Spring Training can result in some weird things. There are games ending in ties, teams splitting in half to play two simultaneous games, and that one time Adam Wainwright did an interview from the bathroom. Then there are weird statistics, like Brad Miller having a better slashline than Paul Goldschmidt as of this writing.
Most Spring Training stats get cast aside and virtually ignored altogether–and understandably so. They are products of a relatively small sample size and competition quality can fluctuate from inning to inning. However, these numbers do offer the most recent data we have entering any regular season. Is there some, limited predictive power for Spring Training performance at the plate?
Specifically, I wanted to hone in on the players who tear the cover off the ball in spring. Is their success an indicator of a strong season or, at the very least, a strong start?
I began by compiling a list of every player since 2015 who posted an OPS of at least 1.200 in a single spring (minimum 50 plate appearances in both Spring Training and the first month of the ensuing regular season). I then looked to their final regular season OPS and OPS at the end of April to see if there was any correlation.
Of the 29 players who met all the listed criteria, their average regular season OPS was .810. A sequence of nerd math things
one-sample t-test at significance level α=.05 tells us that this is a statistically significant value compared to the 2015-19 leaguewide .751 OPS for non-pitchers.
That might seem like a promising sign Spring Training could signal a breakout season, until you consider this list contains the likes of Mike Trout, Bryce Harper, Nolan Arenado, and Carlos Correa in addition to the Greg Birds and Daniel Vogelbachs of the world. In a truly stunning turn of events, good players are more likely to play well in Spring Training than bad players, and good players also tend to do better in the regular season than bad players.
As for the first month of the season, our sample group’s OPS was .775, with only 12 of 29 players having a higher OPS in March/April than over the whole season. In other words, our group of spring standouts actually performed worse right out of the gates than they did the rest of the way.
If anything, this confirms what we already knew: most Spring Training anomalies can be chalked up to statistical noise with fairly little bearing on future performance. The most significant takeaways from spring are its implications on intra-team battles for playing time, a roster spot, etc.
TLDR: don’t freak out over Spring Training results.