MLB: Spring Training Stats Might Have Never Mattered Less

All MLB fans know not to put much stock in spring stats, but in 2021, they just might have less meaning than ever before.

Another MLB spring training is upon us, and it’s only the most magical time in sports.

Causes for overreaction and overconfidence seemingly grow on trees, as fans of all thirty clubs (except the Pirates) get to dream of postseason glory. Every fanbase has at least one prospect they want to follow, anxious to track their development into the next Mike Trout. Surely Alexander Pope had baseball in mind when he penned “hope springs eternal.”

Okay, maybe that’s a little much. On the other hand, they did have cricket back then…

Anyway, as much as visions of grandeur are the right of every baseball fan from February to March, so is the time tested lesson of trying to temper those expectations. Hardened MLB fans know that, more than any other sport, preseason performance in baseball is not necessarily predictive of future results. Buckets are buckets in the NBA. Touchdowns are mostly touchdowns in the NFL. But a preseason at bat in MLB? Such an encounter carries with it more shades of gray than an E.L. James novel.

Maybe the hitter was trying to pull the pitch- every time they batted that outing. Unless, of course, they were going for all opposite field shots that day. Trying to elevate? Going for that line drive? Who knows? Only the batter.

At the other end of the match up, is the pitcher trying at all to get the batter out? It’s not uncommon for a pitcher to work on a single pitch during an entire outing. Or to hold back on the velocity. Or experiment with some new grip.

None of that even gets into the fact that there could be an ocean-sized gap in talent level between the hitter and pitcher, one that just wouldn’t happen in regular season action.  Again, seasoned MLB fans know all this already. This isn’t anything new. What is new to this 2021 version of spring training is that any numbers we are seeing might mean even less than they ever have before.

Why? Because teams might have not gotten that new baseball yet.

Red Sox beat reporter Ian Browne said as much on March 2nd, that new balls won’t be issued to teams until the regular season. Now, there is some debate on this. Dr. Meredith Wills, a baseball astrophysicist and consequently holder of the coolest science job ever, suggests many of the balls being used could be ones built to 2021 specs. Yet in the same statement, she reveals that spring training is usually conducted with a mix of old and new inventory. So, assuming it was possible for a pitcher to throw the exact same pitch and for the batter to hit it in the exact same way….we could still be seeing different results in terms of exit velocity from pitch to pitch. 

Awesome. Just awesome, MLB.

Just some food for thought as we all drool over spring stats, plotting our paths to fantasy baseball titles and World Series championships. It’s been said there are lies, damned lies, and statistics.

With there not even being a consistent MLB ball in play, time to add spring training statistics to that list.