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Do Spring Training Performances Matter?

Spring Training is coming! Yankee pitchers and catchers report on February 13th, and I’ve heard reports of some position players already making their way to Tampa. The thaw from the cold winter is upon us!

Before we know it, Grapefruit and Cactus League games will be starting. Baseball starved fans will make the pilgrimage to ballparks in Florida and Arizona or to their television to watch their favorite teams round into shape, hopeful of the potential of a new season.

(By the way, here’s the YES network Spring Training Broadcast Schedule):

While it’s a great time of the year, the question is – do the games matter?

I’ll be looking at Spring Training stats over the next few weeks, and will connect them to the subsequent Regular Season performances and see if we can find a trend between play in Spring Training and in the Regular Season. This week I’ll be looking at position players.

Here are the top OPS of qualifying players (1.86 plate appearances per team game played) in Spring Training 2019 games:

1.232 Ryan McMahon, Rockies 1.117 Juan Soto, Nationals 1.110 Yoan Moncada, White Sox 1.086 Robinson Cano, Mets 1.084 Carlos Santana, Indians 1.081 Brian Anderson, Marlins 1.006 Pete Alonso, Mets .973 Jorge Soler, Royals .969 Franklin Barreto, A’s .947 Brandon Drury, Blue Jays

McMahon emerged as Colorado’s primary second baseman in 2019. We all know of Alonso’s fine rookie season for the Mets. The 20-year old Soto had a magical season, leading Washington back to the postseason and eventually the World Championship. Soler led the AL with 48 home runs. Moncada emerged as a top player with a .915 OPS for the White Sox. After a down 2018 season, Santana was an All-Star for Cleveland in 2019. Anderson took a modest step forward for the Marlins in 2019.

Not all players were able to carry Spring Training success to the regular season. Cano was mediocre in his first season with the Mets. Barreto struggled to a .401 OPS, spending most of the season in AAA. The former Yankee Drury was a semi-regular at multiple positions for Toronto but struggled to find his groove at the plate, slashing .218/.262/.380.

Here are the top Yankee OPS from Spring Training 2019. Not all performances qualified for the league leaders:

1.394 Aaron Judge 1.147 Brett Gardner 1.143 Greg Bird 1.063 Giancarlo Stanton 1.023 Gio Urshela 1.017 Gleyber Torres

All of the healthy players listed enjoyed success for the Yankees in 2019.

Now, in addition to the players above, we should also consider the curious case of Mike Tauchman, one of the revelations of the 2019 Yankees “next man up” season. He had a combined .636 OPS in spring with the Rockies and Yankees, not particularly inspiring, and not predictive of a big season. He was acquired in what looked to be an insignificant trade in late March for minor league reliever Phillip Diehl, who went on to hurl seven innings for Colorado in 2019. Tauchman actually made the Yankees Opening Day roster after his acquisition, then rode the New York and Scranton/Wilkes-Barre express four times before hitting his stride after his last recall in June, slashing .315/.394/558 until a left calf strain ended his season in September.

What does it all mean? Well, most of the top players mentioned followed up their strong Spring Training with a regular season of significant playing time, and of significant success.

But don’t write off those who struggle.

Next week: I’ll look at pitchers.


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