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How significant is a bad (or good) spring training?

The recent correlation between spring training success and regular-season success is pretty weak. Before the Yankees won the World Series last year, they won the Grapefruit League. In spring training 2008, the Rays won the Grapefruit with an 18-8 record, and players spoke about how that helped break their franchise's cycle of losing. They went from last place to first place and made the World Series.

That very same year, the Phillies finished 12-18, the same record as the Nationals. The Phillies won the World Series. The Nationals finished with the worst record in baseball. The Red Sox went 8-13 in 2008 spring training and pushed the Rays to Game 7 of the ALCS. The year before, they went a mediocre 15-12 and then won the World Series. Their opponent in the World Series, the Rockies, went 13-12. In 2005, the White Sox went 14-18 and won the World Series.

You can peruse the standings from the last few years, pull out certain records and make pretty much any argument you want about what the Nationals' 0-10 record means. Obviously, they would rather have won at least a game or two, but they say it doesn't matter in the slightest.

This how the 2009 playoff teams fared in spring training last year:

AL
Yankees: 24-10
Red Sox: 20-14
Twins: 19-13
Angels: 26-8

NL
Phillies: 13-19
Rockies: 17-17
Dodgers: 15-22
Cardinals: 19-12

The Nationals went 15-17.

If you look at this year's standing, you'll notice some likely contenders with pedestrian records. The Yankees are 5-7, the Phillies are 5-4 and the Rangers are 4-6. Looking back at the last few years, it seems like the best teams usually played at least pretty well in the spring. Sometimes, they didn't.

UPDATE, 10:05 a.m.: Commenter extraordinaire CoverageisLacking made the salient point that it would be more worthwhile to examine the very worst spring training teams. Of the 14 teams who finished in last place in either the Cactus League or Grapefruit League since 2003, none have made the playoffs. Five have finished at better than .500, and five have finished in last place in their division. The full list:

2009
Orioles, 13-21: 64-98, 5th AL East
Diamondbacks. 11-23: 70-92, 5th NL West

2008
Orioles, 10-17: 68-93, 5th AL East
Giants, 9-23: 72-90, 4th NL East

2007
White Sox, 10-22: 72-90, 4th AL Central
Mets, 12-21: 88-74, 2nd NL East

2006
White Sox, 10-19: 90-72, 3rd AL Central
Nationals, 9-23: 71-91, 5th NL East

2005
Rangers, 13-19: 79-83, 3rd AL West
Marlins, 11-20: 83-79, t4th NL East

2004
Padres, 12-20: 87-75, 3rd NL West
Phillies, 10-21: 86-76, 2nd NL East

2003
Angels, 9-20: 78-85, 3rd AL West
Devil Rays, 8-19: 63-99, 5th AL East


Spring is definitely the time to make hard decisions, and Boz looks at a few of those for the Nationals. It would have been hard to imagine two more different pitchers throwing back-to-back then Stephen Strasburg and Livan Hernandez. Imagine if Arlodis Chapman was the with the Nationals, too. The Nationals are going to win 73.7 games, according to one projection.

By Adam Kilgore  |  March 15, 2010; 9:24 AM ET
 
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Comments

Adam, I don't think this analysis is on point with respect to the Nats' circumstances. In order to be relevant, you would need to look at teams that had miserable W-L records in ST, and then see how they fared in the regular season.

The fact that teams that win their divisions sometimes have mediocre or below-.500 ST W-L records really has nothing to do with the Nats. No one expects the Nats to win the division, and their W-L record this Spring is beyond mediocre.

How do the teams that compile the worst 3 or 4 ST W-L records in the league typically fare in the regular season? That history would be much more relevant to the Nats. Perhaps we could make pretty much any argument we wanted based on that evidence as well about what the Nats' 0-10 record means. But it would be different evidence than what you've sketched out above.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | March 15, 2010 9:48 AM | Report abuse

"Imagine if Aroldis Chapman was the with the Nationals, too."

