It is very easy to get overly excited about Spring Training performances. Fans are so connected with their teams that when players do extremely well or poorly during the spring, fans get too excited, or too disappointed, too quickly. The secret is to remain even keeled about the statistics generated during spring games.
The Kansas City Royals have some extreme performances over the years during Spring Training. Remember when Jeremy Affeldt was 21 years old and made the Royals think he was the next great left handed pitcher? More recently, Remember when Alcides Escobar was new to the blue, he hit, what 4 or 5, Arizona home runs and everyone thought he had reserves of suppressed power? It is so, so easy to believe. Fans, especially long suffering Royals’ fans, are so anxious for something positive to happen, they put too much stock into spring numbers.
There is so much going on during Spring Training that can skew statistics. First, and foremost, the location and the facilities tend to inflate offensive numbers and make pitching stats appear worse than they really are. By all accounts, the dry air and wind really make the balls carry in Arizona. This will make hitters’ power number more impressive than they are. Usually, the teams know this and try to downplay inflated power numbers. Secondly, especially early on, some stats are accumulated by facing players who really aren’t close to the majors, both hitters and pitchers. Batters can excel when facing young pitchers who are just getting a look in Spring Training, plus early on, pitchers are still building arm strength and sharpening their control. Thirdly, there are a lot of instances where pitchers are only working a couple of innings and are trying to develop or sharpen a specific pitch, or they are working on location, technique, or the mechanics of a certain pitch. Sometimes, pitchers will go out and just throw the same pitch in ST games over and over. Well, major league hitters are going to tee off when that situation arises. That’s what they are conditioned to do.
The best thing to do in spring training is to ignore the results. That is a foreign a concept for a society that focuses on results, but it is prudent when it comes to Spring Training statistics. Don’t get overly excited when you see that a formerly light hitting player knocks out three dingers over the course of 20 at bats. Don’t blow a fuse when a pitcher the Royals are counting on allows 5 runs in an outing. It is all right to get a bit excited or worried; we are fans after all. Just try to temper those emotions by understanding the big picture of what is being accomplished.
The are some things to watch. Keep an eye on pitchers’ velocity as the spring progresses, especially Ervin Santana. He had some alarming trends in 2012. Watch and see if Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas are showing improvement in their swings. Watch Wade Davis to see if he is struggling to transition back into a starting pitcher, or if he looks comfortable with the change. You can even watch Luke Hochevar to see if they really did see a flaw in his mechanics that caused him to fall apart whenever anyone reached base against him. If established players like Billy Butler, Alex Gordon, James Shields, and Jeremy Guthrie struggle this spring, don’t panic. These guys are proven commodities who are just working out kinks, or are knocking off rust. Watch with interest to see if Johnny Giavotella can win the second base job outright, and keep an eye on Jeff Francoeur for an indication if we will get the 2011 version or that out of shape, slow hacker from 2012. Can Lorenzo Cain recover from his early spring hand injury and shake off his growing reputation as a player who can’t stay healthy? These are all intriguing things on which we can focus our attentions.
Always keep in mind that for the first time in all long time, most of the Royals roster spots are filled with experienced big league players. Most are not trying to prove themselves or earn a job. Other than just a few exceptions, the Royals roster is almost set. That is a nice luxury. The Royals won’t be expected to reward players who had surprising springs with roster spots they probably aren’t ready for yet. Spring Training games are not worthless but the results are. These games offer players the opportunity to work on their game and to get them prepared for the long season. The actual numbers these guys generate are not important, it’s all about the polish. As fans, we need to temper our excitement, or disappointments, and just enjoy the baseball. Soon enough, the results will matter.