Relax, calm down, take a chill pill–or, as we used to say back in the ’70’s–eat a red, man. I know everyone is already tired of the oft-used “it’s still early” or the equally tiresome “it’s just spring training”–but there may be something to those well-worn cliches. Let me explain.
Baseball is a game for numbers junkies. We count everything. Everything. You want to know how many times a batter hit the ball? or drew a walk? There’s a stat for that. How about how many runs a pitcher gives up during a game? An inning? They count those too. How about how many times a team lost a game after it was called for rain, protested the decision, won on appeal and went on to win the game? You can bet your ass there’s a baseball nut looking for that answer right now. Our question right now, though, is this: in determining a team’s regular season performance, how relevant is the team’s standing when they break camp? Which leads me to my point: if we word the question differently will the answer change?
It reminds me of the old adage “figures don’t lie, but liars can figure.” That’s the crux of the stats game–change the parameters and you might change the outcome. I looked at the standings for the past 10 years–both for spring training and regular season–and here’s what I found:
The GIANTS left ST in last place one other time–in 2008. In the 2008 regular season, they came in 4th in the NL West, beating out the Padres. In the rest of the NL, 2 other teams fared worse: the Nationals and the Pirates. In the AL, 2 teams finished with a lower win %: the Orioles and the Mariners–and all those teams left ST in better shape than the GIANTS. From 2009 through 2014, the GIANTS finished ST in the top 3 in the NL–in 2010 and 2011, they came in 1st in the NL after Spring Training. Not the answer I was looking for, so I changed the question.
The GIANTS are currently in last place in Spring Training, starting with their 1st game on March 3rd. But what if Spring Traing started last week? 10 days ago? 2 weeks ago? Let’s face it–they’re playing much better now than they were at the beginning of camp. So here’s the answer:
The GIANTS wouldn’t be in last place if Spring Training had begun 2 weeks ago, but they would still be pretty close. There’s 1 team in the NL that would have a lower win %: the Phillies. But this is what else I found–the GIANTS have won more games in the last week than they did in the first two weeks of Spring Training. In fact, if we had a couple more weeks and the GIANTS kept up the pace, we might be singing a completely different tune. Nah, that’s not true–we’d still be singing “We Are the Champions” because that’s what the GIANTS are–the Champions.
My point is take heart. Sure, we’ve left ST in better shape, but I like the way things are looking right now. So, relax, take it easy. And when someone says, “don’t worry, it’s still early” or it’s just Spring Training”–nod in agreement, because they may have a point–and we are still, after all, GIANTS.