Pay attention to end of Spring, not beginning
The best way to evaluate players in Spring Training is to pay attention to how they look at the end of camp over early performance
By Joe Frisaro/Man on Second Baseball
Spring Training is getting into full swing, as full-squad workouts are scheduled to begin Tuesday in Florida and Arizona.
The arrival of position players elevates the excitement levels for the MLB clubs, players, coaching staffs, evaluation departments, as well as the media and fans.
For the most part, players have already been getting into shape, and they’re ready to roll for day one.
Now in my 20th season reporting on Major League Baseball, I’m always fascinated by Spring Training, especially when it comes to deciphering what I’m seeing. The question I ask myself is whether what I’m seeing is real or illusion? Meaning, how much do I pay attention to statistics or game performance.
You don’t want to be fooled.
The most sagely of baseball evaluators maintain: Don’t put too much weight on Spring Training or September numbers.
I discussed this topic the other day in my interview with former Marlins bench coach Tim Wallach.
“No question, we’ve all gotten fooled in spring,” Wallach admits.
Even the most astute baseball observers have been deceived by Grapefruit League or Cactus League stats.
In 2014, Brad Miller, then with the Seattle Mariners, topped everyone in Spring Training with a 1.314 OPS in 21 games. If there was a Spring Training MVP Award, Miller may have won it. He hit .410 with four homers and 10 RBIs in 61 at-bats.
His regular season wound up dramatically different. Miller that year batted .221 with 10 homers and 36 RBIs in 123 games.
Baseball history is filled with Brad Millers.
Marlins’ fans recalled the Ruthian-like spring Abraham Nunez enjoyed in 2004. A switch-hitting outfielder, Nunez led all Spring Training players with 10 home runs, which remains a Marlins’ Spring Training record. He added 21 RBIs, and scored 18 runs.
Based on Spring Training, Nunez appeared primed for a breakout regular season. Right? Wrong.
Instead, in 58 games in ’04, he hit .172 with one homer in 64 Abs. The Marlins traded Nunez to the Kansas City Royals at the deadline for reliever Rudy Seanez.
Nunez never played in the big leagues after 2004.
When it comes to making player evaluation decisions in Spring Training, Wallach pays closer attention to how players look toward the end of camp than from the beginning.
“I think you take the later part of spring a little more seriously than you do the early part of spring,” Wallach said. “When you get the young guys, you know they’re competing, trying to win a spot. We all went through it, as a player yourself. My best springs were my first two, and it’s not even close. I was trying to make a team, and I had played Winter Ball those two winters, prior to those springs.”
Wallach had a celebrated 17-year big league career, from 1980-96.
“That is a huge advantage for players, who are playing winter ball before heading into spring,” Wallach said.
Veteran players, who already know how to prepare for the regular season, tend to prepare at their own pace.
“You know the veteran guys, the guys who know they’re going to be on the team, they’re working at a pace where they’re trying to be at their best when the season starts,” Wallach said. “They may be working on this or that, a pitch, or they might be working on a location, or whatever that might be.
“That’s why, once you get towards the end of spring, you can look at the at-bats, and you can see how they’re taking those at-bats. Or, for pitchers, how they’re attacking hitters.”
Back in 2007, Cody Ross was an example of a player who struggled mightily in Spring Training, but made an impact once the games really counted.
Ross was a mere 6-for-57 (.105) in 20 Spring Training games. In the regular season, he heated up, and batted .335. Now that came in just 66 games, because his year was hindered by a hamstring strain. Still, Ross established himself as a solid regular throughout his career.
“The veteran hitters, they’re trying to see the baseball, more than anything else,” Wallach said. “They may get into a lot of two-strike counts because they may be trying to work on two-strike counts. So they’re trying to get to that position, to work on it, early in spring.”
The veteran players understand the importance of building up to be ready for the regular season, and more importantly, how to make it through the grind of 162 games.
“You find out exactly where a guy is at, I think more in the last week than you do in the first three or four weeks of games,” Wallach said. “But you’re also watching and seeing what kind of discipline they have at the plate. What they swing at. How they are attacking pitchers. But, even that, you can get fooled.”
The cat and mouse game of baseball creates that extra layer of confusion.
“Pitchers don’t go after hitters like they’re trying to go after them once the season starts,” Wallach said. “They’re not going to show anything. That’s one thing about competitors, they’re not going to show you what they’re trying to do to you in Spring Training.”
2 thoughts on “Pay attention to end of Spring, not beginning”
Great stuff Joe! My favorite example was David Cone, who always worried the Yankees in the spring, throwing 82-87. One year I saw DVI in the opening series at the Stadium bd he sat on 93! Pitchers in particular work on stuff in the spring. Lots more examples
ooooooooooh boy do i remember Abraham Nunez. I thought he was going to be the next mickey mantle ….. take a look at our manager. He wasn’t the elite prospect in the yanks org, i still remember him playing in fort lauderdale and seeing his style, thinking this guy had something about him. He turned out to be a stud and a half. You never know who is going to be that guy. Thats what i love about spring training.
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