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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Lonnie of MCAround the bases is 360 feet, or, if you like 120 yards. When you combine the distance with having to essentially run in a small circle, 15 seconds is pretty damn fast.4 hours 52 min ago
sonofsnake15 seconds around the bases. How relatively fast is that?7 hours 22 min ago
Gordon GrossAlso, Austin Wilson's inside-the-park homer was fun today. I assume Austin's gonna be in the Cal League with an eye toward a mid-season promotion to AA, the same way that DJ and Kivlehan did it last year. O'Neill might be back in the MWL doing double duty with Jackson. Morgan is almost certainly going slower and headed for extended Spring training and then Everett. With DJ, Kivlehan and Marte in AAA, and several members of the High Desert crew (Marlette, Lara, Henry, Gurrrero) in AA, there should be interesting hitters to watch all up and down the system this year. Still wanna see Pizzano get back on the horse. I don't think we'll have room for him, but somebody should.11 hours 50 min ago
Gordon GrossSmoak had three problems: bad pitch adjustment, unathletic, and a swing that was too-long to the ball. even when it all lined up he had trouble crushing the ball - which was weird, because before his dad died he was able to put more mustard into it. His dad was his swing coach, and it's my opinion that when Smoak lost his dad he lost the person who could help him make up for his other issues. Jackson's swing isn't speedy, but he is short to the ball and powerful - that's gonna lead to a lot of fun. Look out, Midwest League.11 hours 56 min ago
Gordon GrossFelix is just working on stuff. I don't really care what his spring looks like. He'll be ready - he always is.12 hours 15 min ago
SABR MattAgreed, GLS...for a large framed guy, Smock was alarmingly unathletic. Felix always has one really bad spring outing. ..don't worry about it13 hours 9 min ago
GLSRe: man muscles. I've mentioned it here before, but I'm still convinced the number one thing Justin Smoak could have done is to just get stronger. He was unlikely to improve in terms of pure hitting skills, but if he got stronger, and hit the ball harder, a few more of those balls might have landed for hits.13 hours 31 min ago
mojician"Really Impressive" is an honor that hasn't been bestowed on a prospect before. Occasionally a prospect will have some pretty impressive aspect to his game, such as Ajax's power. That impressive aspect is what makes the prospect interesting. As in: Alex Jackson is interesting. He has pretty impressive power to right center. No one, except Kivlehan, has been declared blanket impressive. It is easy to see why Kivlehan has caught McClendon's eye. He likes an advanced approach at the plate, and he likes power, particularly doubles and home runs. This comes from having pretty darn good hitters with man muscles, not puppy dog muscles.13 hours 58 min ago
Tacoma RainWow... the Cubs shelled Felix in 2.2 innings. 2 doubles, 2 HR's and 6 earned runs... ouch. Maybe I can wait for the season to start.14 hours 19 min ago
SABR MattLOL indeed14 hours 22 min ago
MtGrizzlyLOL. It probably means that it's a good thing for Ruggiano that he's having a good spring.14 hours 49 min ago
GrumpySo McClendon calls Kivlehan "really impressive". Nice. What's that translate to on the McClendon compliment scale? Future hall of famer?17 hours 18 min ago
MtGrizzly@RyanDivish: McClendon on the No. 5 battle: "My evaluation is probably a little different than yours. I don't worry about the numbers per se."19 hours 53 min ago
moethedogBTW, is Pizzano in the ST MLB camp?23 hours 5 min ago
Tacoma RainPer Dutton, Carraway has retired...1 day 7 hours ago
SpectatorI vote for DJ and Kiv getting a plenty good helping of AAA. Neither has spent a day at AAA yet. There's no defensive imperative as there was with Zunino. But most importantly: The window is not closing. Only Iwakuma and Rodney are on the 2014 clock, and I think we might have some guys who can fill in those slots if they don't re-sign.1 day 8 hours ago
moethedogI was funnin' there G. We're in with A. Jackson in CF.....All in. But, I'm not dead sure pitchers just don't saw his bat off if he doesn't show some mash. And you know me, I believe that when a guy is ready, he's ready. Age doesn't worry me, much. Alex Jackson isn't ready, I know that. But a tater at 19 is enough to be thrilled about.1 day 8 hours ago
GLSReally looking forward to following Alex Jackson's box score lines this year.1 day 9 hours ago
Gordon GrossUhh, no. Alex Jackson cannot play center field. Maybe if you're in a serious bind, but otherwise no. He's a RF. So you were looking at internal options only, you'd slate Kivlehan for LF (where he'll be plus on defense) and Jackson for right, sometime in 2017/2018. I suppose Jackson could move faster than that, but we really don't need to rush him the way we rushed Ackley and crew. I've been begging the Ms for the ability to slow down, so as GLS says - since we're finally at a point we can do that, we might was well investigate the notion. You know, for science. DJ and Kiv shouldn't be needed before next year. Let em get their 500+ PAs in AAA and put the finishing touches on their minor league skills before they have to learn major league ones - especially since they'll both be handling new positions.1 day 9 hours ago
SABR MattJackson...mariner cf 2016?1 day 11 hours ago