Recognizing Which Spring Training Info is Useful (Fantasy Baseball)
Spring training is a time for optimism. Teams sell their fanbases on the potential for a postseason run or a World Series championship, and players show up to camp in the best shape of their lives. Get used to that last line, as it’s one — or some slightly modified version of it — that will appear in many offseason stories. You’ll read tales of players coming into camp much trimmer, while other stories will boast of players packing on 10-20 pounds of muscle. These stories always seem to outnumber those of players who come into camp out of shape. That said, sifting through the noise of the stories, as well as the statistics posted in the actual spring training games, can be helpful for the forthcoming fantasy baseball season — as long as you know where to look.
Sometimes the stories of players being in better shape do prove prescient in retrospect, but it’s often best to take those stories with a grain of salt. One exception is when a player has specifically been tasked with getting in shape — think the pudgier years of Pablo Sandoval, aka Kung Fu Panda. The shape that these specific players are in can be the difference between them being in the doghouse or having a meaningful role on a team.
Another example that relates to player conditioning applies to those who’ve reportedly put on good weight. If these reports are accompanied by a power spike in spring training stats for hitters, it’s not unreasonable to give them some credence without going overboard. Keep tabs on reports of their exit velocity in spring training games, and continue to monitor their stats for tangible improvements (e.g., improvement in hard-hit ball percentage and increases in exit velocity) when the regular season begins. For pitchers, news of them adding good weight might be accompanied by reports of adding ticks to their pitches. Reports of increased velocity for pitchers — whether attached to news of improved conditioning or not — are extremely encouraging and worth following closely and acting on. Conversely, news of a pitcher’s velocity decreasing is troubling. Dig into that news for reports of dead-arm — which isn’t uncommon for pitchers building their arm strength back up — or check back to previous springs to see if depressed velocity in the spring is a trend.
Circling back to conditioning, if a player’s conditioning is questioned in spring training, that’s a big red flag. As I stated in the intro, the spring is a time for optimism. Wet blanket stories of a guy being out of shape aren’t ideal. This doesn’t mean to remove them from draft boards, namely if they’re more than a fringe fantasy option, but it’s something to monitor as your fantasy draft approaches.
Injuries are also important to keep tabs on closely during the spring. Check on the recovery progress of players who went under the knife, saw their season end prematurely due to injury but didn’t require surgery, or those who limped — literally or figuratively — to last season’s finish line. Setbacks aren’t the end of the world for those players, but they’re yet another piece of information that you should factor into your rankings and draft plans. Players who suffer a setback in recovery from injuries and lack a clear timetable for return are especially troubling, and I’m not shy about removing them entirely from my draft board depending on the type of injury or surgery that they’re returning from. All it takes is one optimist in the draft to bet on a speedy return to price them out of being worth the risk.
Other news that’s not injury-related or conditioning-related can foreshadow improvements for a player, too. One example that immediately comes to mind for hitters is modified approaches and swings to improve elevating the ball. J.D. Martinez, Justin Turner, and a host of others have reinvented themselves by overhauling their swings and driving the ball in the air more frequently. That pair are among the most successful hitters who’ve made wholesale changes to their swing, but Yonder Alonso and Daniel Vogelbach are others who’ve had temporary success after making changes, and it’s possible they helped gamers in larger leagues before the other shoe dropped. Often times, these players will begin flashing their newfound power in the form of spring training dingers. If you see an unexpected name or names at or near the top of the spring training homers leaderboard, consider searching for news of them modifying their approach or swing.
Pitch Mix/Velocity Changes
In addition to news of velocity gains for pitchers, news of adding a pitch or pitches to their arsenal sounds a bell in my head. A new weapon to combat a platoon split could be all it takes for a pitcher to breakout. Further, it could also be the difference between being a ho-hum option and a very good one if said new offering is a putaway pitch that helps them generate more strikeouts.
By and large, impressive or poor spring training stats should be a jumping-off point for researching news of changes for players. The stats in and of themselves shouldn’t swing the pendulum too far on player evaluations, though. Established pitchers often tinker with things in the spring or are primarily — or perhaps only — concerned with building up arm strength and escaping the spring healthy. Hitters might see an unusually high number of at-bats against these pitchers or against guys who are fringe big-leaguers or non-big leaguers and post eye-popping numbers. The stats themselves aren’t super important, but the spring has a lot of useful info for gamers to sift through when preparing for the fantasy baseball season.