Not a year passes that I don’t become more convinced spring training stats are nothing more than fiddle-faddle to keep us busy until opening day. What little information we do get from spring training numbers come from small sample sizes, and hardly provides enough evidence to predict what October baseball will look like, or which players will excel during the regular season.
For heaven’s sake, Felix Pie is batting .417/.585/1.002 with Pittsburgh this spring. Anyone predicting a Silver Slugger Award? Didn’t think so.
Nonetheless, this year’s nonsensical spring stats discussion centers around the Kansas City Royals, who have a sparkling (22-6) record in the Cactus League. “Looks like that whopper of a trade with Tampa Bay has already paid off”…”The Royals appear poised to break through in 2013.”
But haven’t we learned these spring feel-good stories never last, that it’s inevitable the always bumbling Royals will falter again when the games matter most?
As a reminder, I’ve gone back through final spring training standings since 2007 detailing how misleading a team’s spring record can be. And if you’re someone who hasn’t already taken notice, make sure to jump off the Royals bandwagon before the wheels fall off.
- 2013 The Royals, who finished with 90 regular season losses last year, lead the way this spring at (22-6). Meanwhile, the Reds, who won the second most games in baseball in 2012 (97), and are again the favorite in the National League Central, stand (9-18) in the Cactus League. Any doubts these fortunes won’t flip?
- 2012 Toronto set the bar in Grapefruit League play going (24-7). They finished the regular season with 89 losses and a fourth place standing in the AL East. Atlanta finished the spring (10-18), then won 94 regular season games and the NL wild card. Texas (12-17) in the spring, won 93 games and the AL wild card. Oh, and the Nats,(12-17) in the spring, later won the most games in baseball (98).
- 2011 The Twins ran away with the Grapefruit League title (20-12). Then lost 99 games in the regular season, posting the second worst record in the majors (Houston 106). Those pesky Royals finished the spring with the best record in the Cactus League (20-10). Then lost 91 regular season games.
- 2010 Texas (10-19) in spring training, won 90 games, the AL wild card and reached the World Series. Cleveland posted the best mark in the Cactus League (19-9), before losing 93 regular season games.
- 2009 Atlanta had the second-best record in the Grapefruit League (21-12), but missed the playoffs and finished third in the NL East. Milwaukee went (22-10) in Cactus League play before finishing two-games below .500 in the regular season. The Dodgers struggled to a (15-22) spring record before winning 95 games and the NL West.
- 2008 Boston was a complete mess (8-13) during the spring. But won 95 regular season games, the AL wild card and reached the ALCS. Oakland posted the best record in the Cactus League (18-8), then lost 86 games during the regular season. The Cubs finished the spring (15-15) and still found a way to win the most regular season games in the National League (97).
- 2007 Detroit took top honors in the Grapefruit League (21-10) but couldn’t reach the playoffs. Houston had the second-best Grapefruit League record going (18-11). They lost 89 regular season games. The Rangers ended Cactus League play (16-11) before finishing last in the AL West with 87 losses.
Cubs Cactus League (CL) vs. Regular Season (RS) Records
- 2012: CL (17-16) RS (61-101)
- 2011: CL (14-19) RS (71-91)
- 2010: CL (18-12) RS (75-87)
- 2009: CL (18-18) RS (83-78)
- 2008: CL (15-15) RS (97-64)
- 2007: CL (17-13) RS (85-77)
At the beginning of spring camp the Cubs had more starting pitching arms than spots available in the rotation. Now a week out before opening day and the Cubs have just enough arms to fill out a decent rotation: Samardzija, Jackson, Wood, Feldman, and Villanueva. That’s a credit to Team Theo.
Had the Cubs failed to sign either Edwin Jackson or Scott Feldman the rotation would be in dire straits entering the season. But despite the injuries to Matt Garza (pulled lat muscle) and Scott Baker (strained elbow), both of whom will miss extended time recovering, Chicago still has a decent chance of contending out of the gate.
As often as we hear ‘you can never have enough starting pitching’, it’s not unusual for teams to fall short when adding starting pitching depth. That’s partly because good starting pitching is hard to find. But I assume another reason is good starting pitching cost good money–and some teams simply don’t want to spend on players they view as insurance policies.
