March 27, 2013
The Lineup Card
8 Spring Training Stats We Don't Put Much Stock In
1. The Mariners Won't Lead MLB in Homers
Spring-training stats are available at MLB.com going back to 2006. Only the 2009 Royals and the 2006 Tigers (54) exceeded Seattle's current total. Here are the yearly leaders, with their regular-season rank:
Could the Mariners buck this trend and continue their power display into the regular season? Anything is possible, and they did move the fences in at Safeco, but bear in mind that they haven't finished in the top 15 since 2000, when they tied with the Mets for 12th. That Mariners team featured Alex Rodriguez, Edgar Martinez, and Jay Buhner.
Kendrys Morales and Mike Morse each have six homers this spring, which is nice, but it doesn't magically transform them into Rodriguez and Martinez. Nor does moving the fences turn Safeco Field into the Kingdome, which is where the Mariners played the first half of 1999, the last of three straight seasons they led MLB in home runs.
But we'll have all year to deal with reality. For now, let's just hit the snooze button and keep dreaming. —Geoff Young
2. Shane Robinson Will Not Retain his Grapefruit League King Title
3. The Orioles Won't Win 70 Percent of Their One-Run Games
4. Yuniesky Betancourt Hasn't Discovered How to Hit
5. Yasiel Puig Won't Be Walkless
Of course, this prediction supposes a few things. The first is that he plays with the Dodgers this season. Right now, there is no room for him in the LA outfield, but the fact that their entire outfield is susceptible to injury makes this more plausible. Andre Ethier, Matt Kemp, and Carl Crawford all have a season of 135 games played or fewer on their resumes over the last two years. The second thing is that Puig will continue to perform at a high level in the upper minors, giving the Dodgers reason to call him up when there’s a need. This feels inevitable when you watch him, but it’s anything but a guarantee—especially as he starts facing pitchers who may refuse to throw him strikes.
This spring, Yasiel Puig has approached his at-bats like the part of his brain that controls strike zone recognition was replaced by an exact duplicate of the part of his brain that screams “SWING HARD NOW!” But, most importantly, since he recorded no walks this spring, we have no visual confirmation of how Puig would get to first base after a walk. Maybe he’d sprint like Todd Coffey. Maybe he’d walk really, really slowly. Maybe he’s athletic enough to just do back flips the entire way. Would he simply drop his bat or do some variation of his home run bat flip? And yes, this is really something that I’ve thought about. —Bret Sayre
6. Justin Smoak Won't Approach .408/.434/.796
Smoak has continued the trend this exhibition season, compiling a .434/.483/.811 line over 60 plate appearances, picking up four home runs and eight doubles along the way. Consequently, the 26-year-old has improved his career spring OPS to 1.009.
But if history is any indication, Smoak will abandon this pretense once Opening Day chases the fledgling arms of the Cactus League back to their developmental womb. Over the better part of three major-league seasons, Smoak has never hit above .234. He has never posted an on-base percentage greater than .323. And he has never slugged more than .396. Safeco won’t be such a hostile hitter’s environment in 2013 with the fences coming in—Smoak’s home/road OPS splits favor the latter by roughly 60 points since his 2010 trade to the Mariners—but it’s still hard to believe his spring performance portends anything beyond a modest improvement. Frankly, it’d be difficult to get much worse: Smoak finished with a .236 True Average in 2012, the eighth-lowest mark among qualified hitters last season. And yes, this is indeed the same player who, in the days of yore, constituted the centerpiece of a trade for Cliff Lee. —Jonah Birenbaum
7. Ryan Raburn Won't Be Anything But a Spring Training Tease
8. Howard Kendrick Still Won't Win That Batting Title
Kendrick has a .467 average this spring (28-for-60), the highest of any qualifying AL player. But don’t be deceived: he’s not about to make our prediction look prescient. Last spring, Kendrick hit .383. The spring before that, he hit .364. All told, Kendrick has batted .361 in spring training during his years as a big leaguer. He’s also a career .360 hitter in the minor leagues. Clearly, he has batting-title bat speed, and a translation of his stats against lesser competition would suggest that he’d routinely top .300 in the majors, which explains why we ranked him the fifth-best prospect in baseball in 2006.
So why has he hit “only” .292 in the majors, despite a robust BABIP? It’s not his ballpark, although Angel Stadium is hard on right-handed hitters: Kendrick has hit .293 on the road. The best answer is “breaking balls.” Kendrick has no trouble catching up to major-league heaters—he’s hit over .340 against four-seamers in the PITCHf/x era—but he’s batted under .250 against sliders. In the land of four-seamers, Kendrick is king, so he feasts on opposing pitching in Arizona, where arms are still getting stretched out and the caliber of competition is lower, and in the minors, where most pitchers lack elite secondary stuff. But in the big leagues, his relative struggles against softer stuff hold him back. Even so, he’s an extremely consistent, above-average hitter with a good glove and the ability to take the extra base. There are worse things to be than a bit above league average, and Kendrick is well worth the Angels’ investment. But he’s not about to be a batting champion. —Ben Lindbergh