With spring training baseball up to full speed and headed for the regular season, the news is coming fast and furious. Each rest day, each slap double, each pick-off attempt is being carefully reviewed, studied and analyzed by coaches to help players perform their best, and by opponents searching for any sign of weakness. Like a gardener cultivating his crops, coaches are helping fine-tune their athletes in the hopes of storming the gates on Opening Day and beyond.
There is, however, a third group with little-to-no interest in wins. These men are also watching tapes and analyzing, sometimes more meticulously than a helping hand or a feared foe. These men are the sports press, and it is their duty to bring spring baseball to the masses. However, with less games happening, the analyses are forced to be a little bit more in depth than your typical game recaps. The stat lines and dramas are held to a somewhat higher standard before opening day, often yielding very interesting conclusions.
Take, for example, the recent spring training game against the Padres. Mike Trout hit a double and a triple, but no home runs. How does it happen that the Rookie of the Year and a leading MVP candidate can’t hit a homerun in the pre-season? It’s got to be that extra weight everyone was on about, right? Maybe he feels slighted about his contract raise being too small? No! I’ve got it! He’s upset about Torii Hunter going to Detroit. That’s the ticket! Trout’s done. He’s a rookie flash in the pan. No homers against a pitcher with a near 4.00 ERA and a .500 record? He’s not going to be the same old Trout, that much is certain. The spring training stats don’t lie!
And what of Peter Bourjos? Simply put, Halo fans sure are glad he didn’t get traded in the off-season! After vocalizing his desire for more playing time and tentatively being given the nod as the starting center fielder, Speedy Pete’s been a demon! Hitting over .300 with a home run to his credit and faster than ever, it’s no wonder he’s taken the center field job from Trout! But what’s his secret? It’s got to be the socks! Tucking his uniform pants into his socks has always made Bourjos more aerodynamic, and now hiking them up the extra inch or so has given him the big push he needs to succeed! There is no other explanation, else it would have been apparent by now. Spring training tells all!
The Halos’ big man, Albert Pujols, has made his presence known in preseason with two big homers. For a man so fixated on the icebreaker last season, this is good news. The downside, of course, is that we’re past the halfway point in spring training and two is a number Pujols doesn’t want. Last season, Albert slammed seven balls over the outfield wall. He’s currently on track to hit just five. We knew his 10-year contract wasn’t going to be all that useful towards the end, but just one year in and Pujols is already falling off. Crunching the numbers, he’s projected to hit only 21 homers this year, almost a full third less than last year’s 30. The downslide has begun! Halo fans are in for a loooooong stretch of old-man baseball. So sayeth the spring training stats! So shall it be!
In better news, the numbers look absolutely amazing for the million dollar man Josh Hamilton. While he’s sat out a handful of games, his stats look even better than they did when he was racking them up against our beloved Anaheim franchise. NASA can’t confirm due to budget cuts, but it’s believed that his first homerun in an Angels uniform is still in a shallow orbit somewhere over Colorado. If you’re Arte Moreno, you’ve got to be looking at re-modeling the right field pavilion, because another retired number is coming! Its spring training math, baby! It’s foolproof!
Of course, spring training is just that: Training. The statistics have meaning, but one game in April will wipe out every run earned in Tempe these last few weeks. As always, Opening day will be the true benchmark. We’ll see how far these men have grown as athletes after an offseason reflecting on missed chances and playoff dreams. In the meantime, spring training is fun to watch, but it is important to keep things in perspective.
After all, if spring training stats and records meant THAT much, the Astros would have been one of the worst teams in the league last season!