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Do Spring Training Stats Matter? (Part Two)

As I said in last week’s post, I’ve been looking at spring training stats, and am connecting 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 pitchers.

Again, for your reference, here’s the YES network spring training Broadcast Schedule:

Social media is buzzing with images and videos of pitchers in bullpen sessions with captions like “Sevvy bringing the heat”, etc. Of course, spring training is a bit nuanced for pittchers, as they are trying to build themselves up for the season, but not push it too much and risk injury. It’s a different approach for pitchers than position players, for whom more regular playing time seems to be preferred.

So, the body of work for pitchers is a bit less of a sample size than that of position players. With that in mind, here are some 2019 spring training stats to chew on – leaders by WHIP (walks and hits per innings pitched). Qualification for leaders is 0.6 innings per game played. In parentheses is the player’s 2019 regular season performance. Those in bold are under the 2019 MLB average WHIP of 1.33.

0.55 Pablo Lopez, Marlins (1.24) 0.62 Trevor Richards, Marlins (1.39) 0.75 Shane Bieber, Indians (1.05) 0.92 Jon Gray, Rockies (1.35) 0.93 Michael Pineda, Twins (1.16) 0.95 Ivan Nova, White Sox (1.46) 0.96 Trevor Bauer, Indians (1.25) 0.97 Dakota Hudson, Cardinals (1.41) 1.00 Frankie Montas, A’s (1.12) 1.00 Matt Strahm, Padres (1.25) Of those listed, only Bieber (15-8, 3.28 in 214 IP) would be considered as having an elite 2019 season, but most of the players listed would be considered “serviceable”. Nova’s season stats (11-12, 4.72) don’t look good but he was able to eat 187 innings. Lopez (5-8, 5.09) looked to take a very slight step forward in his age 23 season. Gray (11-8, 3.84) was able to reduce his home runs allowed and improve his ERA+ by over 30 percent over 2018. Our old friend Pineda (11-5, 4.01) was having a solid season for Minnesota before being suspended for PED use in September. Bauer (11-13, 4.48) had a durable (213 IP) season with league average effectiveness. Hudson (16-7, 3.35) looked to have benefited from a bit of luck based on underlying stats, but most managers will gladly take a 2+ WAR season and 175 innings pitched from a rookie starter.

Montas (9-2, 2.63) of course was off to a very good season with Oakland until he was suspended for PED use in June, basically ending his season. Richards (6-12, 4.06) struggled with the Marlins, then improved significantly in limited action after a trade to Tampa in July. Strahm struggled (6-11, 4.71) with the Padres, done in primarily by the home run.

One thing to note, of worst five WHIP among qualifiers, three of them (Zach Davies, Madison Bumgarner and Patrick Corbin) went onto solid seasons. While their springs were not notable, they all had a history of previous seasons of solid work.

Here are some Yankee 2019 spring training WHIP:

0.53 Jonathan Holder (1.31) 0.67 Zack Britton (1.14) 0.71 Luis Cessa (1.31) 0.71 Stephen Tarpley (1.99) 0.88 Chad Green (1.23) 0.98 James Paxton (1.28) 1.00 Masahiro Tanaka (1.24) 1.00 Nester Cortes (1.55) 1.13 Tommy Kahnle (1.06) 1.17 Domingo German (1.15) 1.24 Aroldis Chapman (1.11) 1.25 Jonathan Loaisiga (1.48) 1.50 JA Happ (1.30) 1.71 Adam Ottavino (1.31)

One thing that jumps out is that Holder, Tarpley and Cortes had good/excellent springs, followed by struggles during their regular seasons. This could be a function of the especially small sample size of relief pitchers and the old adage that “pitchers are a bit ahead of hitters” in spring training and the early regular season.

So, aside of the relievers mentioned, there are no major discrepancies in the regular season results – no great springs and horrible seasons, or vice versa. Digging a bit further, we see that most of the pitchers had decent spring trainings, and ended up with pretty good seasons. At the end of the year, the Yanks as a team ranked 6th in AL ERA, with a 4.31 mark (4.60 league average).

Trends? It doesn’t see unreasonable to have expectations of a good season after a good Cactus League or Grapefruit League season. They don’t always work out as desired, but there look to be few “flame outs”. If someone has an especially bad spring training, it may be best to look at the player’s history before dooming their season.

Next week: I’ll look at overall team performances.


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