Remember when Joltin’ Joe Mather tore up the Cactus League in 2012, won a roster spot with the Cubs and proceeded to post a .581 OPS while defying the odds and staying with the team for the entire season? Neither does anyone else other people who went to high school with Joe. They probably yelled things like “I sat next to that guy in Spanish!” when his latest highlight would roll past on Comcast Sportsnet Chicago. It’s hard to believe that we didn’t get a made for TV movie called “Spring: The Joe Mather Story.” It would have started with Joe struggling to tear himself away from his family before the start of camp, then he gets to camp and starts hitting and keeps hitting. It ends with Joe getting called into Dale Sveum’s office and earning a roster spot.
Mather hasn’t seen the major leagues since 2012 and he likely never will again. He’s only here to serve as a grim reminder that spring numbers are not meant to be trusted. They are meant to be forgotten as soon as games count.
This spring wasn’t any different from any other. The closest thing we had to a baseball lifer doing well in 2013 was Cardinals frequent bus rider Shane Robinson and his 1.212 OPS (with nine doubles!). In 2014, we had someone called “Brandon Hicks” posting a 1.152 OPS in 46 at bats. Hicks’ hot spring was enough to earn a roster spot and he’s currently posting a 1.179 OPS. It’s like the spring numbers predicted it! (No, it’s not.)
Kansas City Royals third baseman Mike Moustakas ended the spring third in the league with a 1.290 OPS. It took Moustakas six games to get his first hit. He’s currently rocking an embarrassing .176 OPS in 26 PA’s. That’s his on-base PLUS slugging. .176. Moustakas isn’t this bad, but he should be on your bench, not in your lineup. Let’s pour a little out for the guys who drafted Moustakas in an AL only league.
The pitching side of the ledger tends to look slightly more normal, but we still had Jeff Manship posting a 1.80 ERA in 20 innings for the Phillies this spring. The good news for Manship is that he earned a bullpen job. This gives us a story line for “Spring 2: In Camp With The Phillies.”
It’s almost better to look at the bottom of the spring ERA charts than the top. Clayton Kershaw, Rick Porcello, Ryan Vogelsong, Felix Doubront and Joe Blanton all posted ERAs over 7.00 for the spring, but surprisingly only Blanton got his release.
The only spring stat remotely worth looking at is to be K:BB for pitchers. Looking at K:BB would have probably kept you from wasting a high round pick on Tampa Bay Rays starter Matt Moore. Moore posted a 1.20 K:BB with a 7.79 BB/9 during the spring. He started bad in spring, started bad in the regular season and has an appointment to visit Dr. Andrews. You would have stayed away from Clayton Kershaw’s 2.00 K:BB and Tim Lincecum’s 1.88 K:BB, but the problem is that a mediocre K:BB ratio would have also kept you away from Tony Cingrani and Jose Fernandez.
Then again, if you paid attention to spring numbers you would have seen Daisuke Matsuzaka post a 6.28 K:BB with a 9.51 K/9 and get set to Triple-A while Yovani Gallardo posted a 6.46 K/9 and earned an Opening Day start.
Spring Training numbers are nonsense. Stay away from them. Let others in the draft room obsess over them. Instead of looking at boxscores, look at news. Make sure your draft targets are healthy and have a clear path to a job. It’s better to keep an eye on the injury news than it is to see who hit a homer in a game that doesn’t matter.