Jake Fox has an MLB-high seven homers, but do spring stats really matter?

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Yesterday my Twitter feed lit up with Orioles writers marveling at Jake Fox hitting his sixth and seventh homers of the spring, which is good for the MLB lead and suddenly makes his chances of cracking the Opening Day roster a popular topic.

While no doubt impressed by the power display, manager Buck Showalter explained to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun that Fox’s work defensively at catcher is also a huge factor:

I want him to show me what he can do catching. We all know he is capable of doing some good things with the bat. He had a good game behind the plate, a better game behind the plate. That’s really what I was looking at today.

Then, when asked if someone could hit seven spring training homers and still not make the team, Showalter replied simply: “Yes.” That may seem like a harsh assessment, particularly since any standout spring performances will get a certain segment of a team’s fan base clamoring for that player to make the team or take on a much bigger role, but in the big picture spring training performances simply aren’t that predictive.

For instance, last spring eight guys hit at least six homers. Ryan Zimmerman went on to post a career-high OPS and Chris Johnson hit .308 as a rookie, but none of the other six guys turned their big spring into a big regular season. Sean Rodriguez hit .251 and managed only nine homers in 118 games. Mike Napoli had a career-low .784 OPS that was 60 points below his 2009 mark. Justin Upton took a big step backward after a breakout 2009. Aaron Hill hit .205 in a miserable season. John Bowker hit .219. Delwyn Young hit .236.

You get the idea.

Spring training performances get a lot of attention because … well, what else is everyone writing about and watching a team every day going to focus on? However, ultimately whether a 28-year-old hitter like Fox with a lengthy track record on which to judge him performs well or poorly in some small sample of at-bats against pitchers of widely varying quality in games that don’t count for anything just doesn’t mean a whole lot.

None of which is to say Fox isn’t capable of producing when the games count, because despite struggling in the majors he has shown plenty of power in the minors. And certainly Fox hitting seven homers this spring is much better than Fox hitting zero homers this spring, but 50 at-bats shouldn’t dramatically alter the way Showalter and the Orioles view a player with nearly 3,000 at-bats in the majors and minors.

Christian Yelich on Manny Machado: “it was a dirty play by a dirty player”

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As we wrote during last night’s game, the Brewers and Dodgers benches cleared after Brewers first baseman Jesus Aguilar and Dodgers shortstop Manny Machado exchanged words at first base. The exchange came after Machado dragged his left leg, slamming it into Aguilar’s leg as he crossed the bag . During postgame interviews in the wee hours this morning, a couple of Brewers players took issue with Machado.

Outfielder Christian Yelich did not mince words, saying the play at first was “a dirty play by a dirty player.” When he was done answering questions, he said of Machado, “F**k that motherf***er.”

His comments in full, not including the expletive, which were noted by several assembled reporters:

You all could see how that unfolded. Everyone has their own opinion. He is a player that has a history with those types of incidents. One time is an accident. Repeated over and over again. It’s a dirty play. It’s a dirty play by a dirty player. I have a lot of respect for him as a player but you can’t respect someone who plays the game like that. it was a tough-fought baseball game. It has no place in our game. We’ve all grounded out. Run through the bag like you’ve been doing your whole life like everybody else does. If it’s an accident it’s an accident. On the replay to us, it clearly looks like you clearly go out of your way to step on someone. It just has no place in our game. It’s unacceptable. I don’t know what his problem is honestly. I’ve played against him for a long time. It has no place in the game.

Travis Shaw had his opinion too:

“Dirty play. You saw the replay. He can say all he wants that he didn’t do it, but it’s pretty obvious he meant to do it. He’s shown it multiple times throughout his career. I mean, it’s just a dirty play. A kick to his leg right there. It was not by mistake.”

Brewers manager Craig Counsell was also asked about Machado and whether he thought the play was dirty. Counsell declined to say so explicitly, but he clearly signaled that he agreed with his players, all while taking a pretty sharp swipe at Machado in his own way. At least you realize that’s what he’s saying when you remember that, in baseball, the usual defense to playing “dirty” is that the guy involved is actually just “playing hard”:

Q. Two things: How did you see the play with Machado at first base? And given that, combined with the slides, do you think he’s going to beyond the grounds of playing hard?

Counsell: I don’t know. I guess they got tangled up at first base. I don’t think he’s playing all that hard.

So yes, I’d say that’s Counsell implying strongly that he thinks the play was dirty while simultaneously taking a swipe at Machado for being lazy. Which, let’s be honest, is also a fair charge given recent events.

For his part, Machado said, “I play baseball, I try to go out there and win for my team. If that’s their comments, that’s their comments, I can’t do nothing about that.” Which, should be noted, is not a denial.

As we’ve noted, this was not the first incident involving Machado on the base paths in this series. In Game 3 Machado twice attempted to interfere with Brewers shortstop Orlando Arcia at the second base bag, getting called for interference on the second one. Anyone watching the play with Aguilar could see that Machado was trying to interfere with him too.

It may be worth noting at this point that, four years ago, Machado was suspended for five games for throwing a bat at a guy.

The Dodgers are no doubt happy with their victory, but there are likely a lot of players around the game — including, I would imagine, players on his own team — who are not too happy with what Machado has shown this series.