You mean, imagine if The Plan was more than a nice idea? How about, imagine if Chapman, Rick Porcello and Aaron Crow were with the Nationals, too. With Zimmermann on his way back from TJ surgery. That's real inventory, including to trade from.

But who cares. The pitching "is here." Right, Stan?

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | March 15, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

Ordinarily I disregard spring training results both for the team and for individual players.

But what is concerning here is not only the extremely poor performance (0 for 10 is exceptionally terrible) but the fact that what is causing it is exactly what has been feared about this team: it will continue to give up runs by the bucketful.

We are already seeing one of the potentially unfortunate consequences: greater interest, and prehaps pressure, to rush Strasburg along.

Posted by: Meridian1 | March 15, 2010 10:18 AM | Report abuse

fwiw, and as posted in the previous thread, in yesterday's MASN chat, someone anonymously posted a compilation of ST and regular season stats for various teams over the years. If memory serves (which it doesn't always), it was fairly deep into the chat.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 15, 2010 10:20 AM | Report abuse

Nice update, Adam, thanks.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | March 15, 2010 10:25 AM | Report abuse

Ha, I think everyday about how exciting Nats camp would be if they had both Strasburg and Chapman... what a top of a rotation that could be in a few years... alas...

About Aaron Crow... yeah, the Nats should have ponied up the extra half million dollars he wanted... but, let's not forget, when we lost Crow, we gained the draft pick that we used to take Storen. Now, I realize having a top shelf starting pitching prospect is superior to having a top notch relief pitching prospect... but, the deal was not a total washout, we still ended up with somebody who looks like they are going to help the Nats in both 2010 (hopefully starting April 5th) and for years to come...

Posted by: Ghost7 | March 15, 2010 10:27 AM | Report abuse

Yes, without a doubt 0-10 in spring training is bad. It's bad for all kind of reasons - morale, good habits, indication of talent, and mostly in this case an indication of continued poor pitching. Of course its concerning. There is not even a valid "but" or "however" its only spring training.

Drawing the correlation of pring record to regular season performance will be more meaningful when the spring record is complete. Next show me a correllation between teams that finished the previous season 7-0 and compare how they did the following year. There has to be a statistic out there that would show equally as well why there should be reason for hope.

Show me the ERA of pitchers likely to make the team compared to those not likley (that one's got to be a sliding scale). I'm not ready to push the eject button on this year's team yet. It's time to start winning, but if they go 0 for March and then play .500 for April most of us would make that trade.

Posted by: natbiscuits | March 15, 2010 11:00 AM | Report abuse

If Chapman pans out then Nats fans will make up just 1/29th of the fans upset over it.

Posted by: SCNatsFan | March 15, 2010 11:06 AM | Report abuse

"Commenter extraordinaire CoverageisLacking made the salient point that it would be more worthwhile to examine the very worst spring training teams."

Well, you guys can do all the examinations you want, but it's still not going to tell you anything. The Nats 0-10 record is totally meaningless as a predictor of anything related to their upcoming regular season performance, so why even care about it at all? As has been pointed out by many of the players asked about it, they have yet to field a team with all the regulars in the lineup at the same time. And the games have not been managed the way a real game would be, by pulling pitchers when they get into trouble, letting starters pitch more than a preset number of innings, etc. This is not the regular season team we are seeing here. Of course there is always the riposte that "well, the other team is playing their scrubs too, and the Nats still can't win a game!" So what? That's not going to tell you anything about how the real team will fare against other real teams once the season starts and they're playing games that count.

Until the Nats settle on a roster, a rotation and a bullpen and start playing those guys in exhibition games instead of giving the bubble guys chances to make it or not, the results of those games are meaningless. All that matters is the individual performances, so as Rizzo has said many times they might as well not even bother keeping score.

