Don’t dig too deep into Spring Training stats

It’s not just training time for the players; writers, bloggers, and baseball fans everywhere are preparing for the highly anticipated months of spring, summer, and early fall. While the Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues provide an outlet of information, you shouldn’t always read into the February/March statistics of players.

Before we begin, it should be noted that success/failure in spring is definitely used to assess the Opening Day roster; we aren’t advocating that you should ignore player stats all together. Our goal is to simply warn you not to get too high or low on particular players. We’ll use the Pirates’ 2012 spring training stats, and divide player performance into four categories. Here’s a look…

The Spring Underachievers

There’s always a group of players that disappoint in spring ball, leading fans to believe that these guys don’t have what it takes to succeed in the regular season.

A prime example from last year is Pedro Alvarez. El Toro was coming off a terrible 2011 in which he hit just .191 in 74 games, so his weak performance in Grapefruit League play had Bucco fans labeling him as a bust. He hit .170 with two home runs and a .465 OPS in 19 spring games, but bounced back with a solid regular season, hitting .244 and crushing 30 bombs.

Another Pirates regular that you could classify as a 2012 spring underachiever was second baseman Neil Walker. Walker’s 20 Grapefruit League games resulted in a .262/.262/.311 line with zero long balls. He struck out 13 times and didn’t draw a single walk. However, The Pittsburgh Kid produced a .280 batting average, .768 OPS, and a career-high 14 HR during the year.

Simply because a player fails to succeed in spring training does not mean he can’t put up solid numbers when it counts.

The Spring Overachievers

Another classic group consists of those that rip the cover off the ball in March, but can’t find their form when April rolls around.

Nate McLouth certainly falls into this category from 2012. Both Nate and Bucco fans were pumped that he was coming back to the ‘Burgh after an abrupt trade in June of 2009. He impressed in spring training, hitting .362/.464/.574 over 23 games. He struggled when the team came north, however, as he went just 8 for 57 (.140); the Pirates let him go at the end of May. Nate went on to lead the Baltimore Orioles into the postseason, and he re-signed with them in December.

Another former Pirate and current Oriole, Yamaico Navarro, followed a similar trend. He posted a .310 average and drove in nine runs during Grapefruit League play, earning himself a spot on the Opening Day roster. However, he went 8 for 45 (.178) through May, and was demoted to Triple-A Indianapolis.

A third Bucco to perform in the spring was Matt Hague. “The Hit Collector” collected 22 hits in March, posting a .400/.400/.800 line. Hague broke camp with the club, but never excelled in 30 MLB games.

A recurring theme you may notice with these players, and a large number of other spring overachievers, is that they don’t receive much playing time once the season starts. It may be easy for them to get in a groove while playing nearly every day in spring training, but it’s just as easy to get cold when they ride the bench in April. A strong spring doesn’t always guarantee a great regular season, especially for bench players who see a big change in playing time.

The Consistent Performers

There are, of course, a few players that can keep pace through spring and into the summer.

Andrew McCutchen was definitely a consistent performer, hitting .310 with 4 HR, 12 RBI, and a .988 OPS in 21 March games. Cutch carried his strong play into the season, when he was an MVP candidate.

Garrett Jones could be classified as consistent as well. He didn’t hit for much average at .230, but he foreshadowed his power potential. Three doubles, four homers, and 17 RBI in spring led to 28 two-baggers, 27 bombs, and 86 runs batted in during the season.

While not many can replicate their numbers between exhibition play and the regular season, there are still some players that can continue their success.

The Hyped Minor Leaguer

There could potentially be a couple of minor leaguers that tear up the Grapefruit League, leaving fans saying “Put them on the team!”

Last season, Starling Marte fit that description. He played in 12 spring games, hitting .520 (13 for 25) with 3 HR, 4 RBI, and a 1.440 OPS. Coming off a great 2011 in which he won the Eastern League batting title with the Altoona Curve, fans were ready for the club to pull the trigger on Marte. However, he wasn’t quite ready to make the jump and played in Class AAA until late July.

Therefore, if Gerrit Cole or Jameson Taillon get a few appearances and dominate, don’t expect them to stay in big league camp. Watch for Cole especially, as he is closer to making his MLB debut than Taillon. As of now, the only way Cole makes the club is if something goes wrong and they absolutely need him in the rotation.

The bottom line: you can’t always use spring training games as a baseline for regular season performance. Some players will start hot, some players will be cold, some players could even stay consistent; however, there’s no reason to make assumptions based on meaningless exhibition games. It’s called spring “training” for a reason, and these guys are getting back in game shape for the six-month grind. We’ll worry about performance once April rolls around.

Go Bucs

Bucs deal Resop, Navarro

ResopIn addition to officially signing Russell Martin and deciding on who to tender/non-tender, the Pirates have traded relief pitcher Chris Resop and utility man Yamaico Navarro.

Resop, 30, will be headed to Oakland. With rumors of a Joel Hanrahan trade and increasing interest in Jason Grilli, this trade will further deplete the Bucco bullpen. Although he’s not considered a late-inning/pressure situation reliever, Resop is still a decent option at a cheap price. A lot of fans hated him, for whatever reason. He held down a 3.88 ERA in 159 games for the Bucs over three seasons.

In return, the Pirates will receive RHP Zach Thornton. Thornton, a 24 year old University of Oregon product, was selected in the 23rd round of the 2010 draft. He played High-A ball this year for the Stockton Ports, where he went 4-0 with a 4.53 ERA.

The A’s Twitter accidentally said that they had acquired “Jim Resop”…

[tweet https://twitter.com/Athletics/status/274671720537939968]

Furthermore, the Pirates sent Navarro to Baltimore. He only played 29 games at the big league level last season, and hit just .160. Yamaico performed well at Triple-A Indianapolis, but was arrested for D.U.I. in July.

