Games don’t start for a couple of weeks yet, but before I forget, I just wanted to say that I don’t take spring games seriously, and that I don’t recap them. It’s not just that the small sample sizes make people think that something’s going on that it’s not (“Mark Lemke is hitting .380!”) but that the game itself is different.
These practice games are used by established players, particularly pitchers, largely to get in shape. If you take a look at spring statistics sometime, you’ll notice that batting averages are (on average) higher than in the regular season, but walks are much lower. I’ve never seen it in print, but I believe what happens is simply that the good pitchers don’t throw breaking balls, or don’t throw many at any rate. Fastballs are easier to throw, and if you know that you’re on the team there’s no reason to wear yourself out.
What this means is that certain players — particularly young free swingers — look better in spring than they really are. Exhibit A: Travis Wilson. Back in 2001, Wilson almost made the Braves because he hit .400 or so against fastballs in spring training even though he hadn’t played above A-Ball. (This was the situation that proved that Merv Rettenmund was obviously completely insane: he thought Wilson was a better hitting prospect than Marcus Giles.) Fortunately, wiser heads eventually prevailed and Wilson went to the minors, where he proved that he can’t hit a curveball or even recognize one, and now he’s back in New Zealand playing softball.
My guess is that Jeff Francoeur will play well this spring, once he gets back from the WBC (where I expect him to struggle). He can’t hit breaking pitches, not good ones anyway, but fastballs down the middle, yippee! Other guys who should play unexpectedly well in spring include Wilson Betemit and Brayan Pena.
The flip side of this is that veteran junkballers who throw lots of offspeed and breaking pitches also do unexpectedly well. The hitters’ timing isn’t there yet and they don’t see much slop during spring. Meanwhile, these guys are always looking for jobs and will bear down. Usually, they wipe out at the end of spring when the hitters are ready (Exhibit B: Adam Bernero) but sometimes have done enough that the managers bring them north (Exhibit B again). Of course, sometimes these guys really can get outs (Exhibit C: Chris Hammond). Still, beware the veteran junkballer.
But if you did recaps, you could get nice lines like:
“Todd Pratt came into the game at 2B in the middle of the 4th inning after Bobby received an angry call on the dugout phone informing him that Marcus Giles was late for dinner with his wife. Since Salty and McCann had already left the game to go play laser tag, an eager fan resembling Alex R. was brought in to play catcher.”
That is what spring training is REALLY about. Farting around and pretending to play baseball!
Yeah, but I have to go by game logs and that stuff never makes it in.
BTW, at the end of that 2001 “Spring Journal” I get happy that Fox hired Tom Paciorek to do Braves games. I’m better now.
Although, as we all recall last year, Andruw’s crazy spring HR breakout certainly did continue during the regular season.
My favorite Spring Training Memory: Back in ’88, I went down with some friends to W. Palm Beach, where the Braves & Expos shared facilities. A friend from Athens (who didn’t make the trip) asked that we get Dale Murphy’s autograph. I’m not a big autograph hound, but I said I would.
We went to several games, but had no luck getting anywhere near The Murph. Anytime he got near a fence, he was swamped. Impossible.
So the last day we’re there, we’re at an Expos-Astros game (for no good reason, I guess). Luckily, I catch a foul ball right away. Soon after, we notice that Geddy Lee from the Canadian prog-rock band Rush is sitting with some pals a few seats ahead of us. We don’t bother him, but after a few adult beverages we decide that, instead of Murphy, he’s the guy who must sign the ball for our pal, who incidentally HATES Rush.
Game ends, we follow Mr. 2112 to the parking lot and ask him if he’ll sign our baseball. He looked highly annoyed, sighed heavily, and took the ball, scrawling his name. Just for fun, I ask him if he’s a big Expos fan. He gives me a look like I’m dripping with filth and announces in a shockingly condescending tone, “Big baseball fan!” Caress of steel, indeed!
He gives the ball back — me & my pal burst into laughter.
We get back to Athens & present the ball to our friend: “Raymond, although we tried, we couldn’t get you The Murph’s autograph, but we did get you the lead-singer from Rush.”
You just stumbled upon something. Alex R is our answer for the closer position. Why did I not see this sooner?
(This was the situation that proved that Merv Rettenmund was obviously completely insane: he thought Wilson was a better hitting prospect than Marcus Giles.)
I remember that. Rettenmund said, if I remember correct, that Wilson was the best hitter in the Braves organization behind Betemit, who was at that time hitting like Nomar in the minors. I could (and still can) envision Merv gushing over Wilson with Marcus standing forlornly in the background.
Merv also thought Furcal should give up switch-hitting. And as I mentioned in that piece, someone in the organization messed up George Lombard in an attempt to (I am not making this up) walk less, so he could become a leadoff hitter. There’s a reason that the only hitters the Braves turned up in that period were Furcal (who spent hardly any time above A-Ball) and Giles (who is too ornery to listen to stupid people who didn’t think he was a prospect tell him how to play).
I remember a time when the WB was going to be Nomar, but faster ans stronger. He was going to free Cuba from the tirany of Leo Mazone Castro.
It was Leo who convinced JS to hire Rettmund
Not sure if this has been mentioned but looks like ESPN has their 1st Power Rankings up and of course, they have the Braves ranked 9th (behind the Mets at 6th(and the highest rated NL team) and the Cards at 8th). Of course Jerry Crasnick also picked the Mets to win the NL East. Why am I still continually suprised by these picks?(ESPN has been picking against the Braves for 15 years)
Ububba – that Rush story is priceless. I would have made him sign the ball, “to a modern day warrior, Geddy.”
I guess ol’ Geddy wasn’t kidding when he sang, “I can?t pretend a stranger is a long-awaited friend.”
But, still, he coulda been nice…
If we’re telling Spring training stories, I’d like to apologize for ruining Bruce Chen . . .
It was Day 1, Spring Training 2000 and the first Brave I saw was Boby Bonilla. I was so shocked that I said, “Bobby Bonilla?” He heard me and admitted it seemed a little strange to him, too.
After that embarassment, school was out. Maddux glared at me when I asked if Lasik had improved his outlook, but he then smiled.
When I yelled “Good Luck, Bruce,” Chen waved and then tripped going into the dugout. Might’ve twisted something. I can confirm that Leo was there.
If you can get down there-Go! Nothing like it.
1. Spring training games suck.
2. I’m so baseball ready I’ll pay close attention to them.
3. The Leo thing is beyond old now.
Leo posts here occasionally as Dan.