Spring Training Results

Dave · February 24, 2013 at 11:13 pm · Filed Under Mariners 

I put up a version of this post every year. For those who have been reading for a while, I apologize for the redundancy, but it unfortunately remains necessary.

As you are no doubt aware, Cactus League games began over the weekend. The good news is that means that we can stop hearing about who looked good jogging and stretching. The bad news is that now we have to hear who looked good because they put together a nice week or two against minor league pitching in a minor league ballpark in games that don’t count.

The usefulness of spring training statistics have been examined a couple hundred ways, and the result is always the same – they hold no information of value. Whether a guy has a good spring (Munenori Kawasaki hit .455 in Arizona last year) or a bad spring (John Jaso didn’t get a hit until the final week in March), the data has no predictive value. It is completely worthless, for all the reasons Jeff laid out a few weeks ago.

Every year, though, decisions are made based on how players do in March. The decisions are justified by claiming that it they aren’t based on the results, but on how the players look to experienced coaches and scouts who are paid to evaluate players in an up-close-and-personal atmosphere. The problem is that human beings — even experienced scouts and coaches — are pretty terrible at evaluating the difference between “how a guy looks” and what his results are.

In other words, it’s really hard to look bad if you’re hitting a bunch of home runs. It’s really hard to look good if every pitch you throw ends up as a rocket off the bat. Our opinion of how a player looks is informed by the outcome of the plays he is directly involved in. Yes, even trained MLB coaches. Despite the appeal to authority that people like to make, they are simply not immune to the biases that are inherent in our human reaction to watching people perform.

Last year, Eric Wedge watched John Jaso do poorly at absolutely everything, and his evaluation was that Jaso couldn’t help the team in any real capacity, so he stuck him at the end of the bench and never used him. He watched Hisashi Iwakuma give up a bunch of hits and decided that he wasn’t ready to pitch in the Majors, so he made him the backup long reliever and never let him pitch either. Meanwhile, Blake Beavan and Hector Noesi locked up their rotation jobs with strong springs. Alex Liddi played himself onto the team by showing a significantly improved approach at the plate, edging out Carlos Peguero for the final roster spot, despite the fact that Peguero was also deemed to be quite impressive in March.

When the games started counting, it became clear that Noesi and Beavan didn’t belong in the rotation, Jaso was the team’s best catcher, Iwakuma was being completely wasted in the bullpen, and Liddi still had no business in the Major Leagues. Of course, neither did Peguero. Pretty much every decision about playing time that was influenced by what the coaches saw last March turned out to be incorrect. And those decisions haunted the Mariners all year long. It wasn’t until the second half of the year that Jaso and Iwakuma finally got the roles they deserved, and half a season of good performances weren’t enough to change the coaches predetermined minds about what kind of skills Jaso possessed.

It wasn’t just the fringe guys either. The biggest story coming out of spring training last year was Ichiro’s rebirth as a #3 hitter, as he hit .415/.479/.634 in Cacus League play. A close second was how strong Dustin Ackley looked, as 10 of his 13 hits went for extra bases and he only struck out five times in 45 at-bats. You know what happened to those two once April rolled around.

There were basically two stories from last spring that turned out to contain real grains of truth: Michael Saunders‘ revamped swing and Erasmo Ramirez‘s stuff taking a step forward.

Early on, it became clear that Saunders was hitting for power to to the opposite field, which he had never really been able to do before. I wrote about that last March 15th, for instance, as we followed with some amazement as Saunders drove double after double to left and center in Arizona. While he was still a pull-heavy hitter during the regular season, he took a big step forward in his results on hitting to center field, which was one of the primary reasons he had a breakthrough 2012 season.

That said, Saunders didn’t exactly have a monstrous Spring Training from a results perspective. He hit .356/.396/.533, which is pretty good until you remember that everyone hits well in Arizona. Of the 10 guys who got at least 40 at-bats in spring training last year, Saunders’ .929 OPS ranked seventh, just barely ahead of Jesus Montero (.923). The only guys who got regular playing time and didn’t hit as well as Saunders last year were Chone Figgins and Casper Wells. If we expand the list to guys with 30 or more at-bats, Saunders also falls behind Justin Smoak.

So, yeah, Saunders showed something last spring that was worth paying attention to, but it wasn’t a results thing – it was a change in mechanics and a display of a skill he did not previously have. Likewise, Erasmo Ramirez showed an average fastball speed of 94 MPH in games at Peoria (where PITCHF/x cameras are installed), which is well above what he’d shown previously in the minors. Like with Saunders, the results weren’t overly spectacular — one walk, four strikeouts in 10 innings — but the stuff was significantly better than had been seen in the minors, and Ramirez’s uptick in velocity allowed him to move from being a suspect to a real prospect.

