In 2015, I looked at Randall Grichuk’s Spring Training numbers, and even with all disclaimers about small sample size, I argued that his reduced strikeout rate in Spring Training was a sign of things to come. So how did that work out?
That season, The Lamborghini’s K% jumped from 26.7% to 31.4%.
You see, I fell victim to one of the classic blunders. The most famous of which is “never start a land war in Asia,” but only slightly less well-known is “Never look for meaning in Spring Training.”
Spring is the season of confirmation bias. Whatever you believe going in - you can find something to support that belief. I really wanted Randall Grichuk to be a viable center fielder who wouldn’t strike out at a catastrophic rate.
Matthew Liberatore made his debut as a Cardinal a couple days back. If you’re in love with his stuff and his potential, this curveball confirmed those beliefs:
Liberatore Curve, yo. Good luck, lefties pic.twitter.com/O1IHHS0y9S— Kyle Reis (@kyler416) February 24, 2020
On the other hand, if you’re not a Liberatore fan or just the kind of person who likes to believe everything is a disaster, you might point to the fact that the lefty gave up 3 hits and 3 walks with no strikeouts over just 2⁄3 of an inning.
Every now and then, you might stumble on something that is meaningful... or at least seems like it is. Fastball velocity for pitchers can at least be an indicator of health. Adam Wainwright was regularly hitting 91mph in his outing, which is on the high-end of what he’s been capable of the past few years, and often been a benchmark of when he can still be effective.
On the other hand, Carlos Martinez was also sitting mostly low-90s, but it turns out he was doing that intentionally to focus on movement and command. Wainwright’s results weren’t great, but he limited himself to only four curveballs in the outing.
As soon as you try to start drawing conclusions from spring, you’ll run into an endless cavalcade of extenuating circumstances, unknowns and what-have-you’s. So, what’s the best way to consume Spring Training?
In a word: Relax. The great thing about Spring Training not being particularly meaningful is that you don’t need to get worked up about it, man. And if you’re only interested in the stats and the performance, maybe there’s nothing for you. But there’s many other things I enjoy about baseball that I can begin enjoying as soon as Spring Training begins.
Mostly, I enjoy the daily ritual of baseball. I enjoy having a game on the TV or the radio. I enjoy watching men in St. Louis Cardinals costumes run around and do baseball things. And if you have a chance to go to Spring Training, you can enjoy even more of the delights of baseball, such as sitting in the sun in shorts and drinking beer.
My advice is to put the game on in the background at work, maybe put on some shorts, pour yourself a beer... okay, probably don’t do all those things at once. But take the next month to enjoy the aesthetics of baseball without having to worry too much about the crushing disappointments of baseball.