Trend-spotting: Don't count out all the spring stats
For some, the hope is that success before the season is harbinger of things to come
Welcome to Spring Training, where everything's made up and the stats don't matter.
The Royals -- 13-1-1 through 15 Cactus League games -- probably aren't destined for a 130-win season or for 10 regular-season ties. Rogers Hornsby's ghost needn't worry that Cleveland's Ryan Raburn or St. Louis' Shane Robinson might challenge the Hall of Fame second baseman's live-ball era record .424 batting average, despite the eye-popping numbers the two have posted this spring.
When it comes to Spring Training, the numbers themselves aren't really of consequence. They shouldn't always be dismissed, though. Once the statistics start to signal a trend, teams can derive some meaning from certain spring happenings.
Here are a handful of examples:
Kansas City Royals: 13-1-1, best record in baseball
In 1999, the Royals had a league-best 22-9 spring but finished in the American League Central basement with a 64-97 regular-season record. So, a team's standing in March doesn't necessarily carry over to the schedule that actually matters. Still, the Royals would prefer to be where they are now, rather than be struggling to piece together winning baseball in the Cactus League.
"You've got to learn how to win somehow," closer Greg Holland said. "And winning is the best way to do that."
Since 1984, eight of the 14 teams to post a winning percentage of .700 or better during Spring Training have qualified for the playoffs. For a team like the Royals, which has had one winning season since 1995, stringing together some spring victories can't hurt.
"Would I rather win every game in spring than lose them all? Absolutely," pitcher Jeremy Guthrie said. "Would that have a positive effect on a team going into a regular season? Absolutely. Do any of the wins matter? No, because they all get erased. Do any of the losses matter? No, because they all get erased. But, mentally and physically, winning games and playing good baseball to be able to win those games is all good preparation and helpful for a regular season."
Aaron Hicks, CF, Twins: .406 AVG, four homers, 13 RBIs, 11 runs
The 23-year-old speedster might not claim the gig in center field for Minnesota this spring, but the club at least has to feel relieved about Hicks' potential as a mainstay in the outfield following the offseason trades of Denard Span and Ben Revere. He won't bat .400 at the big league level -- his career average in five Minor League seasons is .271 -- but Hicks has displayed a blend of power and speed that makes scouts salivate. He clubbed three homers in a game on Thursday, and at Double-A New Britain last season, he reached base at a .384 clip and swiped 32 bases.
"He's a prototype," said Twins manager Ron Gardenhire, "a switch-hitter not afraid to take pitches, not afraid to take walks. Whether he can handle the leadoff role, I haven't decided that. First he's got to make this baseball team, and he's working his way right towards it."
Brandon Belt, 1B, Giants: .467 AVG, 1.000 SLG, four homers
A 10-game sample size doesn't amount to much, especially when that set of data is taken from the Cactus League slate. Belt, however, umm, belted only seven homers in 411 at-bats last season. Last spring, Belt batted .378, slugged at a .608 clip and posted a 1.028 OPS. Those numbers didn't carry over into the regular season. These stats might not either, but the 24-year-old is, at the least, providing the Giants a reminder of the power that exists within his 6-foot-5 frame.
Pete Kozma, SS, Cardinals: .419 AVG, .455 OBP, .710 SLG
Kozma's Spring Training performance at the plate is almost trivial. Aside from Ronny Cedeno, St. Louis has few options at shortstop with Rafael Furcal set to undergo Tommy John surgery. Even general manager John Mozeliak said that the rest of the Cardinals' potent lineup should be able to mask any offensive liability from the shortstop position. So if Kozma plays sound defense, Mike Matheny's bunch shouldn't skip a beat. Of course, it can't hurt that Kozma -- a career .236 hitter in six Minor League seasons -- batted .333 in 26 regular-season games last year and is torching opposing pitching this spring.
"As long as I get a chance, that's all I can ask for. I'm going to run with it," Kozma said. "I have to do what I did last year. I have to carry it over into the season."
J.P. Arencibia, C, Blue Jays: 0 passed balls
R.A. Dickey will heave roughly half of his knuckleballs this season inside the climate-controlled Rogers Centre, but he might as well be tossing a Whiffle ball in a tornado. It doesn't get much more difficult for a catcher than having to determine where Dickey's tricky pitch will wind up and get a glove on it. Josh Thole, fighting for the reserve backstop position with Toronto, caught 27 of Dickey's 34 starts with the Mets last season and was charged with 13 passed balls in those outings. Blue Jays manager John Gibbons has said that Dickey will likely have a personal catcher this season, either Thole or veteran Henry Blanco. Arencibia, however, has expressed a desire to catch the National League Cy Young Award winner. In two Spring Training tilts and a World Baseball Classic outing, Arencibia has yet to lose one of Dickey's fluttering phenomena, which can only help the catcher's case.
Domonic Brown, LF, Phillies: .432 AVG, .523 OBP, .730 SLG
Will this be the year Brown bursts onto the scene for Philadelphia? In parts of three season with the Phillies, Brown has been a .236 hitter with 12 homers in 147 games. In his previous two spring trials, Brown batted just .194 (7-for-26) with one homer. He already has three long balls and has scored 15 runs in 14 games this time around.
"That's definitely good, but at the same time, when the season starts, we're talking about two different seasons," manager Charlie Manuel said. "But it is very encouraging when you see somebody swinging the bat like Brown. I've seen some real big improvement out of him."
Brett Gardner: 100-percent healthy
At first glance, Gardner doesn't fit the bill of a typical Yankee in 2013. After all, he's only 29. However, he is no stranger to the disabled list, which the Yankees are going to heavily populate come Opening Day. New York has lost Alex Rodriguez, Curtis Granderson and Mark Teixeira to substantial injuries, so the club needs Gardner to stay healthy, something he couldn't do last season, when he played in just 16 games. Granderson's absence is especially debilitating since outfielders Raul Ibanez and Nick Swisher departed via free agency. That leaves Gardner as the temporary fountain of youth in center field until Granderson returns in May, with old-timers Ichiro Suzuki, Juan Rivera or Matt Diaz likely at his sides.