You want to know the reason (if any) that the best teams often have good ST records and the worst teams have bad ones? It's because the best teams are coming off good years, and have little or no roster flux. They're already playing as a team when ST starts, while teams with more roster flux are trying to build a team. Different objectives, different outcomes. Every year of the Nats' existence, ST has been a time of huge roster uncertainty. Often the makeup of large chunks of the Opening Day roster was not decided until late in March. IMHO, that's been a big factor in the slow April starts. Hopefully this will be a year when the roster decisions can be made earlier and the team will have more time to gel and play as a unit before being thrust into games that count.

Posted by: TBCTBC | March 15, 2010 11:16 AM | Report abuse

And if we all had the benefit of hindsight, we could ALL run a baseball team better than Kasten and Rizzo.
Let's move on.

Posted by: mjhoya12 | March 15, 2010 11:21 AM | Report abuse

How many regular season games do you think they'll play with the "A" lineup? People get hurt, they get days off, stuff happens. Yes, last year was an exceptional object lesson in the value of depth (didn't they have at least six different starters at every position last year?), but that's how it works. The guys that don't come north are mostly the ones who will be called up as needs arise. And they will arise.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 15, 2010 11:22 AM | Report abuse

Much more relevant would be to compare how our big league guys do against their big league guys. I don't really care about Spring Training games after they start yanking the starters to give the minor leaguers some play time.

Do an inning by inning analysis, and while the Nats' starters were playing against the opponent's starters, how did we fare?

Posted by: chrisduckworth | March 15, 2010 11:34 AM | Report abuse

Yes it is ST and things can come together once the spit hits the spam on April 5th and the games actually count.

However, 0-10 is 0-10 and it stinks on ice. The team ERA is awful and many of the guys that the FO is depending on to be stoppers in the pen or members of the rotation are getting shelled and that, no matter whether you drink the Kool Aid or not, is troubling.

OD is 3 weeks from today. Our pitching needs to start showing improvement, soon.

Posted by: Section505203 | March 15, 2010 11:35 AM | Report abuse

Jeez, it's not about the ST record...it's about how the pitchers and position players are progressing in their preparation for the regular season. It's a bloody individual assessment, not a team assessment.

And the individual assessment for many the the members of the pitching staff is bloody. Now THAT'S a harbinger.

Posted by: joemktg1 | March 15, 2010 11:45 AM | Report abuse

I don't think we've had all of our starters out there at the same time yet, so there's no read there. I'd love to see that ERA breakdown of pitchers expected to see significant time in DC this year as opposed to the rest, though.

Posted by: zimbar | March 15, 2010 11:47 AM | Report abuse

zimbar: I tried that. It didn't really help:

Lannan - 9.0
Marquis - 22.5
Olsen - 7.2
M. Chico - 15.0
Stammen - 20.25
Livan - 3.0
Mock - 3.6
J.D. Martin - 3.6

Burnett - 22.5
Capps - 11.5
Clippard - 8.1

Posted by: Bethesdangit | March 15, 2010 12:00 PM | Report abuse

This is how significant BAD Spring Training is;

-How's Redskins Radio 24X7X365 aka WTEM covering the Nats?
-How's Redskins Radio Part II aka WJFK covering the Nats?
-How's Redskins TV aka COMCAST SportsNet covering the Nats?
-How many times will StanK make the pitch on WIP and WFAN to let Phillies and Mets Fans know they can come on down to DC and get good seats for early April baseball.
-How's the Washington Examiner covering the Nats? Read below and take stock in knowing that this is how significant a BAD Spring Training is.

Things we are happy to ignore"
Because the NCAA Tournament will occupy just about every discussion in the next three and a half weeks some topics will be shelved. For which we say, thank goodness!

#2 The Washington Nationals..., Um, so how about that new and improved pitching staff, eh? Maybe in a few weeks we'll discover they you even have a couple of wins. And an ERA less then 10.00! Then we'll wonder whether they can carry that "momentum into the season".

