Well, that depends. Spring training, the exhibition and competition portion of the statistics, includes a wide range of players of different ages, experience levels and abilities that affect the level of competition from one batter to the next. This is another of the small samples we often criticize. If you thought the 60 game schedule in 2020 was hard to understand, know that spring training normally only has 32 games per team.
Still, as fantasy managers, we have to draw conclusions from the available data, and things change during spring training. The players are having a hard time getting to work. The players are recovering from their injuries or nursing them. Players may be experimenting with new skills that render their scores meaningless, while others have already made notable changes to their skills that can positively affect their scores. It’s a frightening scenario, but if you want to look at all the numbers from spring training, the right answer is to throw them out, all of them.
Let’s get this straight. I don’t like broad, sweeping judgments. Some of the spring results are important, and new measures can help us get them out. Some spring statistics matter because of the eye test – results I’ve seen in games on television – but the addition of statcast tracking technology at several Florida spring training facilities this spring goes a long way toward identifying the numbers that matter. Unfortunately, Statcast is still only used in the nine spring training series covering the 11 major league teams listed below, so the aforementioned visual inspection is still important.
These are the results that struck me the most:
Robbie Ray ‘sspeed football increased its average speed by more than 2.0 mph from 2020, and its 95.9 mph average (which would be the highest of his career if 2016’s 94.9 mph is considered the best regular season result) was achieved in four starts, thankfully all in Statcast-equipped facilities. He generated a swinging strikeout on 14.5% of those fastballs, again surpassing his best regular season result (10.7%, 2017). This largely explains his 1.98 ERA and 18 of his 52 at-bats. But more importantly, Ray took out 69% of the players he saw, and only 9.6% got three strikes. His best performance in the regular season is 61% and 11.0% walks. Ray attributes the change to working harder in the weight room, and it’s no longer inconceivable that he’ll regain the form that made him an ESPN Player Rater SP34 in 2019.
C.J. Cron’s () hard hit rate is a staggering 65.2%, and that’s thanks to hitting 23 of 28 balls in Statcast equipped events. Krohn has already hit 13 baseballs above 100 mph (and four of them above 110 mph, including Monday’s home run against Dane Dunning). By comparison : In 2018, his best offensive season to date, he reached that exit velocity just 90 times. Oh, and Cron will now be found at Coors Field, probably as a first baseman almost every day, after being put on the 40-man roster this weekend. There’s a real chance he’ll get close to 30 home runs in 2018, and with that kind of hitting and the spaciousness of his new ballpark, he could also be doomed to a career high.
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Jose Alvarado‘s sinker has been filthy so far, and I no longer worry about whether he’ll fit into the Phillies’ bullpen as a left-handed specialist. Alvarado averaged 98.9 mph and threw at 100 mph 9 out of 58 times – and that was while Statcast measured the height in all but one of his appearances. He also has a 42.9% strikeout rate this spring, much higher than his 31.8% in the regular season. And 16 of his 18 hits are, you guessed it, sinkers. Alvarado has also shown excellent editing, which reduces the risk of a splitting infield and makes him a real candidate to take the closer’s job away from Archie Bradley and Hector Neris (if not on opening day, then maybe in the first few weeks of the season).
Vladimir Guerrero Jr’s () batting average is (13-for-25), or .520. More importantly, he is backed by a 54.2% hard hit rate, with all 24 balls measured by Statcast. Nine of those 24 balls were hit at 100 mph or higher, and while his base speed remains at 50%, it helps that five of those balls fell at 100 mph or higher in that group. Four of them resulted in strikes, but his velocity is not shocking. I wish Guerrero had lifted the ball more, but he’s hitting the ball harder than ever, he’s in much better shape, and he already has five extra-bases in 25 at-bats. If he gets that number down to 42-45%, it won’t just mean a breakthrough – it could elevate his game to MVP level.
Eliezer Hernandez’ delivery – a pitch he promised to work on at the start of spring training – gives him a chance to even out his right-handed/left-handed split, giving him six 2020 starts to repeat (out of just 162 games on the roster). He pitched 20 percent of the time (20 of 101, as per the chart) and allowed just one base hit on a ground ball, along with four swings and a called strike. His variable spin rate suggests Hernandez needs to improve in the field, but the fact that he’s throwing with more confidence is a big help and partially explains his 12 Ks in 35 total at-bats. He’s not a pitcher to be forgotten in the later rounds of deeper mixed leagues.
Ketel Marte, who hits with his bat here, is really scoring points this spring, even though he hasn’t made any hits yet. AP
Ketel Marte has an average velocity of 97.4 mph on 17 balls, and although he hasn’t had a hit in seven at-bats since returning from his ankle injury, he still has a decent spring training performance. That number alone shouldn’t convince you, but the fact that he’s already halfway (3) at his 2020 run total (6) shows that something of Marte’s power seems to be back. Any draft where he is outside the top 50 is a draft where you should take him as a potential value.
Jordan Romano’s fastball () had a rotation rate of over 200 rpm, and he threw it nearly two-thirds of the time – a significant increase over 2020 (40.1%). The higher the average speed of the fastball (Romero averaged 96.5 mph this spring, recorded in its entirety by Statcast) and the higher the spin rate, the greater the strikeout margin. Because of his substitutions, he now has two legitimate throws, and doesn’t have to lean on his slider as much. There’s a reason Blue Jays pitching coach Pete Walker named Romero a top arm in 2021. Given Monday’s Kirby Yates news, it would be fair for Romero to make a save while speculating on Apriles.
Mitch Garver is 5 bbl in fourth place and is trying to rebound from a miserable 2020. Again, this is a very small sample size that is hard to trust, but this particular category bodes well for the top 5 fantasy catchers of 2019. At least Garver’s contact quality wasn’t in question – he had a near-perfect exit velocity and an average strikeout rate in 2019-20. However, he hits a lot more catches (and many of the harmless kind) and has trouble making contact with pitches in the strike zone. He made contact in the zone on 14 of his 17 pitches this spring, and Garver’s increasing number of walks gives hope he can return to his 25-plus pitcher form. In ESPN’s standard league, he’s one of the best receivers to wait until the end.
Jose Berrios’ fastball has recovered somewhat from his lost spin rate, averaging 2.222 rpg, and he has shown more confidence to throw it higher in the strike zone, with his 43% much closer to his 2018-19 numbers than his 32% in 2020. Only three of his four starts were recorded by Statcast, but the one that wasn’t (March 10 against the Tampa Bay Rays) was what I’d call his best yet, and there’s every reason to believe that his 2.63 ERA and 24.1% strikeout rate this spring point to a return to his 2018-19 form. In his four starts, Berrios has a strikeout rate of 15.8 percent, surpassing his best regular season percentage of 12.6 percent since 2020.
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