They will get RHP Jhondaniel Medina in exchange for Navarro. Medina is only 19 years of age, but has been in the O’s organization for three years. He has a career 3.14 ERA in 35 games between the Dominican Summer League, Gulf Coast League, and New York-Penn League.

Go Bucs

Photo: Keith Allison/Creative Commons

Pirates acquire three; Russell Martin on radar?

Neal Huntington and his staff shuffled the roster a bit today by acquiring three players.

First, they picked up RHP Zach Stewart from the Boston Red Sox for a player to be named later. Stewart, 26, has a career 6.82 ERA in 33 games.

Next, the Bucs got 1B Clint Robinson and RHP Vin Mazzaro from the Kansas City Royals in exchange for Luis Rico and Luis Santos (both minor league pitchers). Robinson, who will turn 28 in February, hit .292 with 13 HR last season for Triple-A Omaha. He’s been blocked in the Royals’ system, mostly by young first baseman Eric Hosmer. Robinson seems to be a decent pickup; his name was brought into discussion last spring when the Bucs lacked offense. The 26 year old Mazzaro had a 5.73 ERA in 44 innings last year for KC. He pitched against the Pirates on June 9th, lasting just three innings and surrendering four runs.

To clear room on the 40 man roster, they designated “The Hit Collector” Matt Hague and Yamaico Navarro for assignment.

Rob Biertempfel of the Trib brought up some good points about these pickups. He writes, “Pirates today made two trades that could figure into plans for who is tendered/non-tendered Friday… Vin Mazzaro could be either back-end starter or long reliever, just like arbitration-eligible Jeff Karstens. Clint Robinson makes it 3’s a crowd at first base with arbitration-eligible Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez.” It’ll be interesting to see how the Bucs handle this. Both Garrett Jones and Gaby Sanchez should betendered contracts, but you never know. If Jones and Sanchez are on the Opening Day roster, Clint Robinson would most likely be replacing Matt Hague and Jeff Clement as the first baseman at Indianapolis.

In other news, it looks like the club is aggressively pursuing catcher Russell Martin. Jon Heyman wrote that the Bucs are trying to pry him away from the Yankees. Heyman says that the Pirates may be offering around 3 years/$25 million. Many of the people who have weighed in on the situation are not too excited about this deal. Martin hit just .211 last season and his power numbers will most likely decline at PNC Park. Is he an upgrade over Rod Barajas? Yes. Is he worth the money he’s asking for? Probably not.

Biertempfel had this to say – “There’s a sense among some in industry that Pirates will overpay if necessary for a FA this year. Will it be C Russell Martin? Management must show it’s serious about avoiding another second-half breakdown. And the club desperately needs a catcher.”

Ken Rosenthal with a few thoughts:

[tweet https://twitter.com/Ken_Rosenthal/status/273892378060926976]

[tweet https://twitter.com/Ken_Rosenthal/status/273892380908863488]

[tweet https://twitter.com/Ken_Rosenthal/status/273894393163964416]

Go Bucs

2012 in Review: Infield

Solid play – both offensively and defensively – led to a dependable core of Bucco infielders.

The top seven infielders in 2012:

Games AVG HR RBI OPS
Garrett Jones 145 .274 27 86 .832
Neil Walker 129 .280 14 69 .768
Clint Barmes 144 .229 8 45 .593
Pedro Alvarez 149 .244 30 85 .784
Josh Harrison 104 .233 3 16 .624
Gaby Sanchez 50 .241 4 13 .720
Jordy Mercer 42 .210 1 5 .639

Other players that saw action in the infield: Matt Hague, Brock Holt, Yamaico Navarro, Jeff Clement, Chase d’Arnaud.

GI Jones definitely put up some strong numbers. His power helped keep the Bucs afloat whenever Cutch struggled, and his defense seemed to get better as he became the every-day first baseman. Neil put up some unreal numbers in June and July, and despite his season-ending injury in September, he still was one of the best second basemen in the league. His development over the past three years has really shown. He combined with Barmes to be a very strong tandem up the middle. Clint, despite some disappointing offensive numbers, was solid at shortstop. Many even thought he should have been up for a Gold Glove. His offensive struggles only seemed to be highlighted when the team struggled, which isn’t really fair to a shortstop who is more known for his defense. At the hot corner, Pedro had some major ups and downs. He displayed his cannon of an arm, but it sometimes resulted in the ball landing 15 rows up in the stands. At the plate, his streakiness really showed. There were times you couldn’t get a fastball by him, and there were times where he looked absolutely lost at the plate. Despite that, he still ended up with 30 bombs and 85 RBIs, and could very well be on his way to 35/100 seasons very soon. Gaby Sanchez was acquired at the trade deadline and showed some promise. He came in as the Pirates plummeted, so his numbers are hard to gauge. Harrison, Mercer, and the rest of the bench weren’t too great. Despite J-Hay’s and Jordy’s versatility, they can’t hit at all. The Pirates’ lack of infield depth really showed when Walker missed significant time in August and September.

Happy Birthday, Andrew McCutchen

Pirates superstar Andrew McCutchen turns 26 today.

You can vote for McCutchen HERE for the Hank Aaron Award, which is given to the top offensive player in each league.

Cutch is pretty good at baseball:

Other players born on this day include Troy Tulowitzki, Pat Burrell, and Placido Polanco.

Other Bucs born in October:
Joel Hanrahan, Oct. 6th
Starling Marte, Oct. 9th
James McDonald, Oct. 19th
Yamaico Navarro, Oct. 31st

Go Bucs