Jake Fox made some headlines during spring training for hitting .333 with an MLB-leading seven homers, which got people who didn’t know any better way too excited about a 27-year-old journeyman without a defensive home.
Orioles manager Buck Showalter stressed that Fox would have to improve defensively to get much playing time and sure enough he got a grand total of just 52 plate appearances through the team’s first 53 games.
Fox didn’t help himself by hitting .188 with two homers and a .646 OPS, and today the Orioles designated him for assignment to make room on the 40-man roster for Brian Matusz’s return from the disabled list.
Fox can still be a relatively useful bench player, but he’s hit just .231 with a .701 OPS through 519 plate appearances in the majors, isn’t a good enough catcher to be more than an emergency option behind the plate, and showed weak plate discipline even while crushing Triple-A pitching.
More than anything else, though, he shows that spring training numbers mean nothing as soon as the real games start. But we knew that already.
All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.
The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.
It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.
It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.
Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