For the most part, we agree with the common perception that they don’t have value. A bad spring training means nothing. An average spring training tells us nothing. Nevertheless, we did find that when a player has an exceptional spring, it does suggest a better than 60% chance they will take their game up a notch.
We define “exceptional spring” as a positive difference between a hitter’s spring training slugging percentage and their lifetime slugging percentage of 200 points or more.
No definition is offered for “take their game up a notch,” but one way to measure it is by using OPS+ from Year 1 to Year 2. Here’s a look at 2010′s breakout candidates:
Slugging Percentage 200+ points better in Spring Training SLG OPS+ Hitter, Team Dif ST10 Car | '10 '11 Dif Jose Bautista, Blue Jays .484 .884 .400 | 99 166 +67 Mitch Maier, Royals .436 .760 .324 | 79 94 +15 Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals .345 .824 .478 | 133 142 +9 Colby Rasmus, Cardinals .316 .723 .407 | 89 132 +43 Jerry Hairston, Padres .302 .675 .373 | 90 83 -7 Delwyn Young, Pirates .288 .673 .385 | 88 87 -1 Conor Jackson, Diamondbacks .283 .714 .431 | 35 79 +44* Troy Tulowitzki, Rockies .282 .756 .474 | 131 138 +7 Hunter Pence, Astros .272 .760 .488 | 116 114 -2 Gregg Zaun, Brewers .262 .650 .388 | 99 102 +3* Aaron Rowand, Giants .260 .708 .448 | 92 75 -17 Nelson Cruz, Rangers .259 .732 .473 | 117 150 +33 Justin Upton, Diamondbacks .254 .739 .485 | 129 111 -18 Will Venable, Padres .252 .679 .427 | 109 104 -5 Alberto Callaspo, Royals .242 .646 .404 | 95 67 -28 John Bowker, Giants .229 .631 .402 | 60 75 +15* Mike Aviles, Royals .223 .651 .429 | 22 104 +82** Mark Kotsay, White Sox .204 .617 .413 | 84 82 -2
*Fewer than 500 PA combined in 2009 and 2010.
**Fewer than 100 PA in 2009.
Removing Jackson, Zaun, Bowker, and Aviles on account of playing time issues, we are left with 14 players. Despite the lack of a tight definition, by most reasonable standards, Bautista, Rasmus, and Cruz all took their game “up a notch.”
Maier also improved, although he was so bad to begin with that even the better version wasn’t very good. Still, we’ll give him credit for elevating his offensive game from terrible to mediocre.
Zimmerman and Tulowitzki saw marginal gains despite already playing at a high level. Hairston, Young, Venable, and Kotsay essentially duplicated their efforts from the previous year. Rowand, Upton, and Callaspo all saw their numbers slip.
Here’s a summary:
Dif OPS+ No Names > 10 4 Bautista, Maier, Rasmus, Cruz -10 to 10 7 Zimmerman, Hairston, Young, Tulowitzki, Pence, Venable, Kotsay < -10 3 Rowand, Upton, Callaspo
To properly study this in regards to last year's Spring Training stats, I need some more info. Specifically, what does "better than normal" mean? Better SLG in the season compared to the guy's career SLG? Better SLG this season than last? Something else?
Dierkes used SLG, while I opted for OPS+ ("Opt for OPS+" would be make a great campaign slogan, eh?). For grins, here are the Padres who meet ACTA's criteria this spring:
Hitter Dif ST11 Car Nick Hundley .346 .756 .398 Will Venable .209 .627 .418
If we are to believe ACTA (I remain agnostic, having not seen the original work), one of Hundley or Venable will take his game to the next indeterminate level. For lack of a better definition, let's continue to use an OPS+ improvement of more than 10 points as our standard.
For Hundley, this means 113 or higher, which is a jump from Todd Hundley (no relation) to Darrell Porter. On the one hand, that is a very exciting possibility. On the other, I'm as big a fan of Hundley as there is outside his family but I'm not holding my breath.
Venable made it onto Dewan's list last year and didn't have a breakout campaign. He'd need to post an OPS+ of 115 (Reggie Sanders) in 2011. If Hundley turns into Porter or Venable turns into Sanders, I'll be thrilled.
Eric Patterson also deserves a mention. Thanks to his bad left hammy, Patterson got only 32 at-bats, but his SLG this spring was .813, as compared to a career mark of .353.
Patterson had an 81 OPS+ in 2010, which means he would need to ratchet that up to at least 92 this year to meet our standard. In other words, he could be the new Maier, which you have to admit is pretty darned exciting.
Others within striking distance (no soup for them, but still worth noting):
Hitter Dif ST11 Car Aaron Cunningham .188 .565 .377 Chris Denorfia .168 .579 .411 Brad Hawpe .120 .610 .490 Orlando Hudson .114 .538 .424 Chase Headley .110 .500 .390 Cameron Maybin .109 .489 .380
* * *
- Beloved Baseball Family Gives To Live (Yahoo!). Is it still unhip to love David Eckstein? Whatever, I don't care. I love him anyway. And ABBA. I'm not ashamed.
- 2011 staff predictions (Hardball Times). Another fourth place finish for the Padres and an MVP vote for Adrian Gonzalez. It's becoming predictable.
- Dykstra traded to Mets for pitching prospect. The Allan Dysktra is over. The Padres get RHP Eddie Kunz in return. As reader LynchMob notes, Kunz is a former college teammate of Padres farmhand Mitch Canham, so there's that.
- Washington, DC Tops List of Most Depressed Pro Baseball Cities, According to Data Compiled by Avvo (SportsBusinessWire). According to this, San Diego is the sixth most depressed baseball city. Kansas City is 16th. That's it, I'm moving... just as soon as I find even less meaningful data. [h/t BBTF]
- Spring Training story time (Watson Files). From Dan's mouth to your ears: "Stats mean virtually nothing. If you're on the bubble of getting released or not making the big-league team, it's more about how you look. How's your bat speed? Do you have command of the strike zone? Are you throwing harder than 82 mph on your fastball?"
- Why even have the U-T??? (RJ's Fro). For the crossword puzzles, duh.
- What scouts are saying (Inside the Padres). What they are saying is... many different things that reflect individual interpretations of reality. This is interesting but too random to be useful.
- On Luck: A Dialectical Analysis of the SABR Debate (The Good Phight). Here's a thoughtful, if dense, read that also reminds me why I finished six units shy of a second major in philosophy. [h/t BBTF]
- Chinese Jibberish (Joe Blogs). I'm stunned at how low Eric Show's career BABIP is.
- NL West preseason All-Star team (SweetSpot). You won't find any Padres here -- not even the obvious choice of Heath Bell.
- When did Mat Latos get hurt? (Hardball Times). Harry Pavlidis examines Latos' spring struggles through the lens of PITCHf/x. Mike Fast at Baseball Prospectus has additional thoughts.