However, if you do need those insurance arms, and don’t have them, you’re in a world of trouble. And the 2011 Cubs under Jim Hendry are a perfect example.
The season wasn’t a week old before the starting rotation ran off the track with injuries to Randy Wells and Andrew Cashner. Wells was sidelined nearly two months and Cashner didn’t return until September, as a reliever no less.
Meanwhile, Hendry was left to fill the holes with 23-year-old Casey Coleman
(3-9, 6.40 ERA) and 35-year-old Rodrigo Lopez (6-6, 4.42 ERA) for a combined 40 starts. And that doesn’t include the drastic desperation move of signing 35-year-old Doug Davis, who lit the mound on fire going (1-7, 6.50 ERA) in nine starts.
Chicago was doomed from the onset without a viable Plan B for the starting staff. That, in combination with other roster shortcoming, put the team on course for a 91-loss season.
The Cubs’ record this season may not be any better than it was two years ago. But we can rest assured it won’t be from a lack of preparation to supplement the rotation with good arms in case of injuries.
Part of understanding the importance of rotation depth is knowing whatever plan you do have in place is only as good as its Plan B.
This is it, folks. One more week of spring games before the lid lifter at Pittsburgh on April 1st. And somewhat surprisingly, this year marks the first time since 1978 the Cubs will open on the road against the Pirates. Who knew?
Meanwhile, this time next weekend the Cubs will be in Houston for two exhibition games against the Astros to wrap up the spring. Entering this afternoon’s Cactus League contest against the Angels at HoHoKam Stadium, the Cubs are (14-15) overall having won 9 of their last 14 games.
Minutia of note:
- Cubs pitching has walked just 2 batters in the last 5 games.
- And for the spring has allowed 3 or fewer walks in 18 games (Nice).
- Chicago’s 43 spring HRs are second most in the majors (Seattle, 47).
- David DeJesus is on a 10-game hitting streak.
- Dioner Navarro leads the club with 11 RBI.
- Carlos Marmol has not allowed a run over his last 6 outings (5.2 IP).
Is “Super Joe” Mather having another red hot spring?
How about Randy “Too Big for My Britches” Wells?
I’ve gathered the spring training whereabouts for players who were with the Cubs last season, but have since moved on.
It’s not a complete list, but includes some of the more notable departures from 2012. Spring stats are included…make of them what you will.
- Geovany Soto – Texas
- Jeff Baker – Texas
.488/.522/.651, 21-for-43, 1 HR, 7 RBI
- Reed Johnson – Atlanta
- Blake DeWitt – Atlanta
.219/.286/.344, 4 doubles, 6 RBI
- Marlon Byrd – New York NL
.324/.333/.441, 4 doubles, 1 BB vs. 6 K
- Anthony Recker – New York NL
.471/.500/.765, 8-for-17, 1 HR
- Tony Campana – Arizona
.222/.263/.389, 1-for-2 in stolen bases
- Blake Lalli – Milwaukee
- Joe Mather – Philadelphia
- Randy Wells – Texas
4.15 ERA, 13.0 IP, 17 hits, 6 ER, 6 BB, 10 K
- Jeff Beliveau – Texas
6.35 ERA, 5.2 IP, 4 ER, 5 K
- Chris Volstad – Colorado
1.29 ERA, 7.0 IP, 6 hits, 3 K
- Manny Corpas – Colorado
3.60 ERA, 5.0 IP, 4 hits, 7 K
- Paul Maholm – Atlanta
2.33 ERA, 19.1 IP, 13 hits, 13 K
- Scott Maine – Miami
27.00 ERA, 1.0 IP, 2 HR, 3 ER
- Rodrigo Lopez – Philadelphia
0.00 ERA, 7.0 IP, 6 hits, 5 K
- Justin Germano – Toronto
7.36 ERA, 11.0 IP, 18 hits, 9 ER, 12 K
Opening day is 18 short days away. On a more somber note, here’s a look at three Cubs players having a tough go of it this spring.
