Tuesday, March 17, 2009

How Much Can We Tell In Spring?

I get excited when spring training rolls around. I try to catch a few spring games on TV when I can, and always check the box scores to see who is doing well. Then I reach a point where I stop and ask myself, what do these numbers really mean? What can you really tell by watching someone in spring training?

So far this year, I’ve been excited by the performance of a lot of people on the Yankees, especially some of the newer faces. There’s nothing wrong with a little unbridled enthusiasm as a fan, but when I take a step back I start thinking that I’m being a little overly optimistic.

Some of the Yankees best players have had horrible outings. Joba Chamberlain and CC Sabathia each had rough starts. Kei Igawa, on the other hand, has looked absolutely brilliant. Does this mean Igawa is going to be our new ace? The answer is an emphatic “no” but it illustrates the point that spring numbers and the results of a limited number of outings can be very deceiving.

CC and Joba are concentrating on tweaking their delivery, working on mechanics and fine-tuning themselves for the regular season. They’re likely to throw more of their worse pitches in order to work on the weakest parts of their game. These two are also starting the early innings, and facing some of the better hitters. Igawa is likely taking a different approach. He’s likely going out there and throwing everything he’s got at a hitter to try and impress people and show off his stuff. He’s also coming in in the later innings and facing more backups than the starters are.

Hitters vary their approach in spring as well. Some work on different things like bunting more than they normally would. Some will sit on more pitches to get a better feel for a player they will have to face later in the season.

The average fan like me probably misses most of the important stuff that should be looked at in the spring time. More experienced coaches and scouts can pick out particular things that a player is doing well or poorly and can get a better idea of a player’s progression. The numbers in the box score are by and large useless while watching a player firsthand can give some useful information. That doesn’t mean that following every statistic and scrap of information can’t be fun, but we need to put it in perspective.

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