Funny, they keep score but the games don't count. Who cares? It's still baseball. The Grapefruit and Cactus Leagues are in full swing. The Twitterverse is full of game reports, injury updates and where the stars dined last night. Spring stats are no longer hard to find. But what does all this tell us? Let's ask the Knights.
Given that spring training stats themselves are not particularly predictive of how a player will perform in the regular season, what players or situations are you tracking this spring?
I am heavily invested in San Diego third baseman, potential second baseman Jedd Gyorko. His bat looks major league ready, so it's his defense that will be key to him beating out Logan Forsythe at second base.
I often track the top prospects such as Wil Myers, Oscar Taveras, Nolan Arenado, Christian Yelich, Darin Ruf, Adam Eaton, Leonys Martin and Jurickson Profar. I am very intrigued with Yelich. Since Miami is in a total rebuild, he could get the call sooner than later.
Though I agree with Lord Zola's assessment about the actual stats not being fully prescient of a player's performance, you can glean hints of the future from positive and negative signs with attributes like walks, velocity and the like. Combining these tells with context can spark observations.
For pitchers, assessing their mechanics, approach, pitch selection, etc. remains important. Fantasy-minded viewers should apply this to rebounding former aces Roy Halladay, Tim Lincecum and Jon Lester, as well as the likes of Aroldis Chapman, Wade Davis and others trying to cement rotation spots while transitioning from bullpen duty.
Matt Carpenter's trial at the keystone has been one of my favorite spring flings. I also think Ian Stewart has plenty to gain with a sound March; I'm still holding out hope he can at least yield the power his former hype said would arrive. In two-catcher leagues, Evan Gattis, who's gaining a smidge of playing time steam, sticks out as a potential early-season contributor, maybe more if Brian McCann's injury lingers.
A smattering of others that stand out for me, for various reasons, include Domonic Brown, Chris Tillman, Jeff Niemann, Jaime Garcia, Jordan Lyles, and this year's crop of Asian imports.
Something I like to track is how managers are fitting new pieces into their lineups. For instance, Jeff Keppinger has been hitting near the top of Robin Ventura's spring lineups and looks like he is locking down not only the regular third base job but also the second spot in a pretty good lineup.
Another player that had caught my eye was Michael Brantley. Prior to getting sidelined after getting spiked sliding into third, new Indians manager Terry Francona had Brantley slotted in the fifth spot in the lineup, splitting up switch-hitters Nick Swisher and Carlos Santana.
Brantley really flourished last year when the Indians finally moved him down in the lineup, but if he would be in line for more production if he hits fifth rather than seventh. He is a guy I have regularly drafted as an OF5 in deep mixed leagues, and at 26, I think he could be on the verge of taking his game to another level. If he were able to push his runs and RBIs into the low 70s, he's suddenly a poor man's Nick Markakis.
Perry Van Hook
Spring training stats should mostly be ignored by fantasy players unless there is a known position battle for a certain team. Examples are the corner outfield spots in Philadelphia and the last spot in the Texas starting rotation. Players returning from injury should also be monitored like the White Sox's John Danks to ascertain if he begins the year in the rotation or on the disabled list.
Minor league prospects with a chance to make a club should be followed to see if they break camp or are headed back to the farm.
Carpenter ready to build on 2012?
Let me toss this out there.
Does anyone take heed in John Dewan's claim that a SLG 200 points over a career average may portend a breakout season?
I'm tracking my main interest, the Cardinals' Trevor Rosenthal, along with the Oakland infield and outfield, the Dodgers' infield and Gyorko.
Mostly I look at box scores for playing time, and well, I like being at spring training so I can see what guys are doing, what they look like and, most important, later in the spring, how they are being used.
But I also know most of the time managers will be conservative giving vets the nod most of the time as camp breaks just because that is what they tend to do.
I have interest in certain players or situations, sure. Most of the names involved are the same as anyone else's: Domonic Brown, Alexi Ogando, Bruce Rondon, etc., etc., etc.
I'm usually just as, if not more, interested in how players with major health questions are doing. That's not unusual, but I think most people don't evaluate these situations properly, and because of that, such players present real buying opportunities - or real bust potential. I'm incredibly encouraged by what I've read about and seen from Ryan Howard, Luke Scott and Stephen Drew. John Danks' outlook has become a little more promising, too. So far, I've seen nothing that makes me want any part of Derek Jeter. I'm still a little worried about David Ortiz.
Regarding the Dewan theory, I'll note players fitting the profile.
There's definitely a little something to glean from spring numbers. The quality of the competition is pretty important when evaluating them, though. I love this new feature from Baseball Reference - sortable batting stats and pitching stats with a quality-of-opponent (OppQual) measure. You can read the description by mousing over the column or reading about it in the B-R blog. Obviously, such a rating isn't the difference-maker when it comes to evaluating exhibition numbers, but it's one more piece of information - never a bad thing, even if you find out that it's useless or misleading.
Lord Zola's Wrap Up
Even though I brought it up, I don't pay too much attention to the Dewan theory other than to know who my competitors might be eyeing as end-game fodder. All things being equal, I may break a tie using it, but I don't alter my cheat sheets because of it.
One of my favorite ploys in deeper leagues is to target players expected to win the job but who were beaten out by an understudy with a hot spring. It's a little early to pinpoint particular situations, but more often than not, water finds its level and the player losing out usually regains his job and you get a starter for the price of a reserve.
Two position battles I am tracking are Matt Carpenter's audition at second for St. Louis and the shortstop battle in Houston. Carpenter can hit and reminds me a little of the effort to find a lineup spot for Allen Craig. Carpenter isn't quite the batsman Craig is, but he can be a nice late pickup. The Astros are being largely ignored, but either Tyler Greene or Marwin Gonzalez will lead off. Sure, the winner won't score as many runs as a lead-off hitter on a better team, but he won't cost as much either.
Another couple of situations I am following are David Ortiz in Boston and Lance Berkman in Texas. The price for Big Papi is already deflated since he qualifies as utility/DH only. If it falls much more, it could be worth tying up that roster spot assuming his heel cooperates. Berkman is intriguing due to the favorable park and lineup. Right now, I am leery but can be convinced to give him a shot if he is able to hit and run the bases cleanly.
Focusing primarily on the science of player valuation and game theory starting in 1997, Todd Zola and Mastersball carved out an important niche in the fantasy industry. In 2006, Todd became the Research Director for fantasybaseball.com, and in 2009, he relaunched Mastersball and is now a managing partner.
Todd competes in Tout Wars and the XFL, and has been a multiple-time league champion in the National Fantasy Baseball Championship. He has been a contributor to the fantasy content at MLB.com and SI.com, is a frequent guest on Sirius/XM and Blog Talk Radio and is an annual speaker at the spring and fall First Pitch Forum symposiums.