Saunders and Ramirez exemplified the kinds of changes that actually matter in March. Big changes in velocity can matter, though as Felix showed, velocity loss can also not really matter, so don’t read too much into guys working to get their fastballs up to normal speed over the next few weeks. I’d say a velocity spike — recorded by a PITCHF/x camera, not a radar gun, and adjusted for the readings other pitchers were getting that day — is more important than velocity loss in March. For hitters, we don’t have such an easily recordable skill measurement, so there’s going to be a lot more of the BS fluff stories about so-and-so changing his swing. With Saunders, it was real, but it also resulted in a pretty obvious change in the direction and trajectory of the ball coming off his bat.

The rest of it, though, was total garbage. And pretty much 90% of what you’re going to read and hear over the next month is going to be total garbage. Jason Bay is going to “look good” when he hits home runs, and he’s going to “look old” when he strikes out. Unfortunately, the organization and the coaching staff have shown that they’re going to make decisions based on how guys look in Arizona, and so as long as Jason Bay stays healthy and hits a few more home runs, he’s probably going to make the team, while Casper Wells will be shipped off to someone who has a better grasp of Wells’ skills. This is an unfortunately predictable outcome, and I’m preparing myself for the inevitable dump of Wells at the end of camp, while we read about how Bay’s rejuvenation just pushed him off the squad. It’s going to be annoying, and it’s going to happen because the Mariners put a value on how players “look” in spring training.

That doesn’t mean you have to. Ignore the BS that filters down over the next five weeks. Whatever you think about the players today, you should think that about them on April 1st. Spring training performances simply don’t matter. We’d all be better off if they just had the entire exhibition season in private. What matters is what happens when the games count. None of these games count, and none of what happens actually matters.

If there’s a Saunders or Ramirez situation that suggests that further evaluation is required, we’ll talk about it, as we did with those two last spring. Those are the exceptions that prove the rule, however. By and large, you can basically ignore everything that happens between now and Opening Day and you’ll be no worse off for having skipped all of it.

Comments

50 Responses to “Spring Training Results”

  1. Westside guy on February 25th, 2013 12:49 am

    I’m already steeling myself against Bay making the team and Ibañez being handed a starting corner OF job… here’s hoping I’m wrong.

    On the plus side – it’s good to have baseball again!

  2. maqman on February 25th, 2013 4:40 am

    If Bay keeps it up he’s going to cause problems but he just might be the first of Z’s veteran reclamation prospects to prosper in some time. If he costs us Wells and then sucks I’m going to be ticked off.

  3. ripperlv on February 25th, 2013 4:46 am

    Spring training is for Bonderman and Garland to win jobs so that Beavan is sent to Tacoma and the kids refine their skills until June so that they don’t hit super2. Otherwise, you sound like the grinch that stole spring training, but very good points.

  4. MangoLiger on February 25th, 2013 6:39 am

    Jaso was coming off a terrible year in TB, and he looked terrible in spring training. How exactly were they supposed to know he was back to being good?

    Iwakuma was coming off a serious shoulder injury and looked terrible in spring. They were almost certainly keeping him back to start the year so he could continue to build up his strength. If they threw him in as a starter to start the year, he may very well have been terrible.

  5. Westside guy on February 25th, 2013 6:50 am

    As I recall, Iwakuma wasn’t being held back from starting… he wasn’t being used *at all*. People were joking around about whether he was going to be the last MLB roster member to make it into a game in 2012.

  6. LoydKristmis on February 25th, 2013 6:59 am

    I know we like to blame these decisions on the coaching staff, but at some point the front office needs to be held accountable for coaches decisions.

    Is there a post coming about how the Z administration has lost it’s way? It is unfortunate that they appear to have given up on the original process that had this community so excited for the future.

  7. shortbus on February 25th, 2013 7:11 am

    In Spring the only stuff I pay attention to is whether a player returning from injury looks like he’s healthy, and if pitchers can throw strikes. If a pitcher is walking a lot of guys late in Spring Training I get worried. I don’t care how many hits or dingers they give up though. With Pitch F/X you can also look at velocity, which is valid.

    I’m actively rooting against Ibanez and Bay at this point. Every time they hit the ball hard it brings us closer to having a 5th and 6th 1B/DH on the roster.

  8. shortbus on February 25th, 2013 7:17 am

    Just noticed something interesting about Bay’s Spring stats the last two years: the total lack of power. In 2011 and 2012 he slugged .381 and .239, respectively with ISO’s of .048 and .043. This lack of pop carried into the season. I should think that showing no power in a homer-happy environment could at least be a red flag that something’s not right with a guy. The opposite, however, is not the case: slugging well in Spring is meaningless.

  9. Hutch on February 25th, 2013 7:28 am

    Yeah the Jaso thing (and how long it lasted) was borderline criminal, but For the sake of fairness I think Iwakuma needed to be eased into the role he eventually took, having come off of a shoulder injury and never having pitched in the majors.

