Raise your hand if you have Mike Moustakas sky rocketing up your 3B rankings because he currently leads spring leaguers in HRs. Keep your hands up so Tommy can come around and hit you over the head with a tack hammer. Now let me remind you how well spring translates to the regular season.
Exhibit A: Bob Welch in the spring of 1990 was 0-3 with an ERA of 17.72. In the regular season, Welch went on to post a 2.95 ERA on his way to winning 27 games and the AL Cy Young. Is that good? The writer of the article mentions some other examples but I have a couple of personal favorites I need to mention.
Exhibit B: Now batting, Matt Hague. Who? Hague. In 2012, Hague tied some guys named Pujols and Freeman for the most home runs in spring training. More specifically, Hague had 7 HRs in 55 ABs. Hague went on that season to hit 4 HRs in 367 ABs…at AAA. He did get 70 AB with the Bucs that year, and hit zero bombs.
Exhibit C: The most recent example is probably Jackie Bradley Jr. last season. JBJ ended spring ball last year with a slash line of .419/.507/.613 in 62 Abs. Throw in a pair of HRs and a couple of SBs, and Bradley Jr’s name was often mentioned as a preseason favorite to be the AL ROY. Think back to last year’s draft, it is likely that someone drafted him in your league. The return on that pick? 95 Major League ABs with a slash line of .189/.280/.337. Bradley was more successful at AAA in 2013, and may provide some fantasy value in 2014. But he was clearly not ready for the show last season, and the hype that was built up during last spring was responsible for burning more than a few fantasy owners on draft day.
So why are there such large inconsistencies from spring ball to the regular season? A lot of it has to do with the pitching. Pitchers do not have their A game when they take the bump in the early goings. Their breaking balls are not as crisp and they put a lot of effort in locating their fastballs that often lack the velocity you normally would expect in the regular season. A good fastball hitter can look like an All Star at the beginning of camp (Matt Hague).
From a sports psychology standpoint, spring ball resembles practice more than an actual game. With that, your established players use it as such. They are practicing bits and pieces of the game, not necessarily taking a regular season approach with every at-bat. The adrenaline and focus is not quite the same in practice as it is in games that count; lowering the overall quality performance of some veterans (Bob Welch). Whereas the young guys vying for a roster spot, their adrenaline or ability to “get up” for the game and prove themselves is greater and can lead to inflated stats compared to what you would see come April (JBJ).
The moral of the story, enjoy spring ball. Enjoy the feeling that baseball is back. It’s a great time to evaluate your retirement plans based on your favorite teams or your preference between grapefruits and cacti. But that is the only evaluating you should be doing this time of year, ignore the hype of the spring breakouts, and base your projections based on the players’ previous regular season.