“I don’t want to create another one of these football vs. baseball thing, but you learn very little in spring training. Very little. Because when the guys are hitting, you don’t know who’s pitching. You don’t know who’s on the other team at the time.” — Glenn Ordway on OMF, Monday morning.
Jackie Bradley Jr., Chris Young, Andrew Benintendi get their running in. (Jason Vinlove/USA Today Sports)
I heard this a lot last year. The “you learn very little in spring training” narrative. So, since it’s the first official day of spring training, I figured it was a good time to address the subject.
What Glenn is talking about is basing his nothing to see here argument on is the hitters’ production during March. Pitchers are often times prioritizing their fourth pitch, while some hurlers who are giving up these hits won’t even be in the major leagues for a single day in 2017.
And sometimes the same goes for hitters. They’re just easing into things. Just ask David Ortiz.
But to say there is nothing to take away from spring training these exhibition? Wrong.
The numbers and production obviously don’t always translate. That’s true. Especially for pitchers. But one look at last year’s spring training and you’ll find plenty of examples where Grapefruit League momentum made a difference when the games started counting.
Travis Shaw won a job after hitting .417 with a 1.147 OPS in spring training. For the first two months of real baseball, he went on to hit .292 with an .866 OPS as the starting third baseman.
Jackie Bradley Jr. Hanley Ramirez. Both needed a springboard to hurdle uncertainty heading into the regular season and used the games in Southwest Florida to make their jumps. Confidence. Altered batting stances. The numbers were really good, but it became clear after continuously watching that group of players that this had become an important 50-or-so days.
Perhaps the best argument against the suggestion this spring training is an ineffective way to form regular season opinions involves Ramirez. Over and over and over again, the consensus north of the Mason-Dixon was that Ramirez wouldn’t be able to handle playing first base. And when anybody covering spring training suggested he might be able to manage at the position, the ridicule and eye-rolling was quick to follow.
But anybody who witnessed Ramirez on a day to day basis up until April could see this was probably going to work. Looking back, that seemed like a productive exercise.
And for those who suggest that spring training didn’t do it’s job when trying to figure out if Hanley could handle left field the previous year, understand that actually also offered some insight into how important the exhibition games can be. There were probably four balls hit Ramirez’s way throughout that Grapefruit League schedule, highlighting the importance that March is important to figure out what will work and what won’t.
You could watch Pablo Sandoval last March and see that his lack of conditioning was effecting his fielding. And during that run, it was also evident that Travis Shaw might be able to handle his new position better than anybody thought possible.
There are other examples.
Take last season’s spring training home run champ, Philadelphia’s Maikel Franco. The third baseman followed up his nine-homer Grapefruit League season with 25 home runs in the regular season in first full regular season. The year before it was Kris Bryant who went deep more than any other spring training hitter on the way to his Rookie of the Year season. My opinion? There is something to be said for entering the real games with some sort of swagger.
Don’t get me wrong, there is plenty to ignore when it comes to spring training.
Cesar Crespo made the Red Sox in 2004 after leading the Grapefruit League in walks. That led to his last 79 big league plate appearances, during which he didn’t draw a single free pass.
Once again, pitchers’ performances are almost always meaningless. Remember the excitement of Allen Webster throwing 99 mph? Or how bad Keith Foulke was before storming into his memorable 2004 season?
But to suggest this entire exercise is useless? Nope. And besides, those palm trees aren’t going to sit underneath themselves.
LISTEN TO GLENN ORDWAY, CHRISTIAN FAURIA, LOU MERLONI TALK ABOUT THE MERITS OF SPRING TRAINING