  10. Kyle in Illinois on February 25th, 2013 7:37 am

    So the ideal scenario would be to have no spring training at all, since nothing that happens matters, or to have it take place completely in private. But since neither of those things will ever happen, what are teams supposed to do?

    “Sorry, I know you competed your butt off for six weeks and hit .376 and was great in the clubhouse and made an investment with your teammates–but the in depth numbers say you won’t be very good this year so forget about it.” Why would anyone even bother competing?

  11. Westside guy on February 25th, 2013 7:52 am

    What matters in spring training is that people still seem to need getting into game shape.

  12. make_dave_proud on February 25th, 2013 7:55 am

    I agree with Dave’s point about ignoring spring results, but I think the judgment against Wedge and company here is presumptive. Some of the assessment against them is post-results, armchair quarterbacking.

    “Alex Liddi played himself onto the team by showing a significantly improved approach at the plate”

    “Saunders was hitting for power to to the opposite field, which he had never really been able to do before.”

    Saunders succeeded during the regular season, and Liddi did not. I’m not certain if there is anyone who could have identified the difference between these two last spring and knew how that would translate to the regular season.

    Still, I agree with Dave on most points here.

  13. mrb on February 25th, 2013 7:58 am

    Dumb question: Is there a relationship between good/bad spring training performances and the rate that a player outperforms their mid-level PECOTA projection?

  14. casey on February 25th, 2013 8:06 am

    third base was a big question mark for the M’s last spring. I was in Peoria last spring and went to 12 games – one of the other guys who seemed to move forward last spring was Kyle Seager. Had shown doubles power before but never the homerun power he flashed in March. Like Liddi he was one of the options at thirdbase, was a bit of surprise for me that he played as well in spring games and then carried that success into the season really solidifying his job as the regular thirdbaseman.

    Think where there are questions that spring games and results / performance does have some value. For me – just less questions going into the 2013 season.

  15. ivan on February 25th, 2013 8:10 am

    Wedge and the coaches insisted that Iwakuma went to the bullpen to build his arm strength, which wasn’t present at the end of spring training, and that only after he recovered it did he assume a spot in the rotation. This was widely reported.

    So are you saying that they lied, Dave, and are just now saying that after the fact, to cover up their own incompetence and lack of confidence in a pitcher who should have been in the rotation from Opening Day?

    I’m not saying either way, because I DON’T KNOW. If you don’t believe Wedge and the coaches were telling the truth about Iwakuma’s arm strength not being in rotation-ready shape, why not just come out and say so?

  16. Dave on February 25th, 2013 8:16 am

    We talked about this all last year, while it was happening. It was always BS.

    Hisashi Iwakuma’s velocity didn’t change all season long. The “arm strength” excuse was just the cover they gave the public as to why he wasn’t being used. In reality, they didn’t like his results in spring training, so they decided he was bad, and then they didn’t use him until they had to because their preferred options were terrible. It is that simple.

    You don’t build up a guy’s arm strength by having him go weeks without pitching. If they were really concerned with his health, they would have put him on the DL and had him start the season on rehab. It wasn’t an arm strength issue. It was a talent evaluation issue.

  17. PBS on February 25th, 2013 8:18 am

    Agree with the point about spring training stats being misleading, and hoping the team doesn’t place too much faith in the wrong people, but…

    After seeing the Seahawks revival, and Pete Carroll’s belief in competition, then seeing Russell Wilson outplay Matt Flynn, and everything that followed…

    Why wouldn’t we want jobs to be decided by open competition? Seems better than naming an opening day 1B before spring training (Smoak), giving a guy a roster spot cuz we cant get rid of him (Figgins), or veteran leadership (Ibanez). And if Casper Wells is so great, shouldnt he be able to beat out Bay and Ibanez easily?

  18. ndevale on February 25th, 2013 8:27 am

    A suggestion – as you have republished this for several years, perhaps you could reframe it as “What can be learned from Spring Training and what cannot”, or something similar. For example, it seems that pitcher’s velocity, while not conclusive, may be relevant. Health, as well, may be observable. I do not mean “the best shape of his life”, but “held out of three games for back stiffness” might say something about a player’s offseason conditioning. You refer to Saunder’s and a commmenter compares Saunders to Liddi. Are there specific skills which are subject to analysis and projection and which can be observed during Spring Training? That would be interesting to know.

  19. ndevale on February 25th, 2013 8:27 am

    Saunders’. My mistake.

  20. Paul B on February 25th, 2013 8:35 am

    And if Casper Wells is so great, shouldnt he be able to beat out Bay and Ibanez easily?

    Given sufficient sample size, he would. Especially if you included fielding. Dave just got through saying how Spring Training isn’t a sufficient sample size. Heck, last spring nobody in the Cactus League beat out Mune!

