Should We Award Jobs Based on Spring Training?

At one point or another, everyone has been exposed to the concept of the spring training position battle. Whether it comes down to the fifth rotation slot or the final bench spot, these competitions are always made out to be the stories of the spring. Undoubtedly spring training has lead to some dismissals and promotions over the time, but should it?

Most agree that spring training stats are irrelevant which means the exhibition season is more about process than results. If Gabe Kapler hits .100/.200/.100 – which he basically did last year – it’s not the end of the world as long as he appears in shape and isn’t swinging at everything (or nothing). Pitchers often work on new grips or arm slots – amongst other things that become overhyped as reasons for a potential breakout season – so that 6.50 ERA from the staff ace isn’t concerning. The most common scenarios in which the idea of an open spring competition is used includes:

– Young players looking to crack the roster
– Two players of near equal value
– Non-roster players with a history of success

In each case we have some idea of expectations. Even with younger players we can assume league average performance for some of the top young talents and less from more fringe prospects. The second scenario seems to be the most likely where spring performance can be used while minimizing risk and accounts for the majority of middle reliever battles. Meanwhile, in the final tier, you have guys like Eric Hinske in 2008 coming off a down season. He shows health and no reason to believe the previous season was because of decaying skills and in exchange finds a spot on the 25 man.

I suppose we rely heavily on the past in any situation while weighing the newest information, but not being complete slaves to it. That seems like the way it should be. So maybe teams don’t really make decisions based on 20 games in the springtime, but rather 20 games in the springtime and the x before it.

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12 years ago

This reminds me of this piece by Dave Cameron, where he discussed the difference between spring training statistics (meaningless) and spring training performance (potentially meaningful).