Diary of a long-suffering Pirates fan: Yes, you can believe in those Spring Training stats - for 30 days anyway

Believe with your heart and not those pesky analytics

Pittsburgh Pirates v Milwaukee Brewers
Pittsburgh Pirates v Milwaukee Brewers / Patrick McDermott/GettyImages
facebooktwitterreddit

My colleague Noah Wright wrote an excellent article the other day on why one should take Spring Training stats with a grain of salt.  He points out that there may be any number of reasons why a player may perform great or poorly in Spring Training.  He also gives examples of past spring performances that were not predictive of the regular season.  Among the main reasons for poor performance are that players are “working on new things” or “trying to knock off the rust.”

So, of course, Noah is absolutely correct.  Objectively and statistically, Spring Training stats should be taken with a grain of salt. 

Except when you’re a Pirates fan.  When you’re a Pirates fan, Spring Training may offer you your only glimpse of hope.  So when a Pirate looks to be breaking out in Spring Training, then by all means you should embrace and run with it.  Of course, in doing so, there is a good chance that you’re just setting yourself up for a giant letdown in approximately 30 days when the calendar turns from April to May, and enough regular season games have been played for the depressing reality to kick in: “That player that put up the gaudy numbers in Spring Training - turns out that was a fluke.”

In 2022, Diego Castillo hit six Spring Training home runs.  And I was ecstatic for 30 days thereafter believing that he would be an impact bat at second base that would make us all forget about Neil Walker.  Turns out that those six Spring Training home runs were not predictive of Mr. Castillo’s abilities at all. 

Or take 2021 Spring Training for instance.  Kevin Newman hit for a .606 batting average that spring.  “Oh, baby,” I thought. “Kevin Newman is Rod Carew.  He’s going to win the batting crown this year.  Now I see why the Pirates drafted him #1.  This is going to be an awesome season for him.”  By May 1, it was clear that Kevin Newman would not be Rod Carew.  He would not win the batting title.  He would instead be Kevin Newman—a competent but very average major league player.

But for Pirates fans, for the first 30 days of the regular season, you can still hope for a different reality.  “So and so hit .400 in Spring Training. It’s only a matter of time before that translates into success in the regular season.” 

So, when experts tell Pirates fans to take Spring Training stats with a grain of salt, I say: What kind of killjoys are you?  These stats are important, if only to give us false hope for 30 days.

So as a public service to Rum Bunter readers, allow me to provide you with a primer on how to view your favorite team’s Spring Training stats.  As a Pirates fan, there are only two ways to do so: 

  • If a Pirates player is performing well in Spring Training, it certainly will be predictive of future success in the regular season. And damn all the statistics and historical data that say otherwise. Just give me my 30 days of hope, damn it.
  • If a player is performing poorly in Spring Training, then clearly said player is “working on new things" or "knocking off the rust.”

Now, let’s look at some of the statistics the Pirates are putting up this spring. And using the criteria above, I'll tell you whether I believe in those statistics or not:

  • Henry Davis - Batting .296. Four homers in a five-game span. An OPS of 1.111. Holy crap. This is absolutely predictive. He is going to have a monster year. I can’t believe the Pirates have this guy. Pencil him in for the All-Star game now. Woo hoo! 
  • Ke’Bryan Hayes - Batting .368. Three homers. 1.295 OPS. See, I told you. He’s picking up just where he left off last year.  This is absolutely sustainable. He’s mashing the baseball. He’s going to add a Silver Slugger award to last year’s Gold Glove. This is awesome.
  • Liover Peguero - Batting .292. .828 OPS. This, too, is sustainable. We’ve been waiting for this breakout ever since he was called up. And now, here it is. No wonder the Pirates were so high on him. A power-hitting second baseman. This, too, is awesome.
  • Jared Triolo - Batting .333. .860 OPS.  Last year, he played quite well in a utility role and has carried that production over into the spring. In line for another strong season.
  • Luis Ortiz - 3.38 ERA. Eleven strikeouts in only eight innings pitched. His velocity is back. He’s going to have a great season. This will certainly carry over to the regular season.
  • Oneil Cruz - Five homeruns and a 1.331 OPS. Oh, baby. The ball is jumping off his bat. River blasts, here we come. Cruz is going to make us forget about Barry Bonds. Can you say MVP?
  • Rowdy Tellez - .217 batting average and hasn't homered yet. Clearly he is working on some new things.
  • Conner Joe -  .167 batting average. Also working on some new things.
  • Mitch Keller - 6.75 ERA. Not to worry. Just knocking off the rust. Likewise, trying out some new things.
  • Marco Gonzales - 9.00 ERA. Give the guy a break. He’s coming off an injury. Clearly a combination of working on new things and knocking off some rust.

In conclusion, Spring Training stats that show the Pirates in a positive light are like good food. Enjoy it while it lasts because it might expire in 30 days.