Beware of spring training statistics

Philadelphia, PA (Sports Network) - The first spring training games arrive just when we need it the most. The long, cold winter of our discontent has made us anxious for baseball, any baseball, even lowly spring training games. We are quick to trade the ice and snow of January for the "Boys of Summer," so we watch intently as they get ready for Opening Day.

We 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 he faced, and we begin to adjust our fantasy rankings. You know, the ones that you 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.

For every Roy Halladay who goes 4-0 with an ERA of 0.42 and a WHIP of 0.92 in five 2011 spring training starts and then stars during the regular season, there are just as many pitchers and hitters who give false hope.

Baltimore rookie starter Zach Britton ripped through spring training last year with a 3-0 record, posting an ERA of 1.35, but in the regular season went just 11-11 with a 4.61 ERA and an extremely high WHIP of 1.45. Not exactly the stuff of fantasy legends.

Veteran Ryan Dempster looked masterful in spring training with a 2.57 ERA and a 0.96 WHIP in six spring training starts, but then flopped in the regular season, going 10-14 with a 4.80 ERA and a 1.44 WHIP.

Or you could have read into Cole Hamels' horrible spring that the Phillies pitcher was going to struggle in 2011 after a spring in which he posted a losing record with an huge ERA of 6.67 and an equally bad WHIP of 1.41. Of course, nothing could have been further from the truth as Hamels went 14-9 with a stunning 2.79 ERA and a 0.986 WHIP.

These other pitchers also went through spring training with an ERA above 5.00, but pitched well when it counted: Doug Fister (5.01), Josh Beckett (5.33), Justin Masterson (5.40), Madison Bumgarner (5.93), Aaron Harang (6.12), Jaime Garcia (6.26), Derek Holland (6.38) and Ricky Romero (7.91).

It's not any more consistent when you check out the guys hitting the ball, either.

Here were the top-10 2011 preseason hitters by batting average: Miguel Cabrera (.468), Rickie Weeks (.442), Marlon Byrd (.431), Erick Almonte (.416), Omar Infante (.414), Kevin Kouzmanoff (.413), Chris Denorfia (.404), Mitch Moreland (.403), Jose Bautista (.400) and Willie Bloomquist (.400).

Sure, all of you will note that Cabrera and Bautista went on to have big years, but what of the other eight hitters?

The answer is that none hit higher than .277, and only Weeks had an OPS over .800 or at least 20 home runs. The No. 4 man on the list, Almonte, lasted just 16 games with the big club, batted a robust .103 and was unceremoniously shipped to the minors.

At the other end of the spectrum, noted slow starter Robinson Cano batted .236 in Florida and still posted a .302 batting average with 28 HRs, 118 RBIs and an .882 OPS. Texas outfielder Nelson Cruz batted .226 in the spring and hit 29 HRs with 87 RBIs, while Adam Dunn batted .224 in Arizona and had the worst year of his career (.159 with 11 HRs, 42 RBIs and a .569 OPS).

The bottom line is that the only thing consistent about spring training statistics are their inability to predict regular-season results. For my money, the only reason to watch spring training games is to gauge the health of the player.

Comments? Criticism? Applause? Contact Steve Schwarz at sschwarz@sportsnetwork.com.

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