Numbers seldom tell the whole story, but spring training numbers can be less informative than most. Here are several factors that can change the way you look at spring training numbers:
Date: As Bob Dutton has already pointed out, in early spring training outings, pitchers may be throwing nothing but fastballs. As they get closer to Opening Day, pitchers will start throwing everything they have. Early on, pitchers may not be pitching to the batter’s weakness: they know the batter is set up for a slider, but go ahead and throw a fastball anyway. Pitchers might be working on something—say locating that fastball—and aren’t that concerned with getting hitters out.
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Status: A guy who knows he’s made the team is in a different position than a guy fighting for a spot. James Shields is on the roster unless he gets hit by a bus—he can take his time getting ready and prepare at his own pace. Other guys may feel like they have to play as well as they possibly can right now—there’s no time to waste.
Opponent: If a pitcher is facing a divisional opponent, he may hold something back or just work on a particular pitch. Why give the opposition a look at what they’re going to see during the season? If a pitcher is facing a team he won’t see that summer, maybe he throws the real deal.
Inning: They call it five and dive: starters play five innings, then head for the golf course. Members of the media have to leave the press box and head to the clubhouse if they want to talk to a starter who has left a game—they ain’t sticking around. If the numbers were put up early in a game, they were probably put up against big-league competition. Some of the numbers put up in the later innings are being put up against minor leaguers. As the team gets closer to the end of spring training, starters may play longer.
Don’t get me wrong; there’s not a hitter alive who doesn’t want to get hits when he goes to the plate or a pitcher who doesn’t want to record outs. Players want to do well every time they step on the field. But they may have bigger fish to fry than putting up numbers in March.
They’re spring training numbers.
“If we don’t know you or like you, all you get are clichés.”
That was former Boston Red Sox bench coach Tim Bogar talking about how players treat the media. When a member of the media walks into the clubhouse, new players and coaches have no idea who you are. They have no idea if you’re a good guy or a jerk and they’ll generally keep you at arm’s length until they decide. If another player has had a good experience with you, he might tell a new player that you’re OK. If a player has had a bad experience with you, he might tell a new player not to trust you.
When players see a new member of the media come around, they’ll ask: “Who is that?” Then the next question is some version of: “Is he going to be around?” What they want to know is this: does this guy matter? Do they need to know his name? Is this someone they’ll have to deal with or can they just drop a few clichés and move on?
You have to be around a while before players start telling you what’s really happening out there on the field. It’s important for the players to see you put in the time necessary to understand what’s going on. For the most part, players want to speak openly, but they also want to know they can trust you to use the information in the right way—and that trust doesn’t develop overnight. The beat writers, the guys who are there every day and travel with the team, get much better information than the information given to a guy who shows up once a month. But just when you get Mitch Maier talking to you—bang—he’s gone. Just when Matt Treanor starts telling you what he was saying to the umpire just before getting ejected from a game, Matt vanishes in a puff of smoke. I’ve talked to Dayton Moore about this: if he really wants to make my life easier, I need him to keep the guys I already know.
Dayton does not see this my way.
He went out and got a bunch of new guys. So now I’ve got to go around the clubhouse, introduce myself to the new guys and start from scratch. I hope to have something interesting for you by the All-Star break.
I said hi to outfield coach Rusty Kuntz and we talked about continuing to review ballparks the Royals will visit during the 2013 season. Where you play can change the game, and knowing a ballpark’s quirks can make a game more interesting. The Royals open in Chicago and then go to Philadelphia, so I asked Rusty if he was familiar with the Phillies’ ballpark, and that led to a discussion on interleague play.
With expanded interleague play, pitchers have to be ready to hit by the second series and stay ready to hit throughout the season. Unfortunately, a good at-bat by a pitcher is—as Kevin Seitzer said last year—one in which the pitcher does not get hurt. Even if a pitcher gets a hit, then you have to worry about all the things that can go wrong when he runs the bases—including get whacked around in the next half-inning because he’s gassed.
If it’s not a bunt situation, don’t be surprised if you see a pitcher keep the bat on his shoulder and watch three go by—it might be the lesser of two evils.