Five intriguing storylines gleaned from spring camp
Improved Red Sox rotation, young starting pitchers, revamped Royals head list
If there's one lesson to be learned from Spring Training, it's that you really don't learn much from Spring Training. The best way to win the spring is to come out of it healthy.
Still, there's a reason we pay attention to March exhibitions, and it's not just because we're all starved for baseball. There are things to be gleaned, if you know what to look for. Young players sometimes show they've taken steps forward. Injured players show they are, or are not, healthy.
So MLB.com decided to take a look at five bits of potentially valuable information from this year's Spring Training games.
The Red Sox might just get some people out: The single biggest culprit in Boston's 2012 collapse wasn't the manager or the bullpen or the chemistry in the clubhouse. It was starting pitching. The Red Sox rotation was simply brutal in 2012, just as it had been during the team's historic 2011 fade. If the Sox fix their starting five, it will go a long way toward getting them back in contention.
Early reports are that they've done just that. Jon Lester and Clay Buchholz, both of whom have front-of-rotation ability, have pitched like aces this spring. This is not a matter of some kid having a hot spring. These are legitimate big leaguers pitching at a level they've managed plenty of times in the past.
Felix Doubront, Ryan Dempster and John Lackey have posted less eye-popping numbers, but have still been effective. The Red Sox will rise or fall with their rotation this year, and so far the signs are encouraging. It appears that perhaps the reunion with former pitching coach, now manager, John Farrell has been great for the Sox veteran starters.
The kids are all right: It's been a good spring for promising young starting pitchers. Julio Teheran of the Braves has been arguably the most dominating starting pitcher in all of baseball. Matt Harvey has wowed scouts and racked up strikeouts for the Mets. Shelby Miller won the Cardinals' No. 5 job, earning plaudits for his maturity to go along with the stuff that was always there.
Teheran in particular stands out as a success story, because he's not doing it by accident. He has more weapons to work with this year, highlighted by a powerful two-seam fastball that he can throw down in the strike zone. He's making that transition from thrower to pitcher, and considering the ability Teheran has always had, that's a scary thought.
Harvey and Miller, like Teheran, have secured rotation spots. They all may have their scuffles at times, but it's intriguing to see them all throwing well at this point in the year.
The Royals have been here before: This is not to rain on anyone's dreams in Kansas City. It could be an exciting season at Kauffman Stadium, with a potent lineup and a retooled rotation. But it's worth noting, this isn't the first good spring that the Royals have had.
They're 23-7, and that surely stands out, but it's also not a guarantee of anything. This is the third time in seven years that K.C. has had the highest spring winning percentage of any American League team, including a gaudy 20-10 mark in 2011. They're 112-95 over the past seven springs, but a combined 172 games under 500 in the regular season in that span.
There is some encouraging precedent, though. In the last 10 years, six teams have finished with at least a .700 winning percentage in Spring Training. Of those teams, four made the playoffs and five finished with winning records. Being really, truly dominant in spring, as the Royals have done this year, has correlated with regular-season success in recent years -- in, admittedly, a very small sample size.
Arizona is a good place to hit: It's always wise to consider context when you look at stats. Park factors can drastically color a player's numbers, and one big element in most park factors is location. Chase Field is in a warm city at a high elevation. Safeco Field is in a cool city at sea level. These things matter.
So when you look at spring numbers, remember this: hitting is easier in the Cactus League than in the Grapefruit League. The top-four run-scoring teams this spring, and 11 of the top 13, are playing in the Cactus League.
The ballparks in Arizona are located 1,000 feet or more above sea level, while the parks in Florida are right around sea level. That's not the only factor, as things like wind currents play into it as well. In short, when you see a hitter with big numbers in Arizona, be aware that he was hitting in a pretty friendly environment. Don't dismiss the performance out of hand, but be sure to consider it in context.
The Mariners are going to swing often, and swing hard: There was a lot of buzz early this spring about how Seattle's offense was improved. And it may well be. But while that is still up for review, this much is clear: it's certainly going to be a different kind of offense, regardless of whether the end result is better.
General manager Jack Zduriencik brought in several powerful, free-swinging hitters this winter. He addressed his team's lack of home run power, but didn't do much about a corresponding lack of on-base ability. The numbers this spring reflect that perfectly.
The M's are first in the Majors, by a long way, in Spring Training home runs. They're first in slugging percentage. But they're 12th in on-base percentage, and ninth among the 15 Cactus League teams. They've struck out more often than any other team, while ranking 24th in walks. Seattle will hit the ball out of the park more often this year, but a lot of those homers will probably be solo shots.
Matthew Leach is a writer for MLB.com. Read his blog, Obviously, You're Not a Golfer and follow him on Twitter at @MatthewHLeach. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.