I forgot how much I enjoy spring training.
My knee-jerk reaction is always "who cares?" The games don't matter; even the individual performances don't matter much. On the surface, it would seem like the most essential elements from a baseball season are absent from spring training.
But gone also is the stress and frustration of the regular season. That stuff is the price of the joy that comes with winning, but come on... it still sucks. And I think there's a danger - perhaps now more than ever, when we can calculate every on-field action into some fragment of a win - that winning begins to feel like the only thing that matters.
Or, as Patrick Dubuque put it in a post that got me thinking about this in the first place:
The real problem with baseball, the thing that drives it to inhumanity, is the winning.
It's a particularly salient moment to ponder this for Cardinals fans, as we are on the brink of our longest stretch of "not-winning" in 20-years. (I know, "boo-hoo. Poor Cardinals fans" Hey, shut up! This is a Cardinals blog. What are you even doing here anyway?)
At the risk of getting a little too Hashtag Blessed, I wanted to take a moment this morning to list a few of the things I've enjoyed about baseball in the Matheny era outside of winning, because the Cardinals haven't been doing enough of that because he sucks at his job and-NO, keep it positive. Here we go:
It's easy to forget just what an out-of-nowhere player Matt Carpenter was. He was a 13th round draft pick after playing as a 5th year senior at TCU. Even after his first cup of coffee in 2011, coming into 2012, he was ranked 12th in the Cardinals system - a B- prospect with good contact but not much else. He was already 26-years-old.
I remember watching Carpenter play in the minors when they would roll through Des Moines. And I remember thinking, man, that guy makes great contact and seems to have fairly good skills across-the-board. It's too bad he doesn't hit for enough power to play a corner and he's an old guy who's never going anywhere.
And then of course, Carpenter became the best Cardinal hitter of this decade, adding power, running insanely high OBPs, refusing to swing at 3-0 pitches... I tend to be very skeptic when a player talks about changing their game or adding this skill or that, but Carpenter has been an exception to that (at least as a hitter), and I've truly enjoyed watching him play. He is one of my all-time favorite Cardinals.
The flyball revolution
The balls are almost certainly juiced, but let's set that aside for a moment. In fact, it's not even really the home runs that I've enjoyed about the flyball revolution.
What's really been fun about the last few years is the number of guys using metrics like launch angle to refine their swings and transform themselves as hitters. For the most part, this has meant increasing launch angle, selling out to pull the ball, and jacking more dingers - but not always.
Kolten Wong looked to have a very different approach last season, less pull-heavy, putting more balls on the ground... and for him, that seems like the optimal approach.
What I love is that players seem more empowered now than ever to actually transform themselves. When you follow projections and aging curves as closely as many of us do, it's wonderful to be surprised. Now, a Brian Dozier can become a Brian Dozier.
Everybody throws 100mph
Dave Duncan was a legendary pitching coach, and in particular a master of wringing quality out of unexpected rags. But he had a definite type: Sinkerball pitchers. And that philosophy resonated through the organization for many years, as the team drafted wave after wave of projectable-if-unspectacular college pitchers.
Now, the Cardinals have like a million guys who throw 100mph.
It's just nice to mix things up aesthetically every now and then. After spending the 80s and 90s not hitting home runs, it was a refreshing change of pace when Big Mac and the MV4 posse rolled into town.
Likewise, after 15 years of the Dave Duncan philosophy, I've enjoyed being that ballclub with an endless string of power arms.
There's a random few things I've enjoyed watching these last few years, even if the club has been struggling to win. How about you's guys?