    I don’t know if it was accurate, or if it was just spring training broadcasting fluff, but Rizzs and Goldsmith were saying how Wedge wants to go with the players who do best in the Spring.

    What really annoys me is the over reliance on spring results while ignoring past results. That is why you get the corpse of Miguel Olivo beating out Jaso for catcher.

  21. DarkKnight1680 on February 25th, 2013 8:36 am

    This poses a very real problem. If the results of the preseason do not have any predictive effect for the regular season (and the studies would tell you that they don’t), then on what basis can a team make a roster decision other than results from the previous season? It basically forces teams to simply say “you were good last year so you’re in. You were bad last year so you’re out.”, which can’t really be much more effective when it comes to identifying upgrades within the organization. As another poster pointed out, Jaso wouldn’t have been playing either way – he sucked in spring and he sucked the year before.

    Yes, if there are demonstrable skill changes then that could sway you, but only ones like swing speed or pitch velocity. And even then, you will hear that a guy is “working up to his top velocity” or whatever.

    It seems to me that it’s all straight guesswork. You can’t just assume that last year=this year. And you can’t assume that spring=summer. So either they guess, or they use the flawed data they have (either year-old data or unrepresentative spring data) to make decisions. Not ideal either way.

  22. Dave on February 25th, 2013 8:52 am

    Or, you know, you could use a projection based on more than just the last season’s data point. Which is what every good organization in baseball does.

  23. ChrisFB on February 25th, 2013 9:00 am

    If the Iwakuma health and recovery thing is all BS and it was simply the front office not trusting him yet and mis-evaluating him… well, Kuma’s been a really good soldier, ’cause he was repeating that line also about how much the slow ease into the season helped him build strength and confidence. He communicated that at-length during FanFest. Which really, you’d expect, because anything else would be griping and not being a team player.

    But still – we shouldn’t be scratching our heads or dismissive of the front office because they’re putting out a story about a player’s performance, or because of their stated reasons for spring-training-based judgments. The player (most of the time) goes along with it too. This isn’t yet another ‘front offices / managements are duplicitous spin doctors’ sort of thing when the player is going along with it like this.

  24. ChrisFB on February 25th, 2013 9:05 am

    Or, you know, you could use a projection based on more than just the last season’s data point. Which is what every good organization in baseball does.

    What are some prominent examples of clubs who do this? I don’t follow spring training news, notes and quotes for anyone but the M’s, so I don’t know.

    I thought every baseball team put out their “best shape of his life” sorts of lines about players, and that most teams have guys who win jobs based on spring training performances (or at least with those performances as the stated reasons).

    Which teams have a track record of finalizing their 25-man rosters using multi-season projections, selecting guys based off of a projection that looks much better than their spring or the previous season would have told you?

  25. Paul B on February 25th, 2013 9:15 am

    Which teams have a track record of finalizing their 25-man rosters using multi-season projections, selecting guys based off of a projection that looks much better than their spring or the previous season would have told you?

    First one that comes to mind would be Oakland.

    But most teams do this, especially for their starters. For the last spot on the roster, I would guess a lot of teams just shrug and pick the guy that was hot. But for that last spot, you are talking either 100 AB’s in a season, or the mop up role in the bullpen. So it doesn’t make much difference who they pick.

  26. IllinoisMsFan on February 25th, 2013 9:34 am

    We’d all be better off if they just had the entire exhibition season in private.

    That wouldn’t work because the M’s would still keep track of the stats from the games and still make decisions based off those stats. We just wouldn’t be privy to those numbers or be able to see what they are basing their decisions on.

    The only solution would be to ban any games, inter-squad or otherwise, and force teams to make decisions based on prior years stats, playing catch, infield practice and BP. I’m not sure that’s much of an improvement but, whatever.

  27. djw on February 25th, 2013 9:52 am

    As another poster pointed out, Jaso wouldn’t have been playing either way – he sucked in spring and he sucked the year before.

    When they traded for him, I assumed it was because someone in the organization understood that his poor results in 2011 were the product of bad BABIP luck. This isn’t a difficult thing to grasp; Dave wrote about it extensively as I recall.

  28. ivan on February 25th, 2013 10:09 am

    “Hisashi Iwakuma’s velocity didn’t change all season long. The “arm strength” excuse was just the cover they gave the public as to why he wasn’t being used. In reality, they didn’t like his results in spring training, so they decided he was bad, and then they didn’t use him until they had to because their preferred options were terrible. It is that simple.”

    I see. So you’re telling me that in all cases, we should believe the numbers, and in no cases, ever, should we believe our lying eyes. No balance here? Not even an attempt at it?

    Maybe Iwakuma’s velocity was OK but his stamina wasn’t. Maybe his control wasn’t OK. Do you know for a fact that bullpen work didn’t help build his arm strength? Were you in on the conversations between Wedge and the coaches?

