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Spring Training: Being The Best Means Zero

Posted By Joseph Davis On Apr 3 2010 @ 8:09 pm In San Francisco Giants | No Comments

The Giants have a magnificent Spring Training record, best in the game in fact, and I could not care any less.

Neither should you.

Spring Training is just that, training. Guys are working to get into shape, to develop or re-establish routines, to tinker with their mechanics or a new pitch. They’re not doing whatever it takes to win games–they’re doing whatever it takes to win roster spots!

A Spring Training win is similar to taking a girl to a movie, and later scoring with her. If the movie was actually good, icing on the cake. But all you were trying to do was get lucky and since you did, the quality of the film is basically inconsequential.

Who were the best Spring teams back in 2008? The A’s and Mets. The Mets were regular-season contenders, but Oakland finished 24.5 games out. The Dodgers, who went to the NLCS last season, were only 15-22 during the preseason.

Ideally, you just want to complete camp with no key players getting hurt. And the Giants did that (Freddy Sanchez was already hurt). Teams like Minnesota, Houston, and Philadelphia have not been so blessed.

Winning, losing and statistics? Decorations. If they mattered, Matt Cain wouldn’t be on 40-pitch limits, and Nick Noonan would never be in the lineup.

Case in point: Aaron Rowand hit .479 in March.

At first glance, your eyebrows would almost fly off your head.

But once you dig a little deeper, you find: He played 17 games and 91 innings (just over 5 per game). If this were the regular season, Rowand’s playing more than 5+ innings per game—meaning when the next game starts, he’s not as fresh.

His swing is a little slower.

His reaction time decreases.

A spring AB featuring a fresh Rowand lining a fastball to the gap could instead result in that fastball being fouled off, or missed altogether, if Rowand is playing 9 innings for the sixth straight day.

Furthermore, identify the competition he’s best performed against: 2-for-2 vs. the immortal Doug Fister and Chris Seddon of Seattle, 3-for-3 vs. the Cubs’ Tom Gorzelanny, a pitcher so ineffective the last two years that even the Pirates didn’t want him, etc. There’s no way to tell just how many of his (or anybody’s) hits come off a guy who’s simply experimenting.

I’m not picking on Rowand or trying to take from what he has done—he doesn’t choose the pitchers he faces—but it’s important not to place high value on stats from what are basically scrimmages. Both hitters and pitchers enjoy Spring success against men who, commonly, have never been and will never be true major leaguers.

As fans, the last thing we should be invested in during the spring is the team’s final record, as it is partially shaped by a group with no shot of making the final roster. Remember on “Seinfeld” when Elaine was depressed about work, and Kramer gave her a pep talk inspired by his Karate success? Initially uplifting, Kramer’s words lost all meaning when Elaine learned his Karate success came at ehe expense of 5th graders.

This isn’t a whole lot different.

As a Giants fan, one who has watched the team closely in years past and closer than ever now that I write here, I’m not worried about anybody’s average, or home run totals, or K’s. What I want to see is if Panda Sandoval has narrowed at all (he hasn’t), if there’s any improvement in Fred Lewis’ strike zone judgment, if Rowand and Travis Ishikawa can lay off a slider outside/inside, respectively, if Jon Sanchez’ command and release point can be maintained in each start, if Nate Schierholtz can handle RF at AT&T—won’t have much preseason time to gauge that, unfortunately—and whether or not the pitchers can remember to back up bases and the plate. (The A’s Chad Gaudin, a veteran, recently forgot to do so and nearly enticed a salivating Juan Uribe into a major injury.)

San Francisco used the preseason to judge a few guys (including but not limited to Waldis Joaquin, Dan Runzler, John Bowker, and of course, Buster Posey) and get everyone else in playing shape.

The golden record could be best described as a happy accident.

For those of you who disagree with me on the topic, I plan to be present when Bud Selig presents Larry Baer and Co. with the Cactus League Championship Trophy. Look for me; I’ll be interviewing Bowker on winning the Cactus League MVP award.

WHO IS THAT GUY? – Todd Wellemeyer, our new 5th starter, is no prospect. Rather, he is a major league veteran of 7 seasons. He’s 31, Kentucky born, and a fourth-round draft pick by the Cubs in 2000. Todd spent parts of 3 years relieving in Chicago, bounced through Florida and Kansas City, then landed in St. Louis. He went 13-9 in 32 starts for the Cardinals in 2008, with a 1.25 WHIP, but fell apart last year, injuring his elbow and ending up in the bullpen.

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