Baseball is back, and Spring Training is here! After a long, and frankly upsetting, offseason, most of us are incredibly excited by the prospect of watching baseball any capacity ― meaningful or otherwise. Yet even with the excitement that this wonderful time of year brings, the purpose Spring Training shouldn’t be lost.
With that in mind, join us as we attempt to fill you in on what to look for over the next month plus.
Sample sizes are so small that any meaningful conclusion about a player’s performance cannot truly be determined
Everyday starters, and players getting serious roster consideration, will get around 60 at bats during the spring. The small sample size isn’t enough to give an accurate depiction of what to expect out of a batter. Why? Among other things, the first statistic to stabilize for hitters is strikeout percentage, and it takes at least 60 plate appearances to do so. Ultimately hitters aren’t worried about looking for the perfect pitch with which to pummel, rather they are trying to get their timing down. Anything above and beyond that is icing on the cake.
Conditions for hitting in south Florida are vastly different from The Trop
The Rays play in a dome where there is less air resistance on the ball in flight, so clearly wind resistance is not a factor. Compare that with Charlotte Sports Park, where a stiff breeze blowing in can turn a home run into a routine fly ball.
I distinctly recall a 2015 Grapefruit League game that took place in Tampa between the Rays and Yankees. Then catcher Luke Maile hit a ninth inning double that should have left the confines of Steinbrenner Field if not for the wind resistance, which was enough to keep the ball in the park. True, that game took place in Tampa, not Port Charlotte, but you catch my drift.
Pitchers aren’t worried about setting up a batter for a punch out, rather they are concerned with staying healthy and building arm strength
Pitchers are focused on getting ready for the season, not getting batters out. It takes time for pitchers to build their arm strength. Dips in velocity are going to happen, homers are going to happen, and a pitcher might look like, well…crap prior to Opening Day.
Just ask Jake Faria, who couldn’t make it out of the first inning Saturday afternoon, throwing 30 pitches and allowing three runs on four hits and a walk. Faria said after the game he felt great warming up, but transitioning from the bullpen to the bench to the game mound was another story.
First time having to do that this year and just couldn’t really find a groove, Faria said. Also, he said he was “flying open” in his delivery and didn’t adjust quickly enough.
A handful of poor spring performances, prior to Opening Day, isn’t indicative of a pitcher’s regular season performance. A good example of that is Corey Kluber, the 2014 (and 2017) American League Cy Young Award winner. Kluber posited a gaudy 5.60 ERA in Spring Training, yet ended the season as the best pitcher in the AL.
Pitchers use Spring Training to work on pitches
The time for trial and error is now. Pitchers know that they should not spend their time experimenting with a two-seam fastball or a circle change during the regular season. That should be reserved for side sessions and bullpens, or exhibition games that do not count.
Spring Training offers pitchers a stress free environment to try out some changes that could be beneficial to his future performance. Case in point Yonny Chirinos, one the candidates for a multi-inning relief role.
Chirinos began tinkering with a split-finger fastball toward the end of last season. And while the pitch is a work in progress — he is still working on the grip — the new pitch looked good on Friday, as he retired six straight after allowing a leadoff single to ex-Ray Tim Beckham.
It’s still a developing offering, pitching coach Kyle Snyder said, but he does he feel a lot more confident in that than the changeups. … It has swing-and-miss potential. It’s a groundball option.
Sometimes pitchers will go out to the mound only throwing fastballs away in order to work on their command over the outer half of the plate. Sometimes a pitcher will only work inside and give up a couple of bombs from missing spots.
Players are going to make errors, and that’s fine
Cloudless skies turn poppers into doubles, and errors from players playing out of position likely would not happen during the regular season. Spring Training is a time for players, many of whom are untested at the Major League level, to prove their worth. Instead, watch how a player jumps on the ball. Is he quick? Does he have good range? Do his movements seem fluid or stilted? What about his arm?
Take note of who plays where and for how long
Pay attention to where a player is stationed. Rays manager Kevin Cash previously stated that he plans to move Brad Miller back to first base. Cash also said they would like to try Daniel Robertson in the outfield soon to potentially expand his duties.
As most of us expected, Matt Duffy, who entered camp healthy, will slot in at third-base in lieu of Evan Longoria. Hell, Duffy is even renting Longoria’s St. Petersburg house. I digress.
Duffy is expected to get as many early reps as he can at third base, and in the batter’s, to get back into the routine of playing regularly … like making adjustments on the fly, and getting the chance to rest at the end of spring before starting the regular season.
I’d like to get things kind of ramped up earlier than later, and not look up with a week left in spring and realize we didn’t pick things up quick enough, Duffy said. I’d rather be able to play nine innings earlier than be scrambling at the end of spring.
Watch for injuries
While minor, Brad Miller broke his pinky toe Thursday night, he is expected to play through the injury and not be set back in any way. Small injuries are to be expected, while others can prove to be detrimental, like Brent Honeywell’s season ending UCL tear.
For his part, Honeywell will head out Sunday to see Dr. James Andrews for another opinion on his torn elbow ligament. He said he hasn’t decided yet which doctor will do his Tommy John surgery.
The win-loss record at the end of the spring means nothing
The Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim went 19-8 in the Cactus League in 2016, and the Minnesota Twins sported a 19-11 record in the Grapefruit League. The positive Spring Training outcomes were ultimately meaningless. Meanwhile, Boston went 14-18 and the Cubs went 11-19, and both teams appeared in the postseason — with the Chicago winning the World Series.