Talking Points #3: It’s Only Spring (Until It’s Not)

-Photo Credit @AshburnNatsfan

-Photo Credit @AshburnNatsfan

Let’s face it. You don’t really like baseball (yet). Or maybe you do like baseball, but you don’t feel like you know very much about it (yet). Either way, you find yourself out of your depth when the conversation turns to the Nats and you wish you could just throw out a few bon mots to sound like you know what you’re doing. 

Nats101 presents Talking Points, a weekly series designed to take advantage of the BSing nature of Washington D.C., and make you sound like a seamhead on your very first try. (And maybe learn ya some baseball while we’re at it).

“I don’t know. I know they want to grow the sport overseas, but playing the first two regular season games in Australia just feels weird.”

  • Yessir, the MLB has in fact started playing games that count. More than a week before the March 31 Opening Day, the Dodgers beat the Diamondbacks twice in Sydney, Australia of all places.
  • The games started at completely odd hours of the day here in the States, given the time shift, and it required either staying up very late or getting up very early to watch.
  • Maybe you think that’s a great idea, but it is strange to think of games being played so early in the season, so far away…and then they come back and play more practice games that don’t count.
  • Tying this to the Nats, they open the season on the road playing the New York Mets on Monday, March 31. They play their first home game on Friday, April 4 against the Atlanta Braves.
  • Totes mention the Aussie series as a way to gauge baseball interest with others, and then use that to see if folks are excited about the Nats opening in New York, or in Washington later that week.

“I can’t believe some folks are panicking about Bryce Harper because he’s had a slow spring. You can’t really go by stats like that. It’s Spring Training!” 

  • If you are looking at the stats in Spring Training, you’re doing it wrong. If someone talks about the stats in Spring Training, they are doing it wrong.
  • Spring Training is not about stats, it’s about getting warmed up to play baseball. The only meaningful things you can ever pull out of ST is that players are healthy, or (if you’re able to pick up on such things) mechanics.
  • Unlike the regular season, players aren’t always working on ‘getting a hit’ or ‘striking a guy out.’ Very often, a player may be working on something in particular. Ryan Zimmerman may be laying off easy fastballs because he feels he needs to practice hitting curveballs. Stephen Strasburg may opt to throw a change-up to a hitter even if he knows he can’t hit the slider. In the Spring they aren’t worried about the result, they care about the process.
  • Plus you can throw out another buzz phrase “small sample size.” The small number of attempts a player will take distorts reading you will get on how well he is performing.
  • Imagine a pop quiz where there are only two questions and you get one wrong. You get a 50%. Now imagine a test with ten questions where you get two wrong. You got more wrong, but did much better. 100 Questions and 10 wrong? Even better…You get the idea.
  • Applied to baseball… Harper was 5 for 30 the other day, or a very bad .167 batting average. If he makes two more hits, his a bad but not abysmal .233. 10 hits out of 30? an all-star worthy .300. Five hits over 30 Spring at bats (where, again, he may not be working on always getting hit) is a swing of .133 batting average points. Over 600 At bats he might see in a season? .008 points, or 0.8%. Very, very small-so don’t be fooled.

“…but all that said, Two Home Runs in one game for Danny Espinosa? I don’t want to get ahead of myself here, but I think he might be back!”

  • I know, I know….I just told you not to read too much into Spring Training. But here is where you can make an intelligent distinction as to what’s going on down in Florida.
  • Last year, Danny Espinosa’s broken wrist and tore up shoulder cost him his 2013 campaign, his starting job, and put his standing with the team in jeopardy. While languishing in the minor leagues, Espinosa hit two home runs in 313 plate appearances. Which is to say, basically, that he couldn’t barely hit at all.
  • Espinosa’s swing has looked great all spring. Even the outs he’s made have been hard hit. Getting two singers in one game isn’t great because of the stats boost, but it shows that he can hit the home run.
  • Espinosa’s defense was always stellar. He wasn’t a great batter, but he had power. When he lost his power last year, he had almost nothing. If he gets his power back, he’s at worst a great backup.

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