John Keim, Washington Examiner 15 Mar 2010

Please stop equating this team's ST failures with the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Dodgers, Cardinals. There is no comparison and its down right obnoxious to sugar coat the dream while ignoring the obvious, I'd leave that stuff to Phill Wood. As someone said in another post, there is no "Thomas Edison" on the Nats roster.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | March 15, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

This is how significant BAD Spring Training is;

-How's Redskins Radio 24X7X365 aka WTEM covering the Nats?
-How's Redskins Radio Part II aka WJFK covering the Nats?
-How's Redskins TV aka COMCAST SportsNet covering the Nats?
-How many times will StanK make the pitch on WIP and WFAN to let Phillies and Mets Fans know they can come on down to DC and get good seats for early April baseball.
-How's the Washington Examiner covering the Nats? Read below and take stock in knowing that this is how significant a BAD Spring Training is.

Things we are happy to ignore"
Because the NCAA Tournament will occupy just about every discussion in the next three and a half weeks some topics will be shelved. For which we say, thank goodness!

#2 The Washington Nationals..., Um, so how about that new and improved pitching staff, eh? Maybe in a few weeks we'll discover they you even have a couple of wins. And an ERA less then 10.00! Then we'll wonder whether they can carry that "momentum into the season".

John Keim, Washington Examiner 15 Mar 2010

Please stop equating this team's ST failures with the Yankees, Red Sox, Phillies, Dodgers, Cardinals. There is no comparison and its down right obnoxious to sugar coat the dream while ignoring the obvious, I'd leave that stuff to Phill Wood. As someone said in another post, there is no "Thomas Edison" on the Nats roster.

Posted by: TippyCanoe | March 15, 2010 12:09 PM | Report abuse

cil - Your original point was indeed salient. *If* you're going to bother to try and draw conclusions about ST record, then compare us to other awful teams.

Bethesdangit - Those numbers are worse than I would have thought. I kinda wish you hadn't posted them!

That we have not put our starting 9 on the field means almost nothing. When we lost to the Astros on Saturday, they split their squad, sending another group to play the Cardinals. We were not playing anything close to their top 9.

The Nats of course will just keep spinning this positive.

The scariest thing so far this season is Stan K's statement that we have all the pitching we need right here. If we have all the pitching, why did we invite 37 arms to ST????

Posted by: Sunderland | March 15, 2010 12:17 PM | Report abuse

"The scariest thing so far this season is Stan K's statement that we have all the pitching we need right here. If we have all the pitching, why did we invite 37 arms to ST????"

Sunderland, that's easy--much of the pitching that according to Kasten is already "here" is currently injured. Of course, those injured guys are all going to return at 100% (and in Zimmermann and Detwiler's cases, establish that they can succeed at the MLB level which they have not yet established in the first place) and lead the Nats to the promised land, right? Right.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | March 15, 2010 12:43 PM | Report abuse

"Imagine if Aroldis Chapman was the with the Nationals, too."
You mean, imagine if The Plan was more than a nice idea? How about, imagine if Chapman, Rick Porcello and Aaron Crow were with the Nationals, too. With Zimmermann on his way back from TJ surgery. That's real inventory, including to trade from. But who cares. The pitching "is here." Right, Stan?

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | March 15, 2010 10:13 AM | Report abuse

You talk like the bottom line for the Nats is building a winning team. What you forget is that takes MLB-size budgets!

For our Nats, the bottom line is the bottom line.

Posted by: EdDC | March 15, 2010 12:46 PM | Report abuse

If Crow is on this team, then Storen is not, right?

I'm not saying Crow's not better than Storen, or vice versa. Just sayin'.

-----

You mean, imagine if The Plan was more than a nice idea? How about, imagine if Chapman, Rick Porcello and Aaron Crow were with the Nationals, too. With Zimmermann on his way back from TJ surgery. That's real inventory, including to trade from.

Posted by: JohninMpls | March 15, 2010 12:49 PM | Report abuse

Now let's imagine the Nats had never traded for Bartolo Colon when they were the Expos. The Nats still would have Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, and Cliff Lee.

