SSI on the Value of Spring Training Performance

Sorry. It ain't zero.

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Q.  Can you make any sense of spring training statistics?

A.  Different stats have different levels of "noise" in them.  Ichiro's career batting average has noise in it, but it's about 2%, not counting park context.  Ichiro's career range factor has noise in it, too, but the noise is something more like (?) 30%.

Baseball sabermetricians are really cruddy at estimating the AMOUNT OF noise in a particular statistic.  A sense of proportion is almost completely lacking in the industry.  Sabermigos are great at math; they're not so great at common sense.

We mean it in a good way.

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Q.  How much noise is in there in spring training stats?

A.  Oh ... what would it be?  60%?  Something like that.  

One of the few sabermigos who does have a sense of proportion:  Jeff Sullivan.  Read this article by him.  He points out various [huge] sources of noise in ST stats.

It is very, very challenging to make sense of a phenomenon when your metrics are diluted with 60% noise.  When you've got 60%, 70% noise, and you run a "study" (sic!) asking about the value of the stats, your study is going to suggest NO value to the metric unless you know how to design it.  

But I'll guarantee you that there is some "study" that will show the phenomenon being reflected at some level of consistency.  Give me all of the home run leaders in Arizona, past twenty years -- even first-week leaders -- and I'll guarantee that their presence is reflected in MLB regular-season slugging leaderboards, at some level of confidence.  It might be only a .20 correlation, but there will be a correlation.  Which is the same thing as saying that ST stats are not worth zero.

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Q.  SSI thinks that spring performance is worth something?  How much?

A.  Not much, usually.  In a few cases it becomes critical.  

Kendrys Morales might be just tinkering.  Felix' results are unimportant, unless he walks a guy per inning.

Jason Bay vs Casper Wells is going to be important; both guys are playing for a job and both guys are out there competing.  Jon Garland and Jeremy Bonderman are going to be competing.

.........

The 2nd-worst thing you can do with such metrics is to assume that the noise is small - and to treat the metrics as though they are reliable with no further thought.  Many casual fans do this.  

I doubt any SSI or LL or USSM readers do this, and I hate to see the kind of condescension that assumes a web-literate fan to be unaware of the noise in ST stats.

...........

The VERY worst thing you can do is to assume that since you don't like a metric, and you don't know how to edit out the noise, and you don't know how to design a study in which correlations are found --- > then the metric must be worth ZERO.

ST stats aren't worth MUCH, in BULK.  But to imagine that every player's ST performance is irrelevant is incredibly naive.  If Jeremy Bonderman walks more guys than he strikes out, he's going home.  If he fans 20 guys and walks 2, then with the time off and re-boot, that means that he's probably going to have a good year by his own standards.

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Q.  When are MLB teams going to wake up and ...

A.  Hold on right there, Turbo.  Just. Stop.

Consider this statement, from an author who higher on the very same web page had strictly forbidden any and all "appeals to authority":

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Or, you know, you could use a projection based on more than just the last season’s data point. Which is what every good organization in baseball does.

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I'll tell you something else every good organization in baseball every organization in baseball does.  Consider. Spring. Training. Performance.

We might slow down, draw a breath, and ask a simple question.

Why does every MLB organization watch ST performance carefully?  Why do all "good" MLB organizations (at least occasionally) make roster decisions based on spring results?

Org's don't just watch tools and skills.  They also watch performance and results.  All of them do. They understand about noise, understand with 100% crystal clarity.  They're out there watching, aware that ST very often misleads you, and still factoring ST performance as one variable in the equation.

Why would that be?

