Reese Kaplan -- Does Spring Training Matter?

Spring Training is a time when young ballplayers try to prove they belong, veteran players try to get into playing condition without injuring themselves and the management personnel try to decide who deserves to come north with the squad.  A lot of people get obsessed with the statistics (both good and bad) that take place in the Grapefruit League, despite the small sample sizes and despite the inconsistent talent they’re facing. 

Take the 2015 Mets, for example.  To watch the Florida games you would think that Bartolo Colon’s age and girth had finally conspired to render him no longer viable as a major league starter.  Then after being given the Opening Day assignment, the hue and cry from both the fans and the media was deafening.  Why wasn’t Harvey starting?  Why not de Grom?  Why were we punting the first game against the $210 million man, Max Scherzer?

Lo and behold, Bartolo Colon’s pitching line for Opening Day was a mere 6 innings pitched of 1-run ball with 8 strikeouts, a single walk and just 3 hits allowed, resulting in a victory over the much more heralded Scherzer. 

Similarly a lot of people were bemoaning the lackluster spring of one Travis d’Arnaud who finished with a single extra base hit for the entire 6 week season.  While few were exactly pushing the panic button, there was an undercurrent of concern that d’Arnaud’s very solid second half last year was the outlier and his spring, reminiscent of his early 2014 campaign, was the real deal. 

Imagine the surprise, therefore, to find that after the conclusion of the Washington Nationals series Travis d’Arnaud is sporting a .455 batting average with a .636 slugging percentage and a 1.091 OPS, including four RBIs over the span of the three game series.  He struck out just once in 11 ABs, too. 

Granted, these sample sizes are even smaller than what was seen in the Grapefruit League games, but it goes to show that all is not necessarily as it seems.

On the flip side, Wilmer Flores was putting on an offensive tour de force alongside fellow shortstop hopeful Matt Reynolds.  However, during the opening series he’s looked rather lost at the plate with weak swings resulting in just a .182 start on 2 hits in 11 ABs.  He’s also made his first error already, though his arm has opened a few eyes and in comparison to the awful display by Nats’ shortstop Ian Desmond, he looked like Ozzie Smith out there. 

In the case of Bartolo Colon, his days as a Met are numbered.  While many are crying over the failure to execute a Dillon Gee trade, the beancounters are probably shedding more tears that big Bart and his fat $11 million paycheck are still on the books.  In a worst case scenario he’s gone at the end of the year anyway, but one can only hope similar performances to what he exhibited on Opening Day will get some other GM’s juices flowing and he’ll consider him a viable candidate to fill a rotation spot due to injury or incompetence on his staff.

In d’Arnaud’s case, the Mets have an interesting conundrum developing with Mr. Kevin Plawecki in Las Vegas playing for the 51s.  For people not familiar with his game, he’s Ted Simmons-lite.  He doesn’t have as much power, but he’s the same type of high average/high contact type of hitter who rarely strikes out while playing a competent defensive game.  Last year, for example, he slashed .309/11/64 with just 48 strikeouts over 376 ABs between AA and AAA.  That’s an impressive performance.  What is the best case scenario here?

Suppose Plawecki finds the thin Las Vegas air to his liking and turns in 15-20 HRs, a .320 AVG and similar high contact plate discipline.  What does GM Sandy Alderson do with Travis d’Arnaud already established in the majors but a hot catching commodity banging down the door in the minors? 

There are a few ways to go.  One would be to put one of the two on the block.  Which one has a lot more to do with d’Arnaud’s health and defense than it does either one’s hitting.  However, trading away young talent has not been in Alderson’s DNA.

Second, the Mets could bring up Plawecki to play 1B on the days when Lucas Duda needs a break and to catch on the days when d’Arnaud does.  This approach is a good hedge against injury to d’Arnaud and is certainly more palatable than having a career .197 hitter as the backup which they’ve accepted each of the past three seasons. 

The middle infield questions are even more vexing.  The incumbents – Wilmer Flores and Daniel Murphy – are not destined to win Gold Gloves.  Murphy has priced himself out of the Mets’ future.  Flores is something of an enigma.  He’s shown the ability to hit at the minor league level but hasn’t yet demonstrated over a long enough interval in the majors if he can elevate his game to the major league level.  Barking at the door behind them are Matt Reynolds whose eye-popping 2014 and 2015 spring numbers suggested he is indeed for real, and Dilson Herrera who hit 13 HRs and batted .323 last year as a 20 year old.  Now Herrera had a rough spring but is penciled in to play every day at 2B for Wally Backman.  Some combination of Flores, Reynolds and Herrera could be playing SS/2B for the Mets next year, but don’t rule out the trade or free agent acquisition of a proven hitter like Troy Tulowitzki or Ian Desmond happening, too.  

The present day team is indeed an interesting one but the near future perhaps will be even more so.  It will be the first year in a long time Mets fans can rightly expect Sandy Alderson’s phone to be used for more than Words with Friends, Angry Birds and tweeting his latest one-liners.


Thomas Brennan said...

Judging by first few games in majors, AAA, and AA, spring training production does appear over-hyped. I was one of the guilty parties.

Anonymous said...

Thomas, no, no, no.

Now you are making the same mistake in the opposite direction.

This isn't the time to make judgments. Sit back, and watch, and wait.

James Preller

Mack Ade said...

No judgments should be made about any teams, at any levels... or any players... including Wilmer Flores... until ONE MONTH is over...

Review your options on May 1st.

Thomas Brennan said...

Thanks, James. I've come back to my senses! But those 5 prospects oweme10 hits tonight.

Mack, waiting until May 1 before changes is a reasonable plan of approach.

I agree no rush on Tulo. Let's see how it unfolds. This team could reel off a streak of wins at any time.

Mack's Mets © 2012