SSI on the Value of Spring Training Performance

Sorry. It ain't zero.


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.


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.


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.


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":


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.


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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SABR Mattremember when we almost traded Walker/Pryor/Furbush/Franklin for Upton? Remember how we all thought thatn would have been spectacularly bad? Pryor is broken, Furbush is mediocre, Franklin can't hit a fastball, and Walker is a ticking time bomb waiting for shoulder explosion. Maybe not so bad after all?6 min 53 sec ago
SABR MattThe Ms are a loser franchise because they refuse to ever take any risks...which is, of course, the riskiest thing you can do.9 min 23 sec ago
DaddyOThe M's are a loser franchise in part because they always seem to want to postpone the day of reckoning. In the offseason, they build a roster to see what they have, one that, if necessary, can be added to at the trade deadline. Then after they've gone through 50% of the season to prove that, yes, as we knew in the spring, they didn't have enough and had obvious holes, as the trade deadline nears they engage in a month of angst over whether or not they are willing to pay the price to make a bold move to redress their obvious issues, and inevitably they play it safe, telling themselves they'd rather make any bold moves in the offseason. They're always waiting for whatever they consider "reasonable" opportunities. For them, these opportunities almost never materialize, though they seem to for other clubs.27 min 12 sec ago
DaddyOTo me the M's showed their true stripes not when they signed Cano, but when they didn't double down and get someone to hit behind him. I'm getting less excited about a trade deadline add because the M's have simpy urinated away (hope this doesn't bother you or anyone else, Doc, but no other word describes it) too many games to make up for what could have been. I WILL get excited if their wait turns out to be for a prime piece that will be here at least for next year as well. But phxterry makes a great point below, that it's much easier to fix a roster in the offseason than at the trade deadline. (See next shout for continuation).32 min 4 sec ago
DaddyOTotally agreed Silentpadna. You hold back your prize chips in order to get back prize players, otherwise you're just playing Washington Generals to the big boys' Harlem Globetrotters. Re: your Dad, I didn't move to the Seattle area until 1995. Wish I could have read his work.38 min 28 sec ago
benihanaThe time to make a move has passed. The time was 3 weeks ago. Since then we've lost 7 games by 2 or fewer runs. It's also clearly a sellers market where teams with contending ownership groups and management are looking to pay premium prices for, among other things, second baseman and relievers. The M's should look to trade Farquhar, Biemel, Ackley, Taylor and/or Kelly. The ownership by committee's indecision and lack of competitive fire, coupled with GMZ's inability to get trades across the finish line have seen our playoff chances drop to 13%. A legitimate post season opportunity existed this year and ownership/management watched it go by like Brad Miller staring at strike three. In any other city it would be pitchfork time.40 min 19 sec ago
SilentpadnaI've shouted from the rooftops for years that the org needs to take a "win-now" position. Spending $1.15 or $1.25 for $1 is not a problem for me. That said, if you have any intention at all at landing the best player, you can't shoot your best chip out there for a patch. You could pick up somebody without trading Walker. If you even entertain the idea of a guy like a Stanton, that's who you hold a guy like Walker back for. I'm actually okay with the M's holding back if the price is too high. There really does have to be a line somewhere. Overpay for Stanton or Price/Zobrist? Fine. Overpay for Zobrist alone? Not bloody likely for me. Remember, this team was 9-17 in April, back when I said they were already irrelevant. I was wrong then. If I said it now, I could easily be wrong again.41 min 56 sec ago
DaddyO"Slip slidin' away. Slip slidin' awa-a-ay. You know the nearer your destination the more you're slip slidin' awa-a-ay" -- Paul Simon. min 1 sec ago
SABR MattPathetic...we're the only club in any organized sport who would read this position as "well, better be careful not to overpay to win...there's always next year"1 hour 1 min ago
SilentpadnaDaddyO, agree regarding Baker, but I'd take one guy ahead of him. Of course, that's only because he's family. My father was the TNT M's beat writer for two stints. The first 3 seasons and again through the mid-80s, long before the franchise had any money. But in terms of real reporting, and jouirnalistic integrity as a package, Baker is hard to beat.1 hour 1 min ago
phxterryIn fairness to GMZ as we criticize him for failing to pull the trigger to fix the M's offense, it's difficult to construct a properly balanced roster at the trade deadline, when sellers are demanding overpays and there are few players available. The M's current roster deficiencies were known in the spring, and were not addressed, for whatever reasons (genuine or manufactured). Tough to fix roster holes now without major over-pays. Well, the M's flirtation with the WC this year was nice while it lasted. I hope Felix continues his good health in 2015 and Cano's regression doesn't start til 2016. Maybe the M's will stay in contention through August next year. And maybe, just maybe, we won't have to watch Endy Chavez next year. Baby steps.2 hours 15 sec ago
DaddyOWhen Baker came to Seattle he figured out what this franchise was all about and proceeded to hammer on it's deficiencies over and over and over again until many got sick of hearing about it. But Baker did something no Mariners beat writer had ever done before...investigative reporting. He did his homework, and he didn't pull his punches in order to retain access, something every M's beat writer had previously done, and something characteristic of the current crop of writers. Baker was like a predator who, once locked onto his prey, wouldn't let go. As such, yes, there were times where it seemed like he was in a feeding frenzy (a sort of insanity). But I'd take Baker over any other Mariners' beat writer in history.2 hours 50 min ago
moethedogDelete "At least one will be" in the last shout. Sigh....2 hours 54 min ago
moethedogThe daily Jackson report is really good: DJ with two hits including a homer. Pizzano with three hits, he's clearly found his stroke or isn't getting bad luck BABIP'ed anymore. Kivlehan with 2 hits, a double and a triple. I'm willing to bet that two of those three guys make an impact in Seattle. At least one will be Paolini only had one hit but it was his 26th double. Landuzuri gives up 5 hits in 7 innings. Now 5-2.12 hours 9 min ago
moethedogMatt, I'll disagree. The guy is rusty, clearly not in mid-season form and yet he just allowed two hits, no more. Young pitchers figure out the walk deal. They rarely lose the stuff deal.12 hours 20 min ago
merksLooks like the M's won an additional draft pick next year after the 2nd round from the competitive balance draft today. It's the type of draft pick that can be traded which is pretty cool in theory.14 hours 29 min ago
tjmThe Colon comp isn't Chris Young, it's Greg Maddux - same pitch mix, same late movement. You can pitch approximately forever with this stuff. And, if it escaped our attention, Baker was compltely insane. As Doc sez, I mean that in a good way. Guy's a bad dog working a bone. don't go near him.14 hours 38 min ago
MtGrizzlyDivish wants to be a sportswriter. Baker wanted more. And got it because he worked his toosh off while on the M's beat.14 hours 40 min ago
DaddyObsr, I COMPLETELY agree re: Baker. Divish simply does not produce the quantity or quality of content that Baker did. I can't figure out why, cause he shows at TNT that he had the chops. Apparently he just doesn't work as hard as Baker did.14 hours 55 min ago
IcebreakerXJudging from the shoutbox, Walker is sounding like a Rafael Soriano redux. Which must also mean we'll trade him for Jason Hammel.14 hours 59 min ago