People are always telling me statistics can be made to show anything, but I completely disagree. Since statistics are numerical representatives of some actual thing, they are merely facts. However, I think I know what those people mean. They’re saying that people can pick and choose stats to support their particular argument, and that I actually agree with. This is why we should all be fully armed with statistical facts to counter the next naysayer who decides to throw something out that’s wrong or misleading. Something like Alex Gordon has been one of the worst Royals ever. My goal is to help build your arsenal of statistical facts.
Spring Training stats have to be the leader in the category of misused stats. They’re wrought with so many problems that It’s hard to know where to begin.
1. The sample sizes are usually very small.
2. The outcome of Spring Training games is meaningless.
3. Players often use Spring Training to work on a particular pitch, batting stance or scenario.
4. Arizona is a pretty good hitting environment.
5. Coming off a long winter break, the players are just getting warmed up
6. The sheer number of players being rotated in and out for evaluation doesn’t allow a player to get into a groove.
7. Spring Training rosters are overflowing with less than MLB talent.
I could go on, however I think these seven are sufficient. The paradox of Spring Training stats though, is that they can be extremely important. For the Billy Butlers of the world whose position on the team is assured, they aren’t that big of a deal. However, to someone like Blake Wood, Kyle Davies or Josh Fields stats can mean the difference between a spot on the MLB team or a spot in AAA the difference between a starter or a bench player or the end of your career.
Spring Training stats are also the first pieces of information that eager fans and media get their hands on. Who’s looking good? Who’s rusty? Which pitcher has the line on that 5th spot in the rotation? And so on. Arguments are made on behalf of guys, and careers are deemed to be over based on a handful of innings or at bats with the ever present problems outlined above. So people refute the arguments with something like Spring Trainings stats are worthless.
So then the real argument begins over whether Spring Training stats are completely worthless or a harbinger of what is to come. To be honest, I believe the truth lies somewhere in the middle. We all know that a bad Spring Training does not necessarily mean that a player will have a bad season forth coming. There are literally hundreds of stories of players who had terrible Spring Training stats and then tore it up in the regular season. Of course there are just as many stories on the flip-side, where the player with the bang up spring couldn’t find his way in the regular season.
Statistics do have some value to them. With all of the caveats above, we need to be aware that what we are dealing with are very flawed stats, but flawed does not mean worthless. Take them with a grain of salt. In every stat there is a story to be told, and just like any other story, it could be completely misleading or an indicator of a larger truth.
So with all of that said, let’s take a look at the Royals Spring Training stats*. What you will find below is a standard table of statistics, but with various colors. If you’ve read many of my blog posts at Broken Bat Single you know that I love heat charts. More likely you will be reading my work for the first time here at Royals Authority, so I want to take a quick second to explain the heat charts. In each column the red colored item is the best on the team in that category, green is the worst and yellow is in the middle. For example, the position players chart below is sorted by most to least AB, so you can see Butler has the most and his square is red, while Moustakas has the least and is green. As the numbers decrease the shade of color changes to reflect the players rank in that category. The idea is to give some visual clues as to who is doing well at what without having to look at each individual number or having to sort each column.
*Stats include all games played through March 15th
First, lets take a look at the position players. The chart is sorted by AB, and I cut off the # of players at 25.
Billy Butler, David Dejesus and Alberto Callaspo have some of the best hitting stats on the team, which is the first indication that spring stats are not completely worthless. However, on the other hand Yuniesky Betancourt has an OPS of .921. The thing that really jumps out at me is how good of a spring Mitch Maier and Kila Kaaihue are having. Podsednik having a 50% success rate at stealing bases is another interesting, but not surprising item. Wilson Betamit and Irving Falu have been in the most games this spring.
Now the pitchers. This table is sorted by IP. For SO/BB I assumed that zero walks were one walk, so that I could avoid dividing by zero.
Greinke leads the royals in nearly every pitching category, so again it means that Spring Training numbers do mean something. However the sample size for pitchers is even smaller than for the position players so these are even less representative of accurate numbers. Davies and Tejeda are getting the most innings so that the Royals can try and figure out who should be the 5th starter, and so far neither has been good. However Tejeda has been striking guys out and has a better overall ERA than Davies so far. Bannister has yet to walk a guy, which is good considering he relies on his control more than any other pitcher on the staff. Ramon Colon is putting up some fantastic numbers in his time on the mound. Lerew (a personal favorite of mine), has a great SO/BB ratio, but has been torched.
I love finding the stories hidden in the statistics, and Spring Training stats are no exception. I hope the heat chart helped you visualize the information in a new way. Are there any particular numbers that stand out to you? Let me know in the comments below.
Nick blogs and podcasts about the Royals at Broken Bat Single and welcomes feedback via Twitter (@brokenbatsingle) and e-mail (brokenbatsingle [AT] gmail [DOT] com)