With pitchers and catchers practicing already, we can officially say that spring training has begun. I always love spring training. It’s not quite like NFL training camps where every team is superbowl bound, but it’s still a fun time full of optimism. I thought I’d get us started with this year with a list of 5 myths about spring training that I see fans continue to believe every year.
Myth 1: Everyone invited to camp has a shot of making the team. It seems unfair to say, but it simply isn’t true. Highly touted prospects often get invited so they get a taste of big-league camp and get to rub shoulders with the major leaguers. That way, they won’t be so awestruck when they do finally get their chance.
There are also players invited to camp simply to relieve the strain of playing and practicing every day from those that are are on the roster already. This is especially true for non-roster catchers. They are only here because there’s simply way too many bullpen sessions and spring training innings for the 2 roster catchers to deal with alone. We all know that Olivo and Moore are going to stay on the roster. Even if Moore starts the year in Tacoma only one one of the 3 non-roster guys will make the team, and it’s like that the management already knows who that’ll be. The others will have to take a minor league assignment and wait for someone to fail or get hurt.
It’s important to note that every team does this. It’s why the M’s wont worry about losing Josh Bard when they send him to Tacoma at the end of the spring. There are 27 other Josh Bards out there who are also getting assigned to AAA affiliates.
Myth 2: Pitching stats matter, at all. I hate to break it to you, but they just don’t. Pitchers are mostly trying to get their arm in shape and stretched out, finding their release point and control, and occasionally trying to develop a new pitch. They aren’t always trying to get people out. Also, watch the mph on most players fastball during the spring. it usually starts out about 5 mph below what it’ll be on opening day and slowly increases as they pitch their arm into shape.
Evidence of this myth is everywhere. I especially love it when fans get all worried because a pitcher get “rocked” in spring training for 7 ER in 2 innings of work, though when if you watched the game you’d see that they threw only fastballs on the inside corner the entire time because they were trying to lock in their release point for that pitch. If that’s what they’re doing its not like they’re fooling any hitters.
Myth 3: Hitting stats can be used to determine if a player is ready for a big league call-up. There’s at least one of these stat lines every year in every camp. Last year the M’s had one, and the year before that there was 2. Let’s face it, I don’t care if Tui hits .400 again this spring for the third year in a row. He’s got a career wOBA of .241, and was worth -1 wins above replacement in 2010. He’s just not going to be a big league hitter.
Spring training in 2009 also had OF Mike Wilson hitting 8 HR. I can still remember reading all the blog comments by those were were completely angry that Wilson didn’t make the big league club out of spring training. The M’s obviously disagreed with those fans, and thought so highly of his performance that he was sent all the way down to AA. There, he played well enough to get a AAA call up, and then fell flat on his face to the tune of am OPS of .555 and .258 wOBA. It took another year before he finally figured out AAA pitching. It’s been 2 full years, and he now finally ready to compete for a roster spot.
Myth 4: Kicking the tires on an old vet that’s not likely to make the team is taking at-bats away from young players. I’ll admit, this one makes a little sense on the surface. There’s only so many innings and at-bats to be had, right? Well, not really. The problem is that at the beginning of spring training, pitchers never go more than 2 innings. This means that it takes 5 pitchers to get through a game, and often 6 or 7. It’s actually difficult for team’s to find enough players to handle all the innings in those early games. Also, by the time the starters are going 4-5 innings and relievers are pitching on consecutive days, plenty of cuts will have been made to make up for the lessened need for pitchers. Besides, if there is a point where there’s not enough innings to go around, there’s always minor league spring training games that can be used.
The same, although to a lesser extent, is true for position players. I read somewhere a few years ago that coaches only like to have players have 2-3 at bats in spring game to take what they’ve been working on in the cages and try it out versus live pitching. Any more and the lessons from batting practice get lost amongst attempted in-game adjustments. (for the record, I spent quite a while today looking for the original article an couldn’t find it. If someone wants to show off their google skills and find it for me, I would be most appreciative.) By the end of camp, when most of the cuts have been made, there’s actually too many inning to go around. Just watch. I can almost guarantee you that at some point in the last week of camp, there will be some random non-roster minor leaguer playing the 7th through 9th innings of a game just so the M’s can field a complete team.
Myth 5: Team’s shouldn’t bother with older players who are “done,” no matter how much money they are still owed. I read this one a lot. This year player in question is Milton Bradley. I have to say, this is a line of thinking that really doesn’t make any sense. Players rebound after bad years. It happens. If you’re going to pay them anyways you might as well see if they can turn it around. Otherwise, they’ll turn it around for another team, and you’ll be stuck paying for another team’s success. It’s not like you’re out anything for giving them a chance. (see Myth 4)
Jarrod Washburn in 2009 is a great example. After a couple of mediocre season a lot of fans wanted him to be cut. Jack Zduriencik disagreed and Washburn had a decent first half before being traded for Luke French (a 5th starter candidate) and prospect Maurico Robles.