Craig Calcaterra

Cleveland Indians v Cincinnati Reds

Spring training stats don’t matter . . . except when they do

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“Spring training stats don’t matter.” We often repeat that. And, in a general sense — the sense in which most of us think about stats — they kind of don’t. A guy who hits .395 in the spring is not necessarily poised for a batting title. A pitcher who puts up a spring ERA of 1.04 is not bloody well likely to keep that going. Even in a broad “guys who do well in spring will do well in the regular season” assertion is not very well borne out by the numbers.

But that doesn’t mean that there are no predictive spring training stats. Dan Rosenheck of the Economist believes he has determined that there are:

Yet in spite of all these caveats, the claim that spring-training numbers are useless is wrong. Not a little bit wrong, not debatably wrong—demonstrably and conclusively wrong. To be sure, the figures are noisy. But they still contain a signal. At the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference held in Boston on February 27th-28th, I presented a study (see slides) that explained how to extract the statistical golden nuggets buried in this troublesome dataset, and offered some lessons this example provides for the practice of quantitative sports research more broadly.

The stats that are predictive: peripherals like strikeouts per at bat for hitters and K/BB ratios for pitchers. The predictions one can make from such things are not spelled out in 50-foot neon letters and numbers — thus making them not easily consumed by the majority of us who are, at best, analytical dilettantes — but there is a signal above all of the spring training noise to be had if you’re looking for it.

Rosenheck’s larger takeaway: whenever you hear someone assert something unequivocally like “spring training stats are meaningless,” don’t buy it. Because it’s quite possible they just haven’t looked hard enough. And maybe don’t care to.

 

Mat Gamel is still alive. The Yankees just signed him.

gamel getty
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Mat Gamel was a top Brewers prospect for years, hitting .301 with 53 homers and an .886 OPS in 290 games at Triple-A over the course of his career. But he took a long time to get it together at the major league level. When he was finally given the Brewers starting first base job, bam, he tore ACL. That got fixed and, bam, another torn ACL. He hasn’t played in the bigs since 2012. Just horrendous luck for the guy.

Today he gets another chance, as the Yankees signed him. Obviously he’ll be in the minors, assuming he can show he’s healthy. But being organizational depth at this point is something to shoot for if you’re Gamel.

Good luck, kid.

Daniel Murphy exits game after being plunked on the hand

Daniel Murphy AP
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In the middle of all of the Matt Harvey excitement, something else happened in today’s Mets-Tigers game: David Price plunked Mets second baseman Daniel Murphy on the hand with a pitch. It seemed wholly accidental, if you care about such things.

The pitch hit Murphy on the back of the hand. He stayed in at first, but he was removed from the game before taking the field in the top of the second inning. He’ll presumably get X-Rays.

Between the Bean and the plunk, not the best week in the world for Murphy.

Matt Harvey makes his return. And he was really impressive.

Matt Harvey
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Matt Harvey made his spring debut today. It was his first action since undergoing Tommy John surgery in October 2013. It was pretty darn good.

He struck out the first batter he faced, Anthony Gose. He broke the bat of Jose Iglesias. Then he got Rajai Davis to hit into a simple ground ball out, breaking his bat too. Total for the first inning: ten pitches. He dialed it up to 98 m.p.h. on his fastball. No sweat.

In the second Harvey got Nick Castellanos to fly out to right-center. Then someone named Jordan Lennerton to strike out on three pitches (note: the Tigers don’t send a lot of veterans on the long bus ride to Port St. Lucie). Finally, Bryan Holaday struck out looking. Harvey hit 99 on the gun on his penultimate pitch.

Harvey tossed 25 pitches. He was slated to throw up to 35 today. So yeah, I’d say he had a good day.

Josh Reddick strained his oblique muscle

josh reddick getty
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The only news that seems to be happening today is injury news. The latest: Josh Reddick:

The A’s outfielder only played in 109 games last year due to a knee injury and only 114 games in 2013 due to a bum wrist. Not starting out 2015 much better, sadly.