As of Thursday, March 10, the Baltimore Orioles are 0-8 in Spring Training and sitting in dead last of the Grapefruit League standings. While the games have no meaning, many fans who are on the fence about the team’s upcoming 2016 season have not taken lightly the fact that the Orioles are putting forth a cringe-worthy performance a third of the way through the baseball preseason.
The most concerning output has been from the potential starting rotation. Ubaldo Jimenez, Miguel Gonzalez, Odrisamer Despaigne, and Yovani Gallardo all have ERAs above 13.00. The four of them have combined for eight starts in March, but together, have lasted just under 13 innings. Jimenez has walked four while giving up six runs in three innings, Gonzalez has allowed 11 hits, two of which have been homeruns, and opponents have a .444 batting average against Gallardo.
But does it matter?
For starters, we can look at the correlation between spring training records and the ability of teams to make the playoffs. In 2015 Grapefruit League action, the Mets, Blue Jays, Cardinals, Pirates, Yankees, and Astros all finished above .500 and all made the playoffs. The World Series champion Kansas City Royals finished in second in the Cactus League, posting a 20-10 spring training record. The 2014 Grapefruit League saw Pittsburgh, Baltimore, Detroit and Washington finish above .500 and also make the post-season. A team like Oakland also seems to do consistently well in Spring Training and never spend much time out of October baseball.
An article posted on ESPN at some point relatively recently (my wild guess is 2002) took the same approach by looking at team records in spring training and comparing them to regular season. The author, Michael Wolverton, took overall records from 1996 up to the mystery present year, and made a strong case that spring records are worthless when predicting the success or failure of an upcoming season.
Breaking it down gives you information that is all over the board. But doesn’t that speak in favor for the argument that there is no correlation? There would at least be some trends one way or the other in order to make a strong statement saying that good spring training records turn into good regular season performances.
Pulling from the same article, Wolverton found some of the worst spring training records between 1996 and 2002, and then compared those teams records from that year’s regular season. The two below were the biggest extremes.
Spring Training Reg SeasonTeam Year W L Pct W L PctSan Francisco 2001 9 21 .300 90 72 .556 New York AL 2001 9 20 .310 95 65 .594
Of course, 2002 was a long time ago. So, let’s break down some more recent stats and comparisons.
Spring Training Reg Season Team Year W L W L Texas 2014 10 17 67 95 Arizona 2014 12 13 64 98 LA Angels 2014 19 11 98 64 Washington 2014 15 13 96 66 Philadelphia 2015 14 17 63 99 Oakland 2015 22 11 68 94 St. Louis 2015 13 11 100 62 Kansas City 2015 20 10 95 67
From 2010 to 2015, the St. Louis Cardinals and New York Yankees each have made the playoffs five of the six seasons. In fact, neither the Cards or the Yanks have had a losing season in that six year span. The average winning percentage in those six years of those teams combined is .563. In those same years during spring training, however, that number drops significantly to .515, a difference in winning percentage of 0.048. Written out, that number does not seem huge. But, in the span of a 162 game season, 0.048 is the difference of 7.8 games. To put that in perspective, the Orioles missed the second wild card spot in the playoffs in 2015 by 5 games.
The truth of the matter is, spring training is a crap shoot. There is no comparison or correlation between consistently good teams that make playoff pushes and teams that perform well during spring training. So many factors need to be taken into consideration when it comes to the successes and failures of a squad’s production during the preseason. A team with young pitchers may give up a lot of runs, not because the pitchers aren’t good, but because spring training is their opportunity to work on things against major league hitting without the consequences of a meaningful loss. Hitters work on their swings, their approach to the plate, working against the shift, opposite field hitting, etc. In a season of 162 games, you would be hard pressed to say that thirty spring games being played by rosters chock-full of minor league players trying to earn a roster spot is a true display of what a team plans on bringing to the ballpark when things count.
So next time you check out the Orioles’ 2016 spring record, and see the big zero in the win column, take a deep breath and try not to panic. Every year, spring training is the cause for stress levels in some baseball fans to unnecessarily rise to dangerous heights. Instead, let’s wait for the long season to begin and see how that pans out.
As always, Let’s Go O’s!