TEMPE, Ariz. — After a one year detour to the Grapefruit League I am back in Arizona where God and Nature truly intended spring training to be. Well, assuming God isn’t the one behind the scorpions and the bees and things. If so, that could be a portent of some kind.
But assuming there’s no actual smiting afoot, you can save it, Florida people. Save the stuff about how spring training in Florida is older and more pure or what have you, because it doesn’t matter. Oh, it’s fine there. Some of the places are really nice. Lakeland has history and charm. Jet Blue Park is about as good a spring training facility as I’ve seen. Clearwater may have the best in-game atmosphere around. But if you’re a generalist looking to take in as much baseball as possible — be you a baseball scribe or a group of friends doing the spring training week of debauchery — Arizona has Florida beat hands-down. I’m here for eight days. I can stay in one hotel without moving and not have to spend either my evening or the next morning driving 100 miles to some other place. If you and your comrades wanted that debauchery, you could do it this way too.
Not that you need to engage in debauchery to enjoy yourself here. Indeed, if debauchery is a prerequisite I’m starting out this week pretty poorly. I landed in Phoenix just before noon yesterday and booked it to Scottsdale to catch what I could of the Dodgers-Giants game. Since I was late and not around for open clubhouses or anything and since I still had to check into my hotel and all that jazz, I wasn’t really on the clock. I could’ve snagged a cold one at the game. Or I could’ve easily decompressed from travel with post-game libations with silly Giants fans. I didn’t. I went to my hotel and ran on the treadmill. Then I went to a vegetarian restaurant (which is excellent, by the way). I had to drive past an In-N-Out Burger in order to get there yet I did it gladly. If the Baseball Writers Association of America ever sees fit to stop rejecting my applications, they’ll surely kick me right back out as a result of that. Oh, and then I went to bed at like, 9:30pm because of jet lag. Can’t stop me, man.
Maybe it’s just being in the warm weather after so much cold. Maybe it’s the smell of the grass. Maybe it’s just all of the people around you claiming to be in The Best Shape of Their Lives, but in the first 18 hours of my return to the Cactus League after a two year absence, all I want to do is feel healthy and enjoy the sunshine.
And enjoy it we shall. Today I’m heading out to Camelback Ranch to see Clayton Kershaw pitch against the Rockies. He tossed a no-hitter against those dudes last year. He’s only gonna get a couple of innings against them today, but I feel like he’s going to do just fine once again. Later in the week I’ll be in Mesa to see the Cubs and find out if everyone there is still as optimistic as they were over the winter. Then on to Peoria to see if the same thing can be said about the new-look Padres. I haven’t figured out the rest of the schedule — I can hit two games on Thursday and maybe Friday given some evening start times — so I’ll definitely be getting my fill.
And if I continue to feel healthy and boring, I may hike up Camelback Mountain this weekend. So, yeah, part of me is hoping that the unhealthy debauchery finds me before then in order to save me from such irrational behavior.
And by this I am not referring to the Angels’ Triple-A team, the Salt Lake Bees:
I’m getting on a plane this morning to go to spring training in Arizona. I do hope they have this cleared up by the time I get there.
Over the winter and, again, as spring training started, the New York tabloids were on Alex Rodriguez’s case about his attempting to play defense. The idea being that he’s not the Yankees’ third baseman anymore so even his efforts to take groundballs at third base were an act of defiance of some sort. Some selfishness on his part designed to be provocative.
You’ll recall the conceit of these items. That A-Rod “didn’t get the memo”
And of course:
Well, it appears that A-Rod continues to selfishly refuse to read the memo. And that evil SOB must’ve drugged or brainwashed Joe Girardi to allow him to actually play third base in a game yesterday. And must’ve drugged or brainwashed all of us into seeing him actually perform there decently:
He said after the game not to expect too much of him on defense this year, but hey, he can fill in from time to time. He also went 1 for 2 with a double. So the long-promised “A-Rod will be a disaster” spring training is not exactly going as planned
God, A-Rod. You can’t even screw up properly.
“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 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.