Spring Training Statistics Are...Utterly Meaningless

USA TODAY Sports

Each and every year spring training rolls around and fans and media alike get excited, or disappointed, about a particular player or team's play on the field. The common assumption is that if a player or team performs well in spring training then they will do the same in the regular season, but is this even true?

Every new year when spring training begins there is this renewed sense of hope and unrivaled optimism by fans of nearly every team that they could be the ones cheering their team on in the postseason or the World Series. Each spring training also seems to bring with it talk of a player, or players, utterly dominating or absolutely failing in regards to their production on the field during these exhibition games and then being hopeful or concerned that those performances might mean something for the regular season.

A piece recently published on Bleacher Report details the most disappointing player on each team thus far this spring and I wondered if my long held belief that spring training stats are meaningless was actually correct or if spring training stats held some magical meaning to take with us into the regular season.

The author of this piece made this statement:

Spring training is a time for players in Major League Baseball to shake off the cobwebs, work themselves back into shape and regain their hitting strokes and pitching mechanics.

It's also a time for prospects to show they're ready to make the leap and deliver on the promise that led their teams to invest time and money into their development.

Thus far in the early going, there have been disappointments from both veterans and prospects alike.

Instead of nitpicking about how he can state that spring training is a time for players to "shake off the cobwebs, work themselves back into shape and regain their hitting strokes and pitching mechanics" while compiling a list of most disappointing players this spring, I’m instead going to look at players with 75 at-bats or more who performed the best and the worst in previous springs to determine if spring stats mean anything relative to regular season performance.

The reason I am only looking at hitters for this research is because it’s common knowledge that pitchers routinely work on specific things throughout the spring and as a result their ERA’s, WHIP’s, and other statistics are artificially inflated in some form or fashion.

After filtering out all players who did not meet the requirement of 75 or more AB’s we are left with 98 total players from 2008 to 2012. Those players played in a total of 2,592 games and had 7,802 total AB’s. I did a comparison and ran a coefficient of determination (R^2) on metrics such as batting average, on-base percentage, and slugging percentage so we could see if there was in fact any correlation.

Statistical Metric


R^2


AVG

.034

OBP

.002

SLG

.052

As you can see, there is no meaningful connection between spring training statistics and the subsequent regular season statistics for hitters. Even after looking at three different offensive metrics the highest correlation we have is with slugging percentage at just .052. The one thing I am surprised at is the fact that there wasn’t a higher correlation between spring training OBP and regular season OBP. If any particular skill would translate in any way I thought it would have been a player’s skill to get on base, but that’s clearly not the case as it has the lowest correlation of the three metrics measured.

Now that we can all clearly see, and not just assume one way or the other, that spring training statistics have absolutely no predictive value on how well or how poor a hitter will perform in the regular season can we stop discussing it as if it does?

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