    I’m not saying that your conclusions are wrong, mind you. I’m saying there is conflicting input, and when you say Wedge and the coaches lied about Iwakuma, you haven’t proven it to me.

    The guy was coming off surgery and they had never watched him pitch in person, up close. Exactly what in Billy Blue Hill does anyone EXPECT a manager and a coaching staff to do when a pitcher looks horseshit and gets bombed in spring training games?

    Either way, there’s a lot of guesswork, and for you to claim that it’s as cut and dried as you say — sorry to tell you — borders on intellectual dishonesty. This is not chemistry, where equations balance. Uncertainty and potential are built into every decision.

    I remember arguing this very point with you when I commented here, after seeing Jack Cust fail to catch up with a 92 MPH fastball, that he was finished. You said I couldn’t possibly know that, and I admitted that yes, there was a chance that I was mistaken, but that was sure as hell how it looked.

    As it turned out in hindsight, Cust was finished. I admitted up front that I was guessing, and to be blunt, that’s all you’re doing. Have the integrity to admit it.

  29. Mike Snow on February 25th, 2013 10:21 am

    I’d love to hear a reaction about how we should view Blake Beavan’s “downward plane” work in this context. Obviously we don’t care if it’s reflected in his spring statistics, even more so since integrating significant changes in approach may take some time to show improved results. But in theory it makes sense in terms of addressing one of his biggest flaws in being too generally hittable overall. And I’ve always been puzzled as to why his profile screams “fifth starter” when he was a first-round pick at one point. You would think somebody must have seen much greater potential in him then, maybe this is more along the lines of what the Rangers hoped for when they drafted him.

  30. djw on February 25th, 2013 10:21 am

    Exactly what in Billy Blue Hill does anyone EXPECT a manager and a coaching staff to do when a pitcher looks horseshit and gets bombed in spring training games?

    Use information that’s useful, rather than information that isn’t.

    Seriously, this isn’t rocket science. Lots of organizations do it. Every year, dozens of pitchers with a history of success have lousy March performances, and are put right back in the rotation or high leverage role their past performance demonstrated they were suited for.

  31. Dave on February 25th, 2013 10:37 am

    You can’t work on building up your arm strength with bullpen sessions when you’re a member of the bullpen. Relievers don’t throw bullpen sessions. They can’t, because they have to be ready to pitch on a given day, and they can’t have just thrown 50 pitches in the bullpen in the afternoon and then still be fresh for that night’s game. Starters throw bullpen sessions in between starts. Relievers do not.

    You can keep calling it “lying” all you want. The reality is that coaches just don’t give negative on-the-record quotes about their own players abilities. If Wedge thought Iwakuma was terrible, he certainly wasn’t going to tell you that. This is a guy his boss paid a few million dollars to acquire. He’s not going to come out and say “man, that guy, he’s crap. I don’t know what Jack was thinking.”

    But, you don’t have to believe the cover story either. Again, if the Mariners thought Iwakuma needed to build up arm strength, they would have started him on the DL and let him actually pitch in extended spring or in Tacoma. You don’t build up arm strength by flying around with the team and never actually taking the mound. You build arm strength by throwing. The Mariners actions in regards to Iwakuma last spring are far more telling than the Mariners words.

  32. ivan on February 25th, 2013 10:50 am

    OK, Dave, you made your points and I made mine. Thank you.

  33. stevemotivateir on February 25th, 2013 10:52 am

    I remember several of us joking in game threads, questioning how Wedge intended to build up Iwakuma’s arm strength, while sitting on the bench.

    What was really surprising, as Dave pointed out, is how Wedge could sit him for so long, while Beavan and Noesi stunk it up consistently. There’s really no excuse or argument for that, as both had options.

    I’d love to hear Wedge’s real reasoning for some of his decisions. I don’t buy the public comments we typically hear after games. I’d also love to hear the opinions of other Managers regarding some of the odd decisions Wedge made last year.

  34. Steve Nelson on February 25th, 2013 10:54 am

    @ Mike Snow on February 25th, 2013 10:21 am

    [snip]
    And I’ve always been puzzled as to why his profile screams “fifth starter” when he was a first-round pick at one point. You would think somebody must have seen much greater potential in him then, maybe this is more along the lines of what the Rangers hoped for when they drafted him.

    After Beavan got into the Rangers organization they reworked his delivery to prevent what they thought was an inevitable career-ending arm injury. After the changes he lost significant velocity, and his projection sank in tandem.

  35. dogkahuna on February 25th, 2013 10:57 am

    I have questions, Dave. Do you think spring training is overdone and too long? It seems training camps for other sports (from which athletes need to emerge in far better athletic shape than baseball players) are less drawn out. Is ST so long because it’s a money-maker?

