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March 19, 2014
The Lineup Card
11 Spring Training Performances We Sort of Believe In
1. Clayton Kershaw
From 2006 to 2012 there were 34 pitchers whose October action added four or more starts to their seasons' workloads. One, Curt Schilling, retired, leaving us 33 seasons following lengthy Octobers. Of those 33, 17 pitchers had ERAs worse than PECOTA projected the following year, 14 had ERAs that were better, and one got hurt and never threw a pitch. (One tied his projection.) Hey, it's a trend?
Ehh, probably not. Except for a moment the three pitchers who barely pitched at all--Chris Carpenter twice, and Colby Lewis--and the already modest difference basically disappears. The average starter was about .04 runs of ERA worse than PECOTA expected him to be, which means nothing. Further, at the risk of parsing this already parsed group even further, most of the "damage" came to the pitchers who made five starts or more, which probably isn't significant but which invalidates the very premise regarding Kershaw.
So maybe you can argue that Carpenter and Lewis were hurt, like actually injured, by having to pitch into October, but assuming Kershaw isn't actually injured and that he actually pitches this year, the recent past doesn't foreshadow a worse-than-projected season for him. Which is why I totally believe one of his spring stats will carry over: One wild pitch every four starts seems just about right to me. —Sam Miller
2. Ivan Nova
3. Grady Sizemore
4. Michael Pineda
Pineda is essentially just a fastball-slider pitcher (his changeup is not a weapon at all) so he needs both of those pitches to be successful—and that means getting swinging strikes. Way back in 2011, which is the last time he was recorded by PITCHf/x and faced major league hitting, his fortunes were closely tied to his whiff rate. Through July 4, his ERA was 2.58 and his fastball and slider were each more than a standard deviation above the league average for those pitch types in whiff/swing. But in his final 11 starts, his ERA was 5.71 and his fastball/slider whiff rates were noticeably lower.
A lot can go wrong for a guy coming from two years of throwing shoulder rehab, but there is a decent chance New York will end up getting something out of the Jesus Montero trade. —Dan Rozenson
5. Anthony Rizzo
6. Nathan Eovaldi
7. Mike Olt
But hey, at least the vision issue seems to be cleared up. —Mauricio Rubio
8. Starters Converting to the Bullpen
But 2013 was when Luke Hochevar, a flop of a first overall pick with a career 5.44 ERA in over 750 innings as a starter, recorded a sub-2.00 ERA in 70 innings out of the pen. When Brett Cecil, formerly a soft-tossing, below-league-average starter, turned into an All-Star eighth-inning guy who threw 93. When Kevin Siegrist, whom Kevin Goldstein once described as a “smoke-and-mirrors lefty who rarely gets out of the 80s with his fastball,” became a flamethrowing lefty whose fastball averaged 95. When Alex Torres, a former minor-league starter with a four-plus ERA in Triple-A, posted a 1.71 ERA in 58 innings out of Tampa Bay’s bullpen. When Will Smith lowered his ERA by two runs and doubled his strikeout rate. When Chris Withrow missed bats but found the strike zone. When Manny Parra put it together. When Brian Duensing was worth a roster spot.
All of those transitions surpassed Tango’s typical expectation of a “one run per nine innings pitched” improvement. In my mind, then, 2013 became the Year of the Converted Reliever. And after seeing all of those conversions succeed, I’m ready to believe that almost any former starter who’s headed to the bullpen is about to be unhittable. (Heck, no one was worse than Hochevar.) Paul Maholm, Chris Capuano, and John Lannan? The next Duensing or Cecil. Danny Duffy? The next Smith. Zach Britton (and his 1.13 spring ERA in eight innings)? You’d better believe he’ll be the next Brian Matusz. Ross Detwiler? Zach Duke? Sam Deduno (0.93 ERA, 9 2/3 IP)? Budding relief aces, all. And keep an eye on Casey Crosby, too.
Spring stats aren’t predictive, but exhibition-game box scores are all we need to tell the rotation material from the guys being groomed for relief. Take a terrible starter and stick him in the bullpen, and I don’t care what his other stats say. In short bursts, I’m buying. —Ben Lindbergh
9. MLB's Instant Replay System
However, keep in mind the system is doing the intended thing: overturning calls. Maybe not at the rate we expect or desire, but it is happening, and if you want to travel from 0 to 100, first you have to cross 10. Consider it Small Sample Size Syndrome in spring, but it's looking like a vehicle for making less of us unjustifiably grumpy during baseball games, leaving our angst to be focused on our team's lack of pitching/hitting/defense/cool hats. Raw ability with upside.
If MLB Instant Replay could be anthropomorphized, it could win Rookie of the Year. It's going to act like a rookie, especially when every other doggone rule in baseball is older than your great-great-grampaw. So give it time and replay should win the starting job out of camp, meaning its backup, Guessing The Correct Call, is out of major-league options. —Matt Sussman
10. Injured Pitchers
Nowhere is the relationship between the two types of baseball stronger than with injured players. Injured players can’t play well. They can’t play well during Spring Training and they can’t play well during the regular season. This is because they are injured and moving their bodies in baseball-type ways hurts them. The relationship is the strongest in pitchers. Batters might be able to tough through some portion of spring, dependent on their injuries, but pitchers, if they’re really hurt, can’t throw a ball (or a car part) either way. It is in that way that I believe wholeheartedly in the performance of injured pitchers like Jarrod Parker. He’s going to have a second Tommy John surgery and this makes me believe all the more. This surgery will make him utterly unable to play baseball whether it’s spring or summer, or fall, or possibly any time ever as long as it’s post-surgery and pre-invention of bionic arm replacement surgery. The same goes for just about every pitcher on the Braves. Not now, not through spring, not during the regular season. Not not not not not. Because they can’t. I believe! —Matthew Kory
11. The Brewers
Brief conversation recap:
Me: “Hey, do you know anyone on the Brewers?”
Me: “Anyone else?”
Me: “Anyone else?”
So, in less than one week, my wife—who actually is a pretty big baseball fan—has fallen in love with a stray dog that wandered off the Arizona streets and was adopted by the Brewers. This might be because Hank looks kind of like our dog, but Hank is pretty damn cute regardless. He even ran in the sausage race dressed as a hot dog. And he looks ridiculously happy in all the pictures, running around the field, posing with players, whatever.
She doesn’t know any other Brewers players, except for the steroids guy, and isn’t even really sure about his name. Google search for “Hank” and “Brewers” and you no longer pull up pages related to one of the greatest baseball players of all time.
The Brewers were recently picked by Ben and Sam on Effectively Wild as the team least likely to win the World Series in either the short or long term. The organizational ineptitude probably makes fans upset, frustrated, and bitter.
But if the point of baseball is to make us smile, the Brewers won spring training. You better believe it. —Dan Brooks