PUTTING SPRING TRAINING IN PERSPECTIVE

By:  Holly Horning

The big question that comes up every year in the baseball forums is whether spring training (“ST”) records are important. Some say “yes”, others argue “no”, but I would say “It depends.”

While ST in its simplest definition is a time for players to regain their in-season form and determine the roster, it also serves as the occasion for the team to forge bonds and strategy with new or returning players. For the Tigers, there are at least 8 of these players who are expected to head North in a week.

It’s also a time for teams to address the issues that plagued them last year – base running, defense and fundamentals. For pitchers, it’s a time for them to try new pitches and perfect others. For hitters, it’s about getting their timing and swing back by Opening Day. For a manager just entering his second year, it’s hopefully the opportunity for him to add to his skills with a chance to safely experiment.

On a less visible note, ST is the perfect time to evaluate the young and unknown talent for the short and long-term future. Conversely, it’s also the time each team scouts each other’s established and minor league talent in preparation for moves later in the season. For the GM, it’s the chance to see what holes still need filling.

So how do we evaluate the Tigers who are second to the bottom in wins/losses after the Giants?

In the record book, I would put an asterisk next to this year because the team has been without their two star hitters for the majority of ST. But I’d also look at how the team performed offensively without them. Is there enough talent to cover for them?

And that’s where the importance of patterns come in. There were plenty of games where the Tigers scored a lot and only two games in which they were shut out. I think we’re safe here.

But what about other patterns?  Were there pitchers who kept improving – or vice versa? What about the ability to get runners in from scoring position? Are the gloves faster and more accurate? Other than the Bullpen, there’s a lot of information here to which we don’t have access. I’d leave evaluating those patterns to Brad Ausmus – who will never give us those answers (at least the real ones).

But don’t get too comfy in your assessment. The Tigers, since 2010, have had winning ST finishes. Their last losing season was in 2009 (by just 2 games) – and we all know how that year ended. Before that, losing ST seasons were a regular occurrence before 2006.

So are Spring Training results really important? Let’s hope not, for history’s sake.