  36. Steve Nelson on February 25th, 2013 10:59 am

    ” if the Mariners thought Iwakuma needed to build up arm strength, they would have started him on the DL and let him actually pitch in extended spring or in Tacoma. You don’t build up arm strength by flying around with the team and never actually taking the mound. You build arm strength by throwing. ”

    I can’t believe the Mariners beat-writers, which includes one of sharpest and keenest baseball reporting intellects extant, didn’t think to ask that question. Surely we all missed the answer to such an obvious question. [sarcasm]

  37. greentunic on February 25th, 2013 11:44 am

    I imagine skills or behaviors that solidify in smaller sample sizes can at least be looked at in spring. Things like:

    Outside of Zone Swing %
    Inside of Zone Swing %
    Contact Rate %

    Batted ball speed and the breaks on pitches could also be telling I would think.

  38. BLYKMYK44 on February 25th, 2013 12:21 pm

    My quesetion about Iwakuma is if you believe that it was truly about building arm strength then why would you support the fact that they basically played with 24 players for the first month of the season while he was being rounded into shape?

    It feels like if you are going to argue against Dave’s point you’re basically just saying the coaches/organization did something even more harmful to the team…

  39. MrZDevotee on February 25th, 2013 12:27 pm

    I agree with what you’re saying, Dave, and it’s easy to find the results that sum up what you’re saying– but it leaves so much up in the air…

    How are we supposed to evaluate Iwakuma, Kawasaki, Jaso, etc., if we’re going to ignore their Spring stats? How do we decide to give Michael Pineda a rotation spot without his Spring performance? Why do we wait until the end of Spring to cut guys?

    I just scratch my head over it. Especially rookies and guys from Japan, who have no history in the majors to indicate their talents at this level (we definitely all know minor league stats mean nothing– “Hi Mike Carp, hi Peggy!”)

    I mean essentially the suggestion is you have to use the first month of a real season to make these judgements, but that’s still an extremely small sample size, and if you stick too long with trying to evaluate them, the guys who aren’t gonna cut it are going to cost you too much before it’s settled.

    So yeah, what ARE the best tools for management to use to evaluate which players’ talents are significantly different than their Spring results? And which guys are essentially the same as their Spring performance?

    Which sucky guys are good? And which sucky guys actually suck?

    Which Spring stats leaders actually suck? And which Spring stats leaders are actually future Major Leaguers?

    Or are we just saying it’s guesswork, and you should just use your gut? A good manager would have felt something that told him to start Iwakuma, start Jaso over Olivo and Montero, and cut Kawasaki?

    I wish we would have done all those things, certainly, but what info would we have used to know we should do that? Can someone define that?

    Just curious. And again, I absolutely agree 100%, I just wonder what can be done about it?

  40. djw on February 25th, 2013 12:48 pm

    How are we supposed to evaluate Iwakuma, Kawasaki, Jaso, etc., if we’re going to ignore their Spring stats?

    You pay attention to statistics that do have predictive value, rather than ones that don’t.

    People keep asking this like it’s some sort of rhetorical question with no answer, but lots of organizations operate this way all the time.

    we definitely all know minor league stats mean nothing– “Hi Mike Carp, hi Peggy!”

    This is absurd. Because there is a particular profile of hitter–basically, power hitters with a terrible approach at the plate–whose minor league stats are misleading, does not mean minor league statistics have no predictive value. There’s a ton of research on this, starting with Bill James back in the 80′s, and you can’t waive it off with a couple of players.

  41. MrZDevotee on February 25th, 2013 2:45 pm

    djw-
    Then can you answer the question please (I’m being serious, not snarky)– pretend I’m stupid (or you might not need to pretend, up to you)…

    Your frustration mirrors mine– I keep hearing how Spring Stats mean nothing, but no one offers “this is what to pay attention to instead:____”.

    And then I’d love to see the proof of how those stats corrected for misleading Spring stats, and predicted a correction/regression that was dependable once the season starts. Again, talking about only guys without years of career data, ’cause that’s usually who this applies to… (Thanks Westy, for the new “prepositions” rule).

    It’s not wrong to call “arm chair qb’ing” when there is talk of a problem without any offer of a solution. If there was no obvious, infallible, alternate choice, then it’s “absurd” to say with any sort of certainty “That was a stupid choice”, isn’t it?

    Again, the question is– what info would have helped Wedge correctly add Iwakuma to the rotation, start Jaso over the other options, and cut Kawasaki?

    What stats will tell you how to “corrective-ly” evaluate Iwakuma and Kawasaki last year, before they’d ever played in the MLB?

    That was my question.

    (And sorry for my being “absurd”… I guess a guy like Ackley made me not realize that swing data/plate discipline can be a pure predictor of MLB translation of skills. I mainly follow the M’s and it’s been awhile since we had a pure hitter with good plate skills in the minors, so folks like me probably skip over the idea that certain stats are solid predictors of success at the next level… Apologies to Bill James.

