Hooray For Spring Training – But Be Careful

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After a long, cold winter it’s finally time to celebrate – baseball is back!

OK, OK – maybe spring training games aren’t quite as good as the real thing, but they will have to suffice for now.  And if you’re anything like me, you’d gladly watch a split squad game with scrubs and rookies than a Milwaukee vs. Utah NBA game anyday.

But spring training games bring a warning with them, a warning that every baseball fan should – no, MUST – heed.

That warning is this: don’t get too invested in the games. 

Already, only a few games in, there are some people on Twitter, on message boards, and on other social media that are worried about this player’s poor batting start, or that pitcher’s rough inning.  There are people who are concerned that the Angels are 0-4, and people that are overjoyed that the Indians are 5-0. 

Don’t get too invested in those things.  Here are three reasons why:

1. Player stats are meaningless

For the majority of major league players, spring training is a time to get loose and shake off the winter rust.  For the most part, big league rosters are already set and players aren’t battling for jobs.  Some pitchers take the spring as a chance to test out a new pitch, maybe see if an altered grip on a changeup can be effective in a real game.  There are some hitters who might spend an entire exhibition game trying to only hit the ball on the ground to the opposite field, with the goal being to perfect that type of swing.

If a key player on your favourite team finishes the spring with a .078 average, it isn’t the end of the world.  If your staff ace makes six starts, goes 0-4 with a 7.85 ERA?  Who cares!

Do the names Chris Johnson, Jake Fox, and Matt Hague ring a bell?  Probably not, but they were your past three spring training home run champions.  How about Luis Mendoza of Kansas City?  No?  Well, he took the ERA title last spring, with a 0.47 ERA in six starts.  Johnson, Fox, and Hague combined for 25 spring home runs, yet only combined for 13 regular season home runs.  Mendoza saw his ERA skyrocket to 4.23.

Conversely, Mike Trout only made it into three games last spring, and Ryan Braun put up a .213 average with a .719 OPS and 2 HR.  Both of those guys had pretty solid years, as did CC Sabathia, who slumped to a 5.00 ERA in the spring. 

Jays fans need look no further than Eric Thames, who destroyed the spring with a .987 OPS, only to fall flat when the games counted.

While it can be fun to look at them, don’t be fooled.  Spring stats mean absolutely nothing.

2. Spring records mean even less

The Blue Jays finished the spring of 2012 with a record of 24 -7, best in the bigs. 

The Kansas City Royals finished the spring of 2011 with a record of 20 – 10, best in the bigs. 

In both cases, fans of each team were excited heading into the year.  Comments like “our up-and-coming team is ready”, and “it’s a sign of good things to come” were heard in both cities.

KC finished the 2011 season 20 games under .500, in second last place in the AL Central.  The Jays, obviously, didn’t do much better.

Over the past 10 seasons, the team with the best record in spring training has won the World Series a grand total of zero times.  Zero.  Never.   Not once.  In fact, over those ten seasons the top spring tream has only made the playoffs five times.  Alternatively, of the 10 World Series champions, only two were able to win 20 games in the spring season, and five lost more games than they won (2003 Marlins, 2005 White Sox, 2006 Red Sox, 2008 Phillies, 2011 Cardinals).

So while it may be cool to see your team in first place, don’t get too excited.

3. The games don’t count – enjoy it

That’s right – enjoy yourself.  That is what spring training is all about for a baseball fan – fun.

After being in the cold and the dark for four long months, we get to see sun, and get to hear the crack of the bat.  And while some fans will say that they can’t watch games that don’t count, I don’t buy it.  It is easier to enjoy games that don’t count!

Think about it: you don’t have to stress about a 5-game losing streak, don’t have to worry when your team blows a late lead.  “Games Back” means nothing.  Stats don’t count towards your fantasy team.  It is a worry-free time of year.

So enjoy the games, and if you ever feel yourself being sucked in to the worry that comes with being a fan, remember this:

No matter how good or how bad your team may look in March, come Opening Day, all 30 teams are tied for first.

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