What Are the Spring Training Storylines After 10 Games? An Evaluation:
After nearly 2 weeks of play, the New York Yankees have a combined record of 6 Wins, 3 Loses, and 1 Tie. Is it too early to start really looking at what this could mean for a full 162 game season? Absolutely! But where is the fun in that? Today, Ethan Semendinger evaluates some of the eye-catching headlines, stories, and stats to bring them back to earth.
Do the Yankees Have Enough to Cover the Bullpen?
Nearing Spring Training, there were worries that the Yankees did not have great depth in their bullpen behind their three “circle of trust” guys in Aroldis Chapman, Zack Britton, and Chad Green. Now, especially that it looks at though Chad Green is going to be the Yankees closer to start the season, these worries have been amplified.
This past week, we got delivered news that Zack Britton will be likely out for 2 months after a planned surgery this upcoming Monday to remove a bone chip in his left (pitching) elbow. Surgery to remove bone chips in the elbow tend to come with a month timeline before coming back. Combine this causing Britton to miss most of Spring Training, and another month of strength and conditioning will be expected as well. This pushes his expected date of return to be around mid-May at the current moment. This also comes off the heels of Britton catching COVID-19 and losing about 18 pounds this past January.
However, that’s not the only bullpen loss for the Yankees as Aroldis Chapman has to serve a 2-game suspension to start the 2021 season after “throwing at the head of Mike Brosseau”. (Although, there were no suspensions issued the other way when the Rays did it to the Yankees…) Though, this is a pretty lenient suspension as a 2-game break for a closer is pretty common with how Aaron Boone manages his bullpen.
They are lucky, however, in that the Yankees do have plenty of viable arms who can hold over the bullpen as they wait on the short-term return for Chapman and on the longer-term for Britton. They recently brought in two solid veterans in Darren O’Day and Justin Wilson to make up for the losses of Tommy Kahnle and Adam Ottavino. Combine them with the arms of Luis Cessa, Jonathan Loaisiga, and some potential break-out arms in Albert Abreu, Lucas Letuge (as Andy Singer talked about this morning), and Nick Nelson.
So, do the Yankees have enough the cover the bullpen for 2 months? Yes.
Will they be the same as having Zack Britton? Of course not! But they should have plenty to work with.
The Mid-Spring Training Reminder to Not Evaluate Stats:
Every single year this happens and it drives me insane because it’s such an easy cop-out. No, just because a hitter had 3 Home Runs over a 10-game stretch doesn’t mean they are going to have a break-out season. Statistics in Spring Training do not mean anything. What matters is how a player systematically plays their game and how their game has been evolving over time.
While that seems like an oxymoron (How can stats not matter if we should care how a player plays?) the reason is that Spring Training is a time for teams to evaluate players to see the improvements of their game. What we should look to see is if a pitcher added spin rates to their offspeed pitches, added velocity to their fastball, were able to stay more consistent in the zone. If a hitter has fixed a hiccup in their swing pattern, developed a new leg kick, found a more comfortable positioning in the box. How a defender navigates the field and positions himself on different plays.
Luckily, that’s not my job to do. There’s a reason the Yankees hire coaches and professionals to watch games and practices and find the small (or large) tweaks to allow each player to play their best game. However, a player can make those corrections and still have bad statistics. A pitcher runs into bad luck with bloop hits that allow more runs, a hitter gets unlucky as their hard hit balls get fielded cleanly, etc.
Statistics in spring training are an imperfect and incredibly volatile picture.
Our Mike Whiteman looked into Spring Training stats the last few years in 2019 and again in 2020. The overall consensus here is that the top players of the game (Mookie Betts, Christian Yelich, etc.) are the players who are able to keep consistent after a solid Spring Training. That shouldn’t be surprising. They are the superstars of baseball for a reason.
For the middling, lower-end roster players, it doesn’t hold for them to continue with great statistical Spring Trainings. Don’t buy into Gary Sanchez having an MVP-type season because he hit 3 HR’s already.