The Pittsburgh Pirates 2012 season officially begins tomorrow as the Pirates travel to Dunedin, Florida to take on the Toronto Blue Jays. Obviously everyone is excited for some baseball games to be played, but there are some things you have to take into account when watching or looking at the box scores for these spring training games. Here’s a few tips.
1) The score doesn’t matter
Most people don’t have any trouble with this one. There is absolutely no correlation between spring training wins and regular season wins. Winning exhibition games means absolutely nothing. Some people will say that the attitude is better when you’re winning and you can go into the regular season with some momentum after a winning spring, but I’m not sure I really buy into that. That’s really not something that can be measured, so it’s hard to argue it. Buy it or not, the affect is very minimal. Just ignore the scoreboard.
2) Pitchers pitch differently
This one kind of goes along with number one. The score doesn’t matter, so pitchers don’t have to worry primarily about keeping runs off the scoreboard. Spring is a time for them to stretch their arms out and work on individual pitches to get them in regular season form. They don’t attack hitters with the sole idea of getting them out in mind. Spring is more about them and their pitches, not about the batters they are facing. James McDonald could be pitching against a guy that he knows can’t hit a curveball, but he’s going to throw his fastball to him anyways just to work on the location of that pitch. Towards the end of spring training, pitchers begin to focus more on getting outs, but early on you basically can’t read anything into a pitchers statistical line.
3) Hitters don’t hit differently
While you can’t take much from pitcher statistics, I think you can take a little from hitter statistics. Obviously, there is no at-bat without a pitcher, and in spring those pitchers, as I said in the last paragraph, aren’t primarily focused on getting the hitter out, so hitters could very well get pitches to hit that they wouldn’t get in a real game, but the batters goal remains the same all through spring – get hits. Aside from maybe working on hitting the ball a certain direction, there really isn’t too much to getting your swing ready for the season. The best way to practice getting hits is to try to get hits. Again, batters are facing less challenging pitching (and often times minor league pitching), but you can tell a lot about where a hitter is by watching him swing the bat in spring training. I’m not saying spring hitting success correlates to regular season success, because it probably doesn’t, I’m just saying it’s a better indicator than pitching statistics.
4) Playing time tells you a lot
Keep an eye on who keeps playing time and where that playing time is at. Josh Harrison is a good example of this. Harrison has had minimal playing time at shortstop in his career but he might get some work in there this spring so the Pirates can see if he’s going to be good enough to be the lone back-up to Clint Barmes when April rolls around. Nick Evans is another example of this, the Pirates might see what he has at third base to back up Pedro Alvarez while Casey McGehee and Garrett Jones platoon at first. Also, I’m interested to see how many games Alvarez sits out of. The Pirates really have to see how he looks at the plate this spring and I don’t think they’ll leave him out of too many games. I could be wrong about that, but those are the kinds of things that we should be looking for.
5) There is something to be learned about the young guys
Gerrit Cole is in camp with the Pirates this spring. He isn’t going to get a ton of innings in the Pirates early games this spring, and he’ll almost surely be moved to minor league camp on the first or second wave of cuts, but I am really interested in seeing him pitch when he does get the chance. I’m also really hoping that that/those game(s) are televised so I can see how he takes it all. Pitching is largely mental, and you can normally tell some little things about a guy from who he handles his first go around. Obviously you can’t draw any big conclusions from one outing, but it’s always interesting to watch a guy in his first performance against big league hitters.
Spring baseball is a lot different than regular season baseball, but there are definitely ways to learn from watching these exhibition games. Last year the Pirates had a terrible spring but bounced back and had a solid first half of the regular season. It’s all random. Regardless of all that, it’s great to have baseball games being played once again.