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moethedogGuys, unless we give Franklin the 3B or SS job there is no real IF role for him. Unless we demote Almonte (which I'm all over) and put Saunders in CF he gives us nothing more than we have in RF (and probably less). He isn't playing 1B and he isn't going to DH over Hart. Where do you want him to play? Barring injury, Cano likely ended the Franklin era in Seattle (If 1/2 a season is an "era?"). I'm a fan, really......but his greatest value to us is in what he brings in return. We've got SS's up the wazzu and DJ about to arrive, remember. I think bringing him in this week was a bad move, because if he struggled (as he did) it may have dinged up his trade value. Send him to Tacoma and bring him back if we get an IF injury or Miller stays lost. And try to trade him for something nice in the meantime.2 hours 26 min ago
MtGrizzlyPineda kicked out a game for having pine tar on his neck.2 hours 49 min ago
JDDubWonder if they'll have Franklin down there playing OF from now on? Hey, maybe he could make it work in CF!3 hours 22 min ago
IcebreakerXLooks like Franklin just got demoted again.3 hours 24 min ago
Gordon GrossNot just a win, but a climbing-out-of-the-grave, walk-off win, AND a day off to process and BREATHE. If the hitters can come back afterward and hit, maybe we've got something. If we'd lost a sweep to the 'Stros after being swept by the Marlins and losing the last three to Texas, I would have started shoveling dirt. Maybe after the weekend we'll get out the shovels again, but right now it sure feels like life in the season. C'mon boys, win another on Friday.4 hours 13 min ago
DaddyOWhat the M's do in the aftermath of this big win may determine the course of this season. Admittedly the win was only against the Astros, sometimes all it takes is a spark to fire up a struggling team. I wouldn't go so far as to predict it, but I can hope.4 hours 47 min ago
moethedogAlmonte report (because I can't resist): Last 13 games: 11-56 w/ 21 K's and 0 BB's. Oh, Blash with a single and two more BB's today. Got to give Young props for gutting it up today, too.4 hours 48 min ago
JDDubInteresting rick! Seager is one of our purest hitters and it was only a matter of time before he busted out. Hit another just foul the other day. Coming into the game 10BB was good, 17K a bit high. He's still not into his prime and maybe some day soon he'll replicate some of his minor league numbers like 300/400/500.4 hours 52 min ago
SpectatorI was thinking during the 11-pitch AB that maybe it could be the turning point of the whole season. Let's hope.5 hours 3 min ago
rick82But I absolutely loved the Seager at bat on the first homer. What a manly at bat that was: fouling off pitch after pitch until he got one to drive.5 hours 15 min ago
rick82Divish was on the radio today or yesterday saying that Seager's swing looked a little too long and complicated lately, and suggested it could be because he was overused last season, not getting rest, and started compensating for his dwindling power. He did some lower trunk strengthening work in the offseason to help with this season, but that when players get tired (or injured) and overcompensate, they fall into bad habits (could this be Miggy's problem as well). It would be interesting to have a breakdown of Seager's swing, from, say last week, and today.5 hours 18 min ago
JDDubI'd wait on that G! Our starting pitching is scary deep. Maurer looked so promising the other day. ERam, Young and Elias can do enough to give us a chance most nights. We HAVE to keep juggling these hitters around until something clicks.5 hours 38 min ago
Gordon GrossI look forward to writing that one, JD. Let's absolutely see if I can bore some people to tears writing about exciting baseball for once. If we'd lost this game I was gonna post a big Draft piece just to stick a fork in this year, but now I think I'll wait a bit longer. Hopefully after our upcoming 9 game winning streak the draft piece will be anticipatory instead of dirge-y.5 hours 43 min ago
rick82Good to see Cano, Hart, and Seager put an end to this losing streak. They are our most accomplished hitters and needed to step up and make a statement.5 hours 47 min ago
JDDubI'm going to save my money for the sequel, the rise of Z and the turnaround after he was left for dead. It all started when he FINALLY admitted defeat and swapped Smoak out of the lineup. The emergence of Brandon Maurer and overdue tryout for JJ in CF got the wheels rolling smoothly again. As spring turned to summer Paxton, Walker, Peterson, Choi and Elias led a wild run rivaling the exhilarating summer of 95.5 hours 50 min ago
moethedogFly out, ground out, K, K! Almonte is broken. But atta boy Seags! Prove me wrong...I would have sat your rear today.5 hours 51 min ago
rick82Yes, JDDub, you'll find it in the footnote section of Gordon's exhaustive look at the fall of the Zduriencik Empire, a three volume set...but your's at the low low price of $9.95 per month. But wait, call today and he'll throw in an easy reading Children's version, with no scary pictures of Chone Figgins or Joe Saunders - just cuddly cute ducks enjoying a tax subsidized natural environment.5 hours 57 min ago
JDDubYes I remember the Fields situation well. Directed to Rick :)5 hours 59 min ago
Gordon GrossHey, my feed finally caught up to you guys. M'S WIN! My pink elephant jinx worked. FINALLY. Thank you Seager. So much. Might have changed the season there. Seager with a 5 RBI game and a walk-off to take the hephalump-sized monkey off the Ms back before the off day.6 hours 5 min ago
rick82Yes! One of Z's moves pays off for us! Way to call it, Padna!6 hours 5 min ago