While were playing the imagination game, we could imagine peric's dream and trade for Matt Cain too.

Man the Nats are awesome in imaginationland.

Posted by: SpashCity | March 15, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Admit it - you just liked being called "commenter extraordinaire."

-----

Nice update, Adam, thanks.

Posted by: JohninMpls | March 15, 2010 12:51 PM | Report abuse

Yeah, JiM, not really. I actually haven't been commenting much recently. I do however like to see Adam being responsive to us as commenters, whether it's me or anyone else. It was something that Chico rarely did, which I think was one of the problems with the blog while he was running it.

As to the Crow vs Storen thing, I really think there is no comparison. Storen looks like he might be really good, but he is a relief pitcher. Crow could be a frontline starter. The difference in upside value potential between the 2 is huge.

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | March 15, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

That kind of logic doesn't even hold water in Imaginationland. Each of those three would have left the franchise as free agents.

-----

Now let's imagine the Nats had never traded for Bartolo Colon when they were the Expos. The Nats still would have Grady Sizemore, Brandon Phillips, and Cliff Lee.

Posted by: JohninMpls | March 15, 2010 12:59 PM | Report abuse

This idea has already been touched on by the always biased Phil Wood. And what steams my potatoes is that on a ST Cubs broadcast, the announcers were saying that ST matters more than most give credence too (the opposite of what Phil Wood says). And a lot of times, players aren't "just working on stuff" and use that excuse as a way to blow off reporters. Seriously, what "new" pitches are the Nationals pitchers working on? And are they ALL working on something new? Of course not. (I have to mention Mock who is working on throwing strikes. Seriously, throwing strikes? Thats what you are working on? How basic do we want to get here?) Anyway, if anyone actually wants to see if ST matters, please look at Sky Andrecheck's article in SI. Andrecheck said, "The predictive power of spring training is small, but it's there." And he followed with, "What does it all mean? In a nutshell, if your team is having an extremely surprising spring training (for good or for bad), you would do well to adjust your expectations accordingly by about three games. The Diamondbacks and Angels are extreme examples, so the effect is generally not huge. Still, in a sport where every minute detail counts, spring training results can add some insight." So, the people who think with a few breaks this team will be .500, are probably a bit too optimistic.

Posted by: Nataholic | March 15, 2010 1:03 PM | Report abuse

Sorry, I was imagining the signed them to reasonable, long-term extensions or traded them for a boat-load of high-end prospects who all panned out to become all-stars and are currently leading the Nationals to the pennant.

Posted by: SpashCity | March 15, 2010 1:09 PM | Report abuse

We kid because we love.

Chico is a hell of a writer. But I'm sure even he'll admit that he wasn't suited to maintaining a blog like this. It's refreshing to see Adam (and Mark over at NI) interact with readers.

I also agree with you with regards to the Crow/Storen comparison. I just wanted to make sure everyone's ledger was accurate.

In their negotiations with Crow, the Nats knew they would receive compensation if they couldn't close the deal. However, the logical fallacy here is that it wasn't comperable compensation. They had picked up a guy rated higher than his draft position (Crow) who had fallen due to signability issues, then used the compensation pick to get a guy rated lower than his draft position (Storen) because he was likely to sign.

-----

Yeah, JiM, not really. I actually haven't been commenting much recently. I do however like to see Adam being responsive to us as commenters, whether it's me or anyone else. It was something that Chico rarely did, which I think was one of the problems with the blog while he was running it.

As to the Crow vs Storen thing, I really think there is no comparison. Storen looks like he might be really good, but he is a relief pitcher. Crow could be a frontline starter. The difference in upside value potential between the 2 is huge.

Posted by: JohninMpls | March 15, 2010 1:27 PM | Report abuse

Spash, here's the thing with your "Imaginationland" defense of the Nats. People aren't making up Chapman and Crow in hindsight. These are both guys whom the Nats wanted. They just didn't pony up the $ necessary to get them.

