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February 5, 2014
The Lineup Card
Eight of the Least Interesting Spring Training Storylines
1. Player X Is in the Best Shape of His Life
2. Fifth-Starter Battles
The truth is that the "winning" fifth starter will probably pitch long relief for most of April, and after two bad starts in May, one of the other houses... erm, pitchers will be called up to take his place. So, what exactly did he win? The chance to be the first one discarded? However, your local beat writer, with nothing else to write about, because eventually even spring games become exercises in monotony, will fill column inches with speculation about who's ahead in the big race/competition. Hint: look for the pitcher who doesn't have any furniture. —Russell A. Carleton
3. Can David Robertson Fill Mariano Rivera's Shoes?
4. Cactus and Grapefruit League Home Run Leaders
...No, wait, come back—I have more stats for you! —Matt Sussman
5. #Analysis and Criticism of Beat Writers Who Are Just Doing Their Jobs
Then, there are the other times. The times when you’re asked to provide game stories and trivia about guys who will never make the majors. When you’re forced to write about whether or not players look fat, how many pretend home runs they hit, or whether they’re taking grounders in the field. You’re stuck away from home for long stretches of time covering meaningless games.
But actually, that’s not the worst part. Once those stories are posted, now you have to tweet about them. Before, they just languished in Page 7 of the local sports pages, behind whatever college basketball game was happening that day. Now, your Twitter proudly announces, “Pedroia was 1-for-3 with an RBI against Boston College, and his swing ‘looks to be in midseason form’, according to some guy on the field!” And then come the Twitterati, that Sabermetric crowd that’s been following you all winter, waiting around to shower you with ironic BS, like RTing your articles with the “#analysis” hashtag, as if you weren’t forced to write them. “Idiot!” your twitter followers say, “How could you be so stupid as to think that Pedroia’s stat line against Boston College was really meaningful! What kind of moron are you?!” Or, worse, maybe you mentioned which starter won the game, or which player is leading spring training in RBI! What kind of idiot you must be!
Seriously, give beat writers the benefit of the doubt. Most of them are just doing the crappiest part of their jobs. There’s plenty of time to harp on the ones who suck during the regular season. —Dan Brooks
6. Pitcher Win-Loss Records
For me the most uninteresting storylines that are thrown out there are all related to wins and losses. “Player X is having a good spring, he has four wins against only one loss” is pretty uninspiring during the regular season, but to hear this type of storyline during the spring when the win-loss results mean so little is just simple white noise thrown out there perhaps as a force of habit. Personally, I don’t care if Jose Veras has three relief wins in the Cactus League this year; the win statistic already has limited value during the regular season, and it completely loses what little communicative ability it has during tune-up time for professional baseball players.
It’s negligible stuff. Announcers will do it to fill time during games filled with players who have numbers in the 90s on their backs, but that doesn’t change the fact that win-loss records are the least interesting spring training storyline. —Mauricio Rubio
7. The Joey Votto Walk Watch
"What's his deal," one will say to the other with a glaring look right before the the producers cut to a video sequence of called strikes Votto could have swung at. The other talking head will agree, saying "I'm not sure, but it absolutely cannot happen again in 2014," while motioning his hands in a way that doesn't quite make sense. No matter how many statistical breakdowns and logical explanations that can be boiled down to "not making an out is good," it won't make a difference in this situation.
Of course, it won't end there. This storyline will continue into the regular season and into the postseason, if the Cincinnati Reds make it there. But if that happens, it will on the back of Brandon Phillips' roll over grounders to the second baseman that scored Billy Hamilton from second base. As so they will say. —Ronit Shah
8. Tweeted play-by-play
Playographs have fallen out of fashion. In their place, we have radio, TV, MLB.TV, MLB.com Gameday and Gameday Audio, ESPN’s MLB Gamecast, and live box scores, play logs, game threads and live chats on countless other sites. All of those sources are accessible from phones. If you have an internet connection, it’s extraordinarily easy to follow along with every game going on, wherever you are.
And still there are writers who treat their Twitter feeds like their own personal Playographs, dispensing morsels of play-by-play as if their followers were clustered around their computers in fedoras or homburgs, hanging on every tweet.
I get it. You get paid to go to a game, you feel some pressure to justify your presence there. You’re a reporter, so your instinct is to tell us what you see. Also, you might be bored, and you see some other guys doing it. Can’t let them get an exclusive scoop on that fly out to left.
But—and I hope I’m speaking for most of Baseball Twitter when I say this—play-by-play isn’t what we follow you for. And while we’re free to unfollow, we’d rather not miss out on all the info you offer that we can’t find anywhere else.
One could argue that tweeting play-by-play makes more sense in spring training than it does during the regular season, since some of the exhibition games aren’t televised. But one could also argue—and I would—that because they’re exhibition games, we don’t need to know the moment that no. 83 strikes out no. 97 with a runner on second. Yet if anything, this practice is more prevalent during the spring, when we’re so happy to have some new action to talk about that we’re willing to forgive almost any baseball-related behavior.
We know that spring training records don’t predict full-season success; just ask the 2013 Mariners (22-11), Reds (13-20), and Dodgers (13-20). And if the outcomes of the games don’t matter, then surely the individual plays that lead to those outcomes are irrelevant too, except insofar as they impact or give us some insight into things that might happen once the regular season starts. So when games begin this month, please leave the redundant reporting of routine events to the soulless XML scripts designed to do that job. It’s time for Twitter play-by-play to go the way of the Playograph. —Ben Lindbergh