Geoff Blum and the uselessness of spring stats

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Lance Berkman is questionable to be ready for Opening Day following knee surgery last week and Zachary Levine of the Houston Chronicle reports that the Astros are leaning toward veteran utility man Geoff Blum as his replacement at first base.

In his absence, Geoff Blum started in the No. 5 spot in the lineup Sunday, giving protection to Hunter Pence and Carlos Lee, who batted third and fourth, respectively. …



Evaluating Blum by his spring numbers, however dangerous that is to do, he has looked like a middle-of-the-order hitter. He’s hitting 9-for-20 (.450) with three doubles in six games this spring. “If he continues to swing the bat well, I think everyone could see why I’d want him in that fifth spot,” [manager Brad] Mills said.

I believe the word I’m looking for is hogwash.
Geoff Blum is 36 years old and has played 11 seasons in the major leagues, hitting .250 with a measly .310 on-base percentage and punchless .387 slugging percentage in 4,088 total plate appearances spread over 1,256 games. And yet we’re supposed to believe that his going 9-for-20 in spring training has any kind of meaning whatsoever?
Spring training stats are pretty close to meaningless. Spring training stats consisting of 20 at-bats are exactly meaningless. And spring training stats consisting of 20 at-bats for a player with over 1,200 games on his big-league resume stretch beyond “meaningless” into “misleading.” As in, Blum is a bad hitter and focusing on 20 random at-bats in exhibition games may cause someone to think otherwise.
Blum has had plenty of very good 20-at-bat stretches in 11 seasons, but at the end of the day he has a .250 batting average with a .697 OPS for his career and hasn’t hit above .262 or posted an OPS above .705 since way back in 2002. Regardless of how long Berkman is out, for the sake of their sanity Astros fans better hope that quote from first-year manager Brad Mills is little more than lip service.

MLB’s juiced baseball is juicing Triple-A home run totals too

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There has been considerable evidence amassed over the past year or two that the baseball used by Major League Baseball has a lower aerodynamic profile, leading to less drag, which leads directly to more home runs. If you doubted that at all, get a load of what is happening in Triple-A right now.

The minors have always had different balls than the majors. The MLB ball is made in Costa Rica at a Rawlings facility. The minor league balls are made in China. They use slightly different materials and, by all accounts, the minor league balls do not have the same sort of action and do not travel as far as the big league balls. Before the season, as Baseball America reported, Major League Baseball requested that Triple-A baseball switch to using MLB balls. The reason: uniformity and, one presumes, more accurate analysis of performance at the top level of the minor leagues.

The result, as Baseball America reports today, is a massive uptick in homers in the early going to the Triple-A season:

Last April, Triple-A hitters homered once every 47 plate appearances. As the weather warmed up, so did the home run rate. Over the course of the entire 2018 season, Triple-A hitters homered every 43 plate appearances. So far this year, they are homering every 32 plate appearances. Triple-A hitters are hitting home runs at a rate of 135 percent of last year’s rate.

Again, that’s in the coldest, least-homer friendly month of the season. It’s gonna just get worse. Or better, I guess, if you’re all about the long ball.

Which you had better be, because if they did something to deaden the balls and reduce homers, we’d have the same historically-high strikeout and walk rates but with no homers to provide offense to compensate. At least unless or until hitters changed their approach to become slap hitters or something, but that could take a good while. And may still not be effective given the advances in defense since the last time slap hitting was an important part of the game.

In the meantime, enjoy the dingers, Triple-A fans.