As to Detwiler vs Porcello, which I raised, it is of course a bit different. The Nats obviously didn't draft Porcello, and Detwiler was highly rated also. But, here's what Ladson and Svrluga reported about Porcello vis-a-vis the Nats at the time of the draft:

Ladson: "Rick Porcello was another top pitching prospect, but Washington never considered selecting him because he was asking for too much money."

Svrluga: "But in the end, the Nationals had Vanderbilt lefty David Price -- the No. 1 overall selection -- and Detwiler and Clemson lefty Daniel Moskos as the most major league ready pitchers in the draft, and high school right-hander Rick Porcello as the second-most talented behind Price. But Bowden admitted there could be "signability" issues with Porcello, so they went with a safer pick (who's closer to the majors anyway -- 2008 at some point or 2009 at the latest)."

The Tigers signed Porcello to a $11.1 million deal, which included a 4-year contract, and a signing bonus of $3.5 million. Detwiler received a $2.15 million bonus and a standard contract from the Nats. Who's glad that the Lerners saved their money by going with the guy they deemed the lesser talent? And how'd that "closer to the majors" thing work out, anyway?

Posted by: CoverageisLacking | March 15, 2010 1:30 PM | Report abuse

I'm not trying to use Imaginationland as a defense strategy. I'm just trying to make the point, quite passive-aggressively by my own account, that it is silly to talk about all the players the Nats could have had if they had spent the extra money or made a certain trade or not made a certain trade.

Chapman is gone, we lost, we should be used to it by now. Crow is gone, we got Storen instead. The Nats paid up for Strasburg, and hopefully will do the same for whoever they draft this June. The Nats spent more than they have in the past on free agents this winter, and even tried to overpay to get some guys (Garland) only to see them take less money and fewer guaranteed years with another team (San Diego).

I hate hearing about, "what we could have if only...", it was bad enough missing out on those guys the first time around. I'm ready for some real games to start and to see the Nats in action, good or bad. Bring on Doc Halladay and the Phreakin Phils!

Go Nats!

Posted by: SpashCity | March 15, 2010 1:42 PM | Report abuse

At this point ... does anyone believe they will actually win a game in spring training without starting pitching or the bullpen breaking down? Anyone??? Most of those less than average spring training standings teams recorded at least TEN WINS? At least from my quick perusal?

The Nats "can't get over Chapman" because the team DESPERATELY needed the guy ... the others not so much. That was reflected in the 25 (not 23) million dollar offer they made. They really couldn't afford to lose that guy at this point in the game.

My take is they need to "option" the guys they are pretty sure aren't going to make it ... send them over to the Accelerated Camp or cut them. And get down to brass tax, NOW. Riggleman needs to quit pussy footing around with his lineups and players. This is a PERENNIAL losing team. RedSox, Rangers with deep farm systems and good prospects that you can experiment with.

Finally, if you send Storen down to save the Arbitration year START HIM IN SOME games!!!! He has FIVE pitches he commands. He would undoubtedly be more valuable as a STARTER RIGHT NOW than as a setup man for friggin' Matt Capps!!!!!

Posted by: periculum | March 15, 2010 1:54 PM | Report abuse

OK, before we all go to the new post, Coach Edwards has the last word:
http://tinyurl.com/ybsze4m

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 15, 2010 2:01 PM | Report abuse

I'm starting to feel kinda like a shill here, but the writers on the MASN blogs (BG among them) also interact with readers quite a bit. (ha ha, last word, sec3 ;-))

---

Chico is a hell of a writer. But I'm sure even he'll admit that he wasn't suited to maintaining a blog like this. It's refreshing to see Adam (and Mark over at NI) interact with readers.

Posted by: natsfan1a1 | March 15, 2010 2:44 PM | Report abuse

Hey, don't tell me, tell Coach.
But I'd be at a distance when you do that.

Posted by: Sec3mysofa | March 15, 2010 7:05 PM | Report abuse

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