    I’ve always considered that the leap from minors to majors is as significant and eye opening as the leap from high school to major conference college. I suppose I’ve mistakenly assumed that success at any one level doesn’t indicate success at the next.)

  42. JH on February 25th, 2013 3:28 pm

    “Again, the question is– what info would have helped Wedge correctly add Iwakuma to the rotation, start Jaso over the other options, and cut Kawasaki?”

    Track record. There was plenty of evidence that a healthy Iwakuma-who was dynamite for years in the NPB–could pitch.
    There was even more evidence that Kawasaki-who couldn’t hit a lick in Japan-wouldn’t be able to hit big league pitching. And there was good reason to believe that Jaso wouldn’t keep getting ridiculously unlucky on balls in play (244 BABIP in ’11), and was worthy of at least a legitimate job-share with Olivo right out of the gate.

  43. MrZDevotee on February 25th, 2013 3:48 pm

    JH-
    Huh?

    Iwakuma was facing Japenese hitters, and coming off a pretty severe injury… Couple red flags (hence the low salary, low interest from other teams)… Plenty of Japanese pitchers have struggled against MLB talent.

    Kawasaki’s career in Japan:
    >>”…in his rookie season (2000), hitting .300 and finishing fifth in the Western League in batting average that year.”"Kawasaki hit .367 in the Western League the following year (2002), winning the batting title”
    >>”Kawasaki became the Hawks’ starting shortstop for the 2004 season, playing in all 133 regular season games and hitting over .300. He led the league in both hits (174, tied with teammate and cleanup hitter Nobuhiko Matsunaka) and steals (42) and was chosen to both the Best Nine[6] and Golden Glove awards”
    >>”Kawasaki bounced back in 2006, hitting a career-high .312 and winning the Pacific League Best Nine and Golden Glove awards at shortstop”
    >>”He hit a team-high .366 in interleague games and collected 37 hits (leading the NPB) in limited time, leading the Hawks to their first interleague title and winning the interleague Most Valuable Player (marking the first time a position player had been named to the award).” (2008)

    He was a slap hitter, and, like with Ichiro, no one was sure how that would translate here (and we were probably predisposed to believe it works great– given Ichiro’s first 10 years, and not a lot of comparable style plaers).

    As for Jaso– he was 2 years into his not even full-time career, with one good year, one bad year, with little solid evidence to say which was true of his talents? (And even in hindsight, to what degree was Jaso’s 2012 success related to only facing one type of pitcher?)

    I understand all of what you said– just saying none of it was rock solid evidence of a different prediction. (Y’know, or lots of folks would have been all over Jaso in the past 7 months we’d been trying to trade him… We wouldn’t have signed Kawasaki in the first place… And someone would have given Iwakuma something closer to what he’ll be earning this year– now that we know how he can do here… I mean the WHOLE POINT of a lot of Z’s signings is that we don’t know what we got, but we didn’t pay very much… Rebound players, first time major leaguers, bartenders… Teachers… That’s what we’ve done the past few years– so when are we supposed to evaluate it and decide if they can play or not?)

  44. MrZDevotee on February 25th, 2013 3:57 pm

    And AGAIN– to state again, I agree with what Dave said. The evidence is clear… But yet, the question remains, what should we use instead to judge Bonderman, Garland, Bay, Hultzen, Paxton, Maurer (my fave of the young guns), etc.

  45. Steve Nelson on February 25th, 2013 4:50 pm

    For the moment, let’s set aside first-year Japanese players. For everyone else, you have a good record of what they are based on their career performance to date. Not last season, but their overall performance over several years (including minor leagues). That is what counts; that is really the only thing that counts.

    But where that information should lead to is an assessment of what that player’s skills are and how he stacks up as a potential MLB contributor. Sometimes that analysis will identify some specific skill or some specific adjustment he needs to establish or master. Spring training is an opportunity to demonstrate improvement or mastery of that particular part of the game. This is why Saunders showing power to left field last spring was significant; he was showing that he had addressed a specific skill of known weakness. With a player coming back from an injury it might be demonstrating that the injury is healed and an ankle or knee can take weight.

    But someone suddenly going on a three week hitting tear in spring training means nothing, nor does it mean anything when someone goes into a slump. If a pitcher who has had mediocre K/9 rates throughout his career suddenly starts striking out more than one batter per inning in spring training that does not mean that he has become a strikeout pitcher and ought to break camp with the club. Or if a AAA hitter didn’t do enough to merit a call up during a nearly a full season in the minors last year, you shouldn’t award him a job just because he leads the team in hitting in Arizona. What those situations should lead to is you telling the player that he needs to demonstrate that the change is for real by keeping up the performance for a full season in minor league ball.

    Putting that all together, at the start of spring training you should have a pretty good sense of where almost every player is going to wind up when camp breaks. The exceptions will be those situations where there is a specific, defined item that the player needs to demonstrate.

