Monday, March 19, 2012

The Futility of Spring Training

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Image courtesy of @DerekHingle
At its core, Spring Training is just a month-long exhibition. Sure, you could argue about the innate futility of these games in March. And as cliche-ridden as they may be, springtime baseball is a necessary element to prepare for the Major League season.

The thing about Spring Training records (and statistics even) is that they may be a little misleading. On the surface, the Blue Jays 13-4 Spring Training record looks impressive, but it's also something that should probably be taken with a grain of salt.

It's incredibly difficult to gauge in March where the Blue Jays might end up in September. There really is no set pattern that dictates how they'll finish the season. A team that tanks in the Spring might go on to win the World Series, and vice versa.

Some of the best springs in Blue Jays history have lead to successful regular seasons. Looking back at the Blue Jays Spring Training records, they fared best in 1985 and 1989 with 19-10 and 21-19 records respectively. Both of those teams went on to win AL East division titles.

On that same token though, the 1992 and 1993 World Series Champion Toronto Blue Jays went 13-18 and 11-19 in Spring Training. So you can see why most experts don't put very much stock in these Spring Training games.

It's also hard to get excited about individual Spring Training results because there are enigmas from year's past like Jason Lane and Gabe Gross. They tore it up in Spring Training, and yet they did next to nothing in the majors. Lane hasn't even taken an at bat in the big leagues since 2007.

On paper, it looked like Edwin Encarnacion had a banner game last Wednesday when he went 3 for 3 with two home runs and four RBI's. Then you'll see one of those home runs came off Manny Banuelos; a pitcher that spent most of 2011 playing for the Yankees double A affiliate.

So it shouldn’t come as any surprise when the Blue Jays starters beat up on minor league pitching from other organizations. Frankly, that’s what they should be doing … and I wouldn’t expect anything less.

I think these Spring Training contests start to get really interesting towards the latter innings of the game. That’s when the lower level prospects emerge from the darkness and get their time to shine in the spotlight.

While he started the game outright, Yan Gomes is one name that has garnered quite a bit attention as of late. Up until a few weeks ago, I didn’t even know who Gomes was … and here he’s played in nine games in March already.

As the Tao of Stieb would say, March is when springtime mancrushes are born. And after that 3 for 3 performance yesterday with three doubles, I think I can safely say Yan Gomes is the latest apple of the collective Blue Jays fans’ eye.

But once again, one cannot get too caught up in these “inflated” Spring Training statistics. Looking at the battle for left field purely from a statistical standpoint, it might appear as though Travis Snider has the slight edge over Eric Thames.

Alex Anthopoulos has said they’re looking for “quality at bats” from both of these guys. So whether Snider finishes Spring Training with four home runs or ten home runs is almost irrelevant. What it will really boil down to are the intangibles the coaching staff is looking for.

Spring Training is fun and all, but just take it for what it is. It’s not a barometer for success in the regular season; Spring Training is merely a warm-up for the grueling 162 game schedule that’s on the horizon.

It doesn’t really matter whether the Blue Jays finish their Grapefruit League schedule with a 27-4 record or a 13-18 record. For the most part, Spring Training is a futile exercise, but it certainly helps occupy our time until Opening Day.

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