Do Spring Training Records Mean Anything?

As our collective (Post)Seasonal Affective Disorder melts away, this week marks the return of MLB Spring Training.

While the games don’t count for any meaningful type of record keeping, the question does remain, “Do spring training games mean anything at all?”

spring-trainingAs baseball fans, we are prone to making overreactions. The nature of sport usually results in dramatic hyperbole and trying to predict the future. This lethal combination causes us to generate grandiose storylines to give everything more weight and meaning.

The only way to know for sure, is to break out the abacus and take a look at the past decade’s spring training records and the seasons that resulted from them.

Best Spring Training Record

Year                Team               Spring             Regular Season

2012                Blue Jays         24-7                73-89

2011                Royals             20-11               71-91

2010                Rays                20-8                 96-66

2009                Angels             26-8                 97-65

2008                A’s, Rays         18-8                 75-86, 97-65

2007                Tigers              21-10               88-74

2006                Marlins            19-9                 78-84

2005                Angels             21-11               95-67

2004                Twins               20-10              92-70

2003                Royals             19-8                 83-79

2002                Orioles             20-9                 67-95

No real trend here. Of the twelve teams looked at with the best spring records, only seven managed to finish above .500 (that includes a weak 83-79 record from the ’03 Royals)

What about the teams that ended up with the majors’ best regular-season record? Here’s how they did:

Year                Team               Regular Season           Spring

2012                Nationals         98-64                           12-17

2011                Phillies             102-60                         21-14

2010                Phillies             97-65                           15-12

2009                Yankees          103-59                         24-10

2008                Angels             100-62                         19-10

2007                BOS, CLE        96-66                           15-12, 16-14

2006                NYY, NYM         97-65                          16-14, 14-15

2005                Cardinals         100-62                         17-11

2004                Cardinals         105-57                         17-12

2003                ATL, NYY         101-61                         17-12, 16-13

2002                Yankees, A’s    103-58, 103-59            20-14, 17-15

Despite Washington breaking the trend last season, 13 of the 15 teams listed had a winning record in spring training.

While that seems like a strong correlation, it should be noted that while the teams with the best records have had good springs, there are usually playoff teams that get off to bad starts.

Here are the playoff teams in the past 5 seasons to have losing records in spring training. Including the Nationals, 5 of the 10 playoff teams in 2012 had losing springs.

  • 2012 Braves 10-18
  • 2012 Rangers 12-17
  • 2012 Reds 15-17
  • 2012 Orioles 11-13
  • 2011 Diamondbacks: 12-25
  • 2011 Rangers: 13-16
  • 2010 Rangers: 10-19
  • 2009 Dodgers: 15-22
  • 2009 Phillies: 13-19
  • 2008 Phillies: 12-18
  • 2008 Red Sox: 8-13

Lastly, let’s look at how each season’s “biggest surprise” did.

Year    Team                        Improvement   Spring Training

2012    Orioles                    69 to 93 wins      11-13

2011    Diamondbacks        65 to 94 wins      12-25

2010    Padres                    75 to 90 wins      18-10

2009    Mariners                  61 to 85 wins      16-18

2008    Rays                        66 to 97 wins      18-8

2007    Indians                    78 to 96 wins      16-14

2006    Tigers                      71 to 95 wins       18-15

2005    White Sox                83 to 99 wins      14-18

2004    Padres                     64 to 87 wins       12-20

2003    Royals                     62 to 83 wins        19-8

2002    Angels                     75 to 99 wins       17-15

Not much correlation here as only six of the 11 teams managed to break .500 in the spring. Had I done this two years ago, I may have looked at the 2010 Padres and 2008 Rays as a trend towards spring training indicating these breakout seasons. But the past two years have told a different story.

While there are correlations to be made with successful/unsuccessful springs and the result over the season, you really can chalk that up to simply good and bad teams playing as we expect them to play. The counterpoint though is that there is enough evidence of good and bad springs not having any impact on the team’s regular season.

Basically, we just validated what we always suspected. Spring training, while essential in getting teams ready for the season, cannot accurately be used to project any given team’s actual results.

About Pat Suley


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