    ****

    With respect to first year Japanese players you have to go off what the player did in Japan and what we know of how those skills translate across the ocean. The error band might be greater than for players who have spent their entire career in North America, but that error band is still much smaller than the ludicrously large error band associated with making decisions based on spring training stats.

  46. ArmchairKing on February 25th, 2013 5:37 pm

    I think what MrZDevotee is implying is that player evaluation by coaches during Spring Training is important and has some value. (Note that I am not placing any quantifier here on exactly how important compared to historical statistical performance indicators, lest the sabermatricians kill me with a thousand tiny pencils.) So if there’s some value to coaches evaluating player skills in Spring Training, acknowledge that and give those professionals an ounce of credit. It’s an oversimplification to say that Jaso and Iwakuma’s lack of opportunity and contributions to the team early in the season last year were the direct result of talent evaluation failures during Spring Training. I understand the frustration that comes with a perpetually losing team, but try to give an ounce of credit with every pound of scorn and blame. Team management did have the foresight to trade for/sign those same diamonds in the rough you argue should have played more, after all.

    Three further things that perplex me are:
    1) How every conversation around here teeters on the brink of an impassioned, voice-cracking nerd whine about John Jaso;
    2) If Spring Training is meaningless (we can agree on this), why are you surprised with/outraged by the lack of substantive reporting, and wealth of fluffy human-interest-type sports stories published in every single local market newspaper this time of year;
    3) Girls like home runs. Don’t you like girls?

  47. djw on February 25th, 2013 7:03 pm

    Your frustration mirrors mine– I keep hearing how Spring Stats mean nothing, but no one offers “this is what to pay attention to instead:____”.

    This has been answered time and time again; for some reason you can’t or won’t hear it. JH is right: track record. What we know they can do against live, serious competition (at a known quality level) with non-trivial sample sizes. The dilemma you pose is perhaps a serious one for 17 year olds from Venezuela or someone just off the boat from Cuba, I suppose, but it’s not really an issue for people with years of track records in Japan or the minors. There’s decades of research that says you’re simply wrong about the utility of minor league results, and the translation from Japanese to the big leagues isn’t as unknowable as you present here either. (Pulling a bunch of press release style quotes about Kawasaki is incredibly misleading; he generally hit an empty .300 and seemed to be entering his decline phase, and (IIRC) we know to adjust Japanese hitters at a greater rate than Japanese pitchers.) Granted, that information isn’t quite as useful as past major league performances, but it’s far, far more useful than information we know to be useless.

    But this notion you have that because the evidence from these players’ track record is slightly harder to read than MLB players, we should knowingly use useless evidence instead is weird.

    I do agree, though, that for Bonderman/Garland you have to use Spring to do some evaluations. Not results, preferably, but location/velocity/movement/ability to pitch a few innings without arm falling off, etc.

  48. bookbook on February 25th, 2013 7:41 pm

    Wedge has an established pattern – he doesn’t pinch hit, he doesn’t use the last pitcher in the pen unless a game goes 14 innings. If MLB changed the rules to 23 man rosters, the M’s would have an advantage. (no, the team wasn’t rounding Iwakuma into shape)

  49. Jopa on February 26th, 2013 4:11 am

    There article uses a lot more hindsight and exaggeration for my taste, but I get the point. Spring training is more about getting into game shape than it is, or should be, used in deciding who makes the team.

    I’d at least question relying entirely on large sample sizes of historical stats when filling out the roster because this, a) over-estimates the value of aging players on the decline, and b) underestimates the value of young players still improving.

    And this may not be the case with Wedge, but I would think that a good coaching staff should have some leeway to staff the team based on what they’re seeing throughout Spring Training (more than the stat line).

  50. Steve Nelson on February 26th, 2013 9:59 am

    @ Jopa on February 26th, 2013 4:11 am

    “I’d at least question relying entirely on large sample sizes of historical stats when filling out the roster because this, a) over-estimates the value of aging players on the decline, and b) underestimates the value of young players still improving.

    Those trends are already factored into projection systems. When you project a young player you project that he will continue to improve. Good projection systems get even more granular in considering what skill sets the particular player possesses and how those skill sets typically improve over time. The reverse considerations apply with older players.

    ***

    In the end, all decisions made in any field of endeavor are judgement calls. The purpose of analytical data is to inform and guide judgement. People who use analytical data intelligently factor in the quality and reliability of the data to make better decisions. If the numeric data are good enough you use the data to totally override your judgement. As the data get sloppier you value them less.

    But people who inappropriately downplay, dismiss, or ignore analytic information because they don’t understand it or because it conflicts with what they “know” to be correct destine themselves to inferior decision-making. This is as true of a person who ignores analytic data provided by scouts as it is the person who ignores analytic data from “statheads”.

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