Spring Training Is Here! Now What Does It Mean?

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Updated: February 12, 2013

spring training
So now that spring training is officially here we can get back to over analyzing spring training. Every year, one team does really poorly in spring training and gets written off and one team does exceptionally well and is over hyped.  Spring training means very little to those who are actually training. It’s really for managers and GMs to evaluate player development (most of the time independent of on field performance). For grisled veterans, it is the beginning of their long-standing routine.  For the guys with a few year under their belt, it’s time to get back in shape. For only a few borderline players–the 5th outfielder, 4th infielder types–does on field performance actually mean anything.

With all that said, I wanted to see what teams’ records actually meant.  I did a simple statistical analysis of spring training performance vs. regular season performance. I will show the teams with the best and worst records during spring training, the teams with the best and worst records in the regular season, and the World Series champions from the last three years. They will have their records side by side and we will see if spring training means anything. Regular season records will appear first followed by Spring Training.

2012:

Best spring: Toronto Blue Jays, 73-89, 24-7

Worst spring: Cleveland Indians, 68-94, 7-22

Best regular: Washington Nationals 98-64, 12-17

Worst regular: Houston Astros 55-107, 14-17

World Series Champs: San Francisco Giants 94-68, 18-15

2011:

Best spring: San Francisco Giants 86-76, 23-12

Worst spring: Houston Astros 56-106, 11-24

Best regular: Philadelphia Phillies 102-60, 21-14

Worst regular: Houston Astros 56-106, 11-24

World Series Champs: St Louis Cardinals 90-72, 14-16

2010:

Best spring: San Francisco Giants 92-70, 23-12

Worst spring: Pittsburg Pirates 57-105, 7-21

Best regular: Philadelphia Phillies 97-65, 15-12

Worst regular: Pittsburg Pirates 57-105, 7-21

World Series Champs: San Francisco Giants 92-70, 23-12

What do we see from all of this? Very little. It is a small sample size, but it does illustrate some points. Only once did the best spring lead to a World Series and never to the best record in baseball. Only once did the best record in spring lead to a playoff birth. (Only the 2010 Giants made the playoffs after the best spring record.)

On the other side though we see that twice in three years the team with the worst spring ended the regular season with the worst record; all three Worst Spring teams were nowhere near the playoffs. However we also see that two out of three World Series champs were right about .500 in spring, with the 2011 Cardinals even being below .500. (The Worst Spring team that year, the Astros, finished Spring Training only a half game behind the 2011 Cardinals.)

So what it boils down to is that it is bad to be bad in spring, it’s fine to be good in spring, and it’s ok to be ok in spring–but that mostly you have no idea what it means and it probably doesn’t mean anything.

-David Ringold

@dhringold

Stat of the Day: The Vassar College community has raised almost $27,000 for the Trevor Project in less than two days since it found out it was going to be protested by the Westborough Baptist Church.

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