Before today’s game began, I knew what to expect. Once the Mets were back on the field, even if it was only their first spring training game, there would be over-reaction (of both the negative and positive variety). My expectations were confirmed when Ruben Tejada‘s homer off Stephen Strasburg was followed by a tweet from writer Jeff Passan of Yahoo!, who tweeted the following:
— Jeff Passan (@JeffPassan) February 23, 2013
What Passan tweeted was most likely in jest, but still ridiculous coming from a national writer. Besides Passan, there were tons of Mets fans who took to Twitter to gripe about Shaun Marcum giving up 3 runs, hate on Lucas Duda, proclaim Zack Wheeler an ace, and get ready to attack Bobby Parnell when the first batter he faced in the 9th reached base. All of those reactions were due to what transpired during the first game of spring training. To everyone, I’d like to say the following: Relax. Spring stats are mostly meaningless. You know what else will be meaningless? Whatever the Mets’ record is at the end of March.
If you go back and look, you’ll find teams that were horrendous in the spring but went on to win the World Series, teams that were great in the spring but went on to finish in last place, and teams that were mediocre who went on to win 108 games.
Spring training is a time when most players are simply trying to get in shape and hone their craft. Pitchers often focus on throwing one or two of their pitches (especially early on), since they don’t care about the results. Today, Shaun Marcum told John Buck that he would only be throwing his fastball and changeup. He had no interest in throwing any sliders or curves. He gave up 3 runs in 2 innings. Those runs are meaningless. Marcum was simply getting his work in.
At this point in spring training, the hitters are behind. Even when the hitters start to catch up, the majority of them will be indifferent. Players who know they have their spot on the roster and role cemented won’t be grinding out the same types of at bats they will during the regular season. Like the pitchers, their goal is getting reps. Their other goal is to not get hurt.
For those who want to worry about a team’s overall spring record, I offer you the following: For the most part, spring training games (especially over the first few weeks) are decided by players who won’t make either team. The starting position players are pulled around the 5th inning or earlier, and the majority of the pitchers who work the later innings are retreads or prospects who are getting a taste (like Darin Gorski and Cory Mazzoni were this afternoon).
Position players and pitchers who are exempt from the “spring training is meaningless” rule are the ones who are fighting for roster spots and roles. Those players (Collin Cowgill for example) will likely treat spring training games as they would regular season affairs. Still, it’s important to take into account the circumstances those players are performing under. In most cases, the stats they put up are against pitchers who are indifferent, position players whose main objective is to shake off the rust and remain healthy, and prospects who have no chance at breaking camp.
With that said, I love watching spring training games. It allows fans to get a taste of baseball while not having to worry about the outcome. In addition, it’s fun to get a glimpse of the future. While looking forward to the future (specifically players like Zack Wheeler and Travis d’Arnaud), it’s imperative to not freak out over their performance – whether it’s good, bad, or average.
What does matter during spring training? I would say playing a crisp brand of baseball and emerging healthy are both paramount. Sloppy play and bad habits aren’t something you want to see, and injuries can sabotage a season.
Enjoy the games, but don’t stress over the results. There will be plenty of time for that come April 1st.