Spring Back, Fall Forward

David Paisley

[Note: Originally published March 20, 2002]

There’s only about a week left of spring training 2002, and barring a few minor miracles, the spring training records of most clubs are now pretty much etched in stone. Well, make that sandstone. No, better just make it sand.

Spring training is a vital piece of baseball preparation, and it does provide a nice little boost for the Florida and Arizona economies in that almost-spring lull. And big league politics even comes into play as podunk towns in the Phoenix suburbs try to lure away Florida based teams with promises of new stadiums and the like.

Going to spring training was a magical thing the first couple of times, but after that, the reality that the games really don’t count sinks in. The big league veterans really don’t care about the results — they’re just getting their hacks in. The minor leaguers mostly know where they’re headed for the summer, and there are just a few souls on the bubble, waiting for an injury to the front line guy so they can make the major league roster. Slip off your truck, a la Jeff Kent, and you open up a chance for some promising youngster to shine for a month or two.

No, the veterans (Jeff Kent excepted apparently) are mostly concerned about slowly loosening up, not getting injured, and generally goofing off and having fun with their families. Watch them as they show up for the game, get through two or three at bats, then head for the showers and the good restaurant spots long before the crowd even notices that Joe Scrub is now roaming the outfield in place of Billy Superstar.

And this may be why Derek Bell is pulling Operation Shutdown (although, come on, who could possibly tell the difference from normal?) He’s being robbed of his God-given right as a major leaguer to screw off for an entire month. What, they’re going to actually judge him on his performance? How inconsiderate! How uncouth! Quick, call the MLBPA!

To be honest, though, Derek has a point. He may still be an awful, over the hill, overpaid, never-was major league ballplayer, but he does kind of have a point. Let’s take a look at just how meaningful spring training records are at the team level.

Here are all the major league teams with this year’s spring record and last season’s regular record. I’d use last season’s spring records if I could, but you know what? I can’t because nobody keeps those things around. And do you know why? Because spring records don’t mean squat. Anyway, to the battable, Robin:

Team Spring
League
W L Spring 2002
Win %
2001 Season
Win %
Arizona C 16 6 .727 .568
St. Louis G 13 6 .684 .574
Baltimore G 12 7 .632 .391
Detroit G 13 8 .619 .407
Texas G 13 8 .619 .451
Houston G 10 7 .588 .574
Oakland C 12 9 .571 .630
Kansas City G 10 8 .556 .401
Colorado C 11 9 .550 .451
San Francisco C 11 9 .550 .556
Philadelphia G 9 8 .529 .531
Toronto G 10 9 .526 .494
Montreal G 10 9 .526 .420
San Diego C 10 9 .526 .488
Anaheim C 11 10 .524 .463
Cleveland G 11 10 .524 .562
Minnesota G 12 11 .522 .525
Milwaukee C 11 11 .500 .420
Pittsburgh G 10 10 .500 .383
Boston G 9 10 .474 .509
NY Yankees G 10 12 .455 .594
NY Mets G 9 12 .429 .506
Atlanta G 8 11 .421 .543
Seattle C 8 12 .400 .716
Tampa Bay G 6 11 .353 .383
Los Angeles G 6 11 .353 .531
Chi White Sox C 7 14 .333 .512
Florida G 6 12 .333 .469
Chicago Cubs C 7 15 .318 .543
Cincinnati G 6 13 .316 .407

Let’s see — why, there’s the World Series champion Diamondbacks at the top of the heap! So maybe there is something to this spring record after all. The big momentum push from the World Series last season has carried over and propelled the D-backs to the best record in spring. It doesn’t hurt that virtually every D-backs game is a home game, of course.

Next there’s the Cardinals, another quality team from last year. Oh, but next there’s the Orioles and Tigers, then Texas — all well under .500 last year. Scanning down the table we see the division-winning Mariners and Braves back-to-back around the .400 level this spring, nestled right next to the Devil Rays (who have already been mathematically eliminated from postseason contention, believe it or not.)

If it isn’t obvious from the numbers, maybe this graphic will suffice to show the relationship between last season’s record and this spring’s.

large chart showing random result

And the answer is: there is none. Absolutely zero correlation between how good a team was last year and how good it is now. The flatness of the red line says that you could throw a dart at this chart and predict spring records just as well as by any analytical means you might choose.

Does that mean I’ll be foregoing my annual visit to Phoenix? Absolutely not. Ninety degrees, a little meaningless baseball, lots of nice restaurants, a weekend away from the daily grind is still a valuable thing to have. Just don’t start believing the fairytales about spring records meaning anything. After all, who expects the Royals to finish the season with a .556 winning percentage?

about the author

Got your season tickets yet? Dave Paisley has and is very excited, as I’m sure you are too. Unless you’re a fan of the Pirates, in which case, welcome to Operation Shutdown. If you think you’ll be able to tell the difference in Derek Bell’s performance, please let Dave know.

Published March 24, 2006

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