad pitches until he sees something he likes. When he’s really on he has some Wade Boggs in him, meaning he’ll foul off perfectly good pitches trying to get to one he really wants to hammer or, he’ll take his walk. That’s what we’ve seen so far this Spring.
The stat line isn’t sexy, yet. Get to July 4th with an OBP of .455 and see how people talk about him though.
The point is, in Spring, take every stat with a grain of salt and consider at least that something funky could be going on before deciding someone is a bum or superstar.