In the grand scheme the most important spring outcome is the health of a roster as the calendar turns to April. A modern axiom “spring training stats are useless” was constructed as a way to neutralize the hubris that comes with every year’s “best shape of his life” stories. Never the less, research has found that there are spring training data points which add value to projections for the accompanying season.
Over at Fangraphs Mike Podhorzer found that for pitchers; spring strikeout rates and walk rates have a predictive value as it relates to regular season rates. His findings:
-Spring K% and BB% actually do mean something and may help identify breakout and bust performers for the upcoming season
-Good and bad springs carry the same level of significance and they should therefore be treated equally
This finding was corroborated and extended to hitters by Dan Rosenheck at the Economist:
Put another way, players whose forecasts were most aided by their performance during spring training have tended to beat their ZiPS projections by substantial margins, whereas those whose expected value declined as a result of spring training have generally fallen short of their ZiPS forecasts by an equally large amount.
Indeed, there is a strong visual relationship.
Now, let’s use this guidance and compare current strikeout and walk rates to Steamer projected strikeout and walk rates for pitchers who have faced 25 hitters. (It is probably too early in spring in terms of sample so these are merely trend lines to watch; also only including those with 25 batters faced to limit some of that issue.)
|Pitcher||Batters Faced||K%||Steamer K%||BB%||Steamer BB%|
The above numbers are as of 3/13/2019.
For the positives, Shane Bieber and Jon Edwards. Bieber has been dynamite and his K% which surprised last year at over 24% is looking more and more sustainable moving forward. As for Edwards he has been the spring surprise with an elite K%.
On the adverse end, Jefry Rodriguez remains a long term project for the pen; the stuff is dynamic but the deciding question will be if he can stabilize his mechanics to the point that he can show command growth.
Lastly, if Bauer makes another walk rate gain, the Cy Young will be his in 2019.
On to the hitters; below are the Indians with 30 or more plate appearances:
|Hitter||Plate Appearances||K%||Steamer K%|
First, the negatives, bat Jake Bauers and Jordan Luplow are both significantly struggling to put the ball in play so far. Retaining optimism on Bauers is reasonable. However, Luplow with significant struggles in his prior big league appearances and huge whiff issues so far is not making a strong case to open the season in Cleveland.
Now the two major positives, Roberto Perez and Trayce Thompson. Perez is, barring injury, going to receive at least 350 plate appearances, and to add value will need to have gains in his offensive profile. Increasing the number of balls in play would be a good start. Trayce Thompson has been a windmill for the past few years at the big league level and is suddenly putting the ball in play; I doubt it is sustainable but there is reason to be optimistic.
Nothing above offers any certainty but at the minimum it provides trends to track for the remainder of spring training. For instance, are we seeing early indications of a leap for Shane Bieber? Can Jon Edwards turn into a high leverage relief piece? Is Jordan Luplow unplayable offensively?
The answers are unclear but for now there are a few bread crumbs to guide our expectations.