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Spring Training Storylines to Watch: Hitters (Fantasy Baseball)

by Max Freeze | @FreezeStats | Featured Writer
Mar 1, 2018

Ryan Braun’s switch to 1B should have a positive impact on his value

The wait is over! It’s that special time of year again when you can turn on MLB Network and watch actual live baseball on your television. Twitter is bombed with necessary and unnecessary information about players, teams, injuries, transactions, and most importantly, fantasy. Everyone is going nuts over a home run by 19-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr. and for good reason,

He went 400 feet the other way against a major league pitcher! Calm down, breathe. That is impressive, I’ll admit it, but how important is Spring Training? Do we care if someone like Matt Kemp hits two home runs in a game or if Wilmer Difo hits .400 this spring? Not really, because Kemp is likely going to be cut, traded, or relegated to the bench and Difo is blocked by Trea Turner and Daniel Murphy

So, what does matter in Spring Training? For hitters, it’s not that I don’t care at all about their surface stats, but for most players, they either have locked in a starting spot and are working on weaknesses, or it’s a player fighting to stay up with the big club. Sometimes the best performers are bench bats or borderline Major League ballplayers trying to earn that spot.

Remember when Greg Bird hit 10 home runs in Spring Training last year? I do, and it inflated his value which made him a major disappointment as he lost time to injury and struggled when he was healthy. Some of the storylines I look for in Spring Training include injuries, position battles or position changes, and advanced metrics and how they may translate to the weather differences early in the regular season all over the country.

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Injuries

I wouldn’t overreact to a key player getting a day off, or a day-to-day designation, or mentioning rest. It’s very common for star players to get days off during Spring Training and you see a lot of lineups that look like a minor league roster with a couple Major Leaguers. 

As the season approaches, teams will start designating players back to the minors and thinning out their rosters. In the middle of March, the rosters are smaller, and you’ll begin to see more complete lineups that will look closer to their Opening Day counterparts. 

If a player has a minor injury early in spring and misses a week, be sure to monitor his status later on in March. If he’s back making semi-regular starts, he should be fine to start the season. It’s always better to draft closer to the beginning of the season if you can help it.

A great way to keep up with injuries is on Twitter, a great follow is @MLBInjuryNews for up to date injury news. Also, make sure you carve out a little time to watch some baseball or check clips of players like Miguel Cabrera and monitor his swing to see if he looks healthy. Any little bit of information can help on Draft Day.

Position Battles and Position Changes

Make sure you keep yourself well informed on position battles, especially if you’re in a deep league or AL/NL-only league. Check out MLB.com and CBS Sports for the latest information on position battles. This is key information to catch up on before your draft. You also will want to find out if players are trying out new positions during spring training. 

For example, Nick Senzel, the Reds’ number one prospect is going to try out playing some shortstop instead of his natural position of third base. This is not only a boost to Senzel’s future value because of the position scarcity of shortstop but also provides a vote of confidence for Eugenio Suarez owners knowing that he should keep his job at the hot corner. Jose Peraza is the current starting shortstop who is intriguing due to his speed but also a very weak offensive player. 

Keep an eye on this one and when Senzel is called up. Some other position changes to monitor include Dee Gordon from 2B to CF, Zack Cozart from SS to 3B, Ryan Braun from LF to 1B, and of course Manny Machado from 3B to SS. 

I’ll touch on the move for Braun because this could have a positive impact on his health. Plus, with the overloaded outfield that includes Christian Yelich, Lorenzo Cain, and Domingo Santana, Braun may be able to see more plate appearances. Braun has not played over 140 games since 2012 and is still very productive in terms in all five categories on a per game basis, so a 25-20 season is not out of the question for Braun given health.

Advanced Metrics and Statcast Data

Now it’s time for the nerd portion of this post looking for advanced metrics and Statcast data. I’ll admit, it’s difficult to find this information because the Spring Training facilities don’t always publish things like pitch speed, exit velocity, GB/LD/FB information, etc. Plus many of the ballparks will use different technology and equipment to measure the data they do record. 

I’m on the hunt through. One relatively accurate statistic that is easily accessible on at MLB.com Spring Training leaderboard is the ground out / air out ratio. Jeff Zimmerman of Fangraphs wrote an interesting article earlier this winter on this topic. He talks about how the ratio between ground outs and fly outs over the course of 75 or so plate appearances (minimum 50 PA) during spring. 

It’s an inexact science, but the example he gives is Yonder Alonso who dropped his GO/AO ratio during the spring of 2017 to 0.87 which is nearly 0.3 less than his previous spring ratios. Of course, everyone knows he went on to hit a career-high (previous high of nine HR) and an FB% increase of over 10%. I’ll be interested in checking the players I highlighted in my second half fly ball breakout candidates article to see if they maintain their change in approach by comparing GO/AO ratio. 

Unfortunately, the Arizona and Florida ballparks are not fully equipped to handle Statcast data so the exit velocity and launch angle information which would be more valuable than the surface statistics is all we may get. Scouts may be on hand measuring this information so keep your eye open for this data on places like FanGraphs, Brooks Baseball, or MLB.com.

Temperature and Humidity

No, this isn’t about the humidor in Arizona, but it will make the way balls are flying out of the park this spring different than at the Diamondbacks home games. The last item I wanted to touch on is the change in temperature and humidity, which in some cases is extreme going from Arizona or Florida to the north. There’s been a lot of humidity talk; we are all aware that adding humidity to a baseball decreases the distance it will travel because if you add moisture to something that previously was filled with air and it becomes heavier since air is lighter than water. 

Arizona is one of the driest places in the United States with typically 20-30% humidity during the day, and it’s in the 70s in February and March. Then all of a sudden in April, the teams leave to their home parks all over the U.S. 

Take Chicago for example (either team); the players go from warm temperatures and low humidity to low temperatures (45-55 degrees Fahrenheit) and humidity levels around 60 percent. Based on this information, the balls travel around five to 10 feet less in this type of temperature swing, and that’s not including the change in humidity. I don’t want to make this an article on physics, but distances on batted balls could drop by 15 to 20 feet from spring training to the regular season! 

Just keep this in mind, not all home runs in Spring Training are created equal. A “just enough” home run in Spring Training is a fly out in April. Florida is a little more humid than Arizona, but most teams still experience the massive temperature swings. Try to keep all of this information in the back of your mind and stay up to date with player and team news as you continue to prepare for your upcoming drafts this month.

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Max Freeze is a correspondent at FantasyPros. For more from Max, check out his archive and follow him @FreezeStats.

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