Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) -
The first spring training games arrive in less than seven weeks, just when we will need it the most. The long, cold winter will make us anxious for baseball, any baseball, even lowly spring games.
We will eye that new right fielder who smacks one deep into the palm trees or the pitcher who throws a couple of shutout innings, striking out all six batters faced, and we are tempted to adjust our fantasy rankings. You know, the ones that you will have worked so hard on through those cold winter days and nights when you were stuck indoors with nothing else to do.
My suggestion is to stop immediately!
Take a long pause before changing your fantasy rankings. Things are not that simple and you must beware of the fallacy of spring training statistics.
Here are some examples from last season which should scare you into pulling away from the keyboard before you screw up your ranking lists.
Seattle Mariners shortstop Munenori Kawasaki led all hitters in spring training with a .455 batting average. In the regular season, the 31-year-old infielder hit an ugly .192 with an equally bad .459 OPS in 109 at-bats. Kawasaki is likely heading back to Japan for 2013.
Albert Pujols led all batters in slugging percentage (.850) and OPS (1.287) over 23 preseason games. Then the new Los Angeles Angel spent the first 27 games of the regular season searching for his power stroke. From April 6 through May 4, he batted .194 with a .505 OPS, zero home runs and five RBIs. His strong spring training proved to be no indication of a quick start.
Pujols regained his batting eye and finished strong, but still ended up with career lows in batting average (.285), OBP (.343), slugging percentage (.516), OPS (.859), total bases (313) and homers (30).
Three hitters put up seven home run in spring training to lead all hitters - Pujols, Freddie Freeman and the immortal Matt Hague. We have already noted Pujols' struggles. Freeman managed to hit 23 long balls and Hague survived on the Pittsburgh Pirates roster through mid-June, but failed to smack even a single home run before he was sent packing.
Kansas City first baseman Eric Hosmer knocked in 29 runs in 28 preseason games and you may have gotten excited about the possibilities for this second-year starter. Unfortunately, Hosmer managed just 60 RBI in 152 regular season games and was a big disappointment to fantasy owners.
Pitchers also were not immune to giving false hope.
Four pitchers finished spring training with spotless 4-0 records - Matt Cain, Doug Fister, Luis Mendoza and C.J. Wilson.
While Cain also posted excellent regular season statistics (16-5, 2.79 ERA, 1.04 WHIP), Fister and Wilson were just mediocre and Mendoza's season must be categorized as poor off an 8-10 campaign with a 4.23 ERA and 1.41 WHIP.
Meanwhile, Dan Haren was 3-0 in spring training with a 2.05 ERA and 0.95 WHIP and had you drafted him off those stellar numbers, you would have paid too high a price for a sub-.500 pitcher with a lofty 4.33 ERA and 1.29 WHIP.
The opposite was true of Washington Nationals ace Gio Gonzalez, who put up an ugly 5.85 ERA in five spring training starts, but went on to produce numbers worthy of Cy Young Award consideration - 21-8, 2.89 ERA, 1.13 WHIP.
The bottom line is simple. While watching spring training games, you should enjoy the sights and sounds of the warm Florida/Arizona afternoon, but do not depend on the statistics to determine fantasy value.
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