Two are battling injuries, another can’t seem to make contact. Click here
I’ve never been one to get head-over-heels about spring training, other than it signaling the near-end of a long offseason.
Granted there are some interesting position battles each spring, which I understand the spring statistics can play a part in determining final roster cuts, but mostly I keep my fingers crossed the Cubs’ regulars make it to opening day healthy.
Injuries, however, have been mounting for the Cubs since Matt Garza went down with a sore left lat muscle on Feb. 7. Early indications suggested the injury was not serious and would only sideline Garza one week.
Garza, however, didn’t return until two weeks later, when he again felt discomfort throwing. Although the organization, manager Dale Sveum and Garza insist the Cubs are only playing it cautious with the right-hander, he’s not expected to be available through the first month of the regular season.
Dontrelle Willis pulled up lame with shoulder soreness after throwing his first seven pitches this spring. He immediately left the game and has yet to return.
Ian Stewart, who was expected to platoon with Luis Valbuena as the starting third basemen, has been battling a left-quad strain, which has limited him to light jogging and fielding practice.
There’s no question the untimely injury is putting Stewart, who’s playing on a non-guaranteed contract, in jeopardy of not making the team out of spring camp. He’s yet to appear in a Cactus League game.
Third base prospect Josh Vitters is also suffering from a quad strain and has not appeared in game action.
Super utility man Brent Lillibridge entered camp as a favorite to win an opening day roster spot. But he only saw action in five games before suffering a groin strain in early March. He’s still a candidate to make the team if he’s able to return relatively soon.
Aside from Garza, the most concerning setback is with Starlin Castro.
He suffered a tight left hamstring while running out an infield hit on Feb. 27. The Cubs, not surprisingly, have been extra cautious with two-time All-Star’s return.
Castro played in all 162 games last season becoming the first Cubs shortstop ever to do so.
“It was more tight than a pull or anything like that, so he’s just day to day. Thank God, nothing real major at all,” said Sveum.
If you haven’t learned already, lat injuries linger, and usually much longer than players, coaches and fans think they will.
Remember waiting for Ryan Dempster’s return near the trade deadline last season? Yep, that was a lat injury.
So when Garza experienced discomfort throwing on Feb. 17 and was diagnosed with a sore left lat muscle, I pretty much ruled him out for opening day, despite the fact the Cubs were suggesting Garza would be out only one week.
Now, two weeks later, Garza still isn’t ready. The Cubs say they’re shutting him down another week…and he’ll likely miss the first month of the season. A big, big, disappointment for sure. But it’s hardly a surprise.
The Cubs must be cautious with Garza, especially if they still have visions of trading him, which can’t happen until he’s healthy. And if the Cubs are leaning towards signing Garza long-term, they’ll need to see for themselves that he can stay healthy.
Either way, those decisions are a long way off…even if Garza’s recovery doesn’t experience further setbacks.
Thumbnail sketch of Cubs’ spring training thus far.
Overall 4-4, Home: 3-2, Away: 1-2.
Cubs have lost 3 of last 4 games.
Couple of split squad games scheduled for this week.
Anthony Rizzo departs Cubs camp tomorrow to join Team Italy for WBC.
Here’s a look at spring training locations for all 30 teams in MLB.
Each Google map is interactive by clicking this link to MLB.com.
The Cubs open its spring schedule on March 4 against Oakland, and it’s the first of several exhibition games of interest.
Yoenis Cespedes, one of the most highly coveted free agents this winter, will presumably make his first start in a big league uniform with the A’s.
Five days later the Cubs face the cross town rival White Sox, with perhaps, our first chance to see ‘The Fuk’ suited up with the South Siders?
San Diego is the opponent on March 24th, which could lead to a showdown of former-Cub Andrew Cashner facing former-Padre Anthony Rizzo.
And then there’s the return of Phat Albert in back-to-back games against the Angels on March 31st and April 1st–three days before Opening Day.
What a pleasure knowing the Cubs won’t face Pujols again this season, baring a World Series meeting in October. (ha!)
However, Dale Sveum choosing to pitch to Pujols with the game on the line is yet to be determined. Unfortunately we know if Mike Quade could, he would. (sigh).