Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Does a winning spring record matter?

Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Jason Marquis is one of several Nats starters pitching brilliantly this spring.
First off, a programming note: We're attempting to do a live version of "Beltway Baseball" at 1 p.m. today, with CSNwashington.com producer Chase Hughes and myself talking all things Nats from the digital studio at CSN headquarters. The show will be available right here on Nats Insider, so check the homepage shortly before 1 p.m. for the streaming video. ...

Meanwhile, the Nationals don't play down in Florida until 7:10 p.m. against the Mets, so I wanted to take this opportunity to raise a point about spring training numbers. I've made the argument here before that you have to be careful reading too much into Grapefruit League stats, because they don't always reflect the situations the players are in or what they may specifically be working on at the plate and on the mound.

But what about overall team stats? Should we read anything into that? Specifically, I'm talking about the Nats' 10-6 record so far this spring.

Spring records can at times be meaningless. If your team trails at the end of five innings each day, then rallies to win late once all the backups and minor-leaguers are in the game, it doesn't really mean much. But I do think it's at least somewhat significant that the Nationals have posted a winning record down in Florida this year. It's even more significant how they've done it.

The key to the Nats' spring success has been pitching. The staff ERA is 3.70, fourth-best in the NL. In 143 1/3 innings, the Nationals have recorded 115 strikeouts while walking only 44 batters.

More specifically, the starting rotation has pitched brilliantly so far. Jason Marquis has allowed one run and six hits in 12 innings. Jordan Zimmermann hasn't allowed any runs in 11 innings. Ross Detwiler has 10 strikeouts and one walk in nine innings. Yunesky Maya has allowed one earned run in 8 2/3 innings. John Lannan, Livan Hernandez and Tom Gorzelanny have been less successful, but Lannan has only made two starts so far, Gorzelanny has only appeared in one game and Hernandez never puts up good numbers in spring training.

Point is, the guys who are probably the biggest mark on this club heading into 2011 are performing exceptionally well this spring. Does that guarantee continued success once the bell rings on March 31? No. But given the choice between a rotation putting up outstanding spring numbers versus a rotation putting up awful spring numbers, which would you prefer? That's what I thought.

As for the Nationals' 10-6 record ... well, in the six seasons since the franchise relocated, this team has never finished the Grapefruit League with a winning record. They've also never finished the regular season with a winning record. Is there a correlation? Probably not. But again, given the choice, you'll take a good spring in the standings over a bad one.


Anonymous said...

One small nit. You say that the starting rotation has pitched brilliantly and then reference Detwiler and Maya. I wish you were right and they were actually going to be in the starting rotation, but I don't think so. So here's a follow-up question -- how much do spring training stats matter in determining the rotation? If Detwiler consistently out-pitches Lannan or Gorzelanny, does he move up?

A DC Wonk said...

I agree with your analysis. Spring records don't mean a lot, but they also don't mean nothing. A record of 10-6 might not mean a lot, but compared to the miserable record last spring, it means something.

And, furthermore, as you note Mark, there are a rather large number of players that are playing extremely well -- and if just a few of them continue to do it during the regular season, we'll be making some improvements.

As you note, Zimmermann and Marquis have been lights out. But Maya and Detweiler have looked pretty decent, too. On the hitting side, Morse and Espinosa are blossoming in a big way, too.

There seem to be too many good performances this spring to say its all a fluke or all meaningless.

The Nats look well positioned for a significant improvement this year. I'd not be surprised to see them threatening to break .500 -- which is the next big step for them.

BTW, Boswell's columm makes a similar point at http://www.washingtonpost.com/sports/nationals-are-due-some-luck-on-their-question-marks-/2011/03/14/ABm7IlV_story.html

Best stat line from his article:

Morse in DC: .289/.352/.519
Werth in Philly: .282/.380/.506

(yes, yes, I know, Morse has yet to have a 500AB season, but it's an intriguing stat nevertheless).

Anonymous said...

Will the spring winning translate into wins in the regular season .... who knows. Spring training results don't matter for the power houses: the yankees, red sox, phillies, etc. They are going to be good and are almost certainly a lock for the post season. If they 10-20 in the spring, no one cares. However, for a team that is trying to overcome a culture of dysfunction and losing, a winning record in the spring means everything.

The Joker said...

It is probable that the Zimmermans, Werth and company will be watching Adam Dunn in the AL playoffs on television.

natsfan1a said...

Yeah, yeah, ST stats don't mean anything. All I know is, 8-3 felt a lot better than 0-11 did. I also like that the team is generating some positive buzz at the national level. Then again, who cares what ESPN or Fox Sports says? It's not like they're Nats Insiders. wink wink.

Also, am I the only one who just ran the numbers on achieving a winning ST record? I thought not. Six more wins, baybee. :-D

Theophilus said...

Good Spring Training nos. don't necessarily mean much but bad ST nos. generally are harbingers of more disaster to follow. This was certainly true of the 2008-2009 camps -- illustrative of the pathetic level of "talent" (a word used very loosely) -- and the 2010 camp -- an omen that Mock, Marquis, Olsen and Lannan (4/5ths of the rotation) were going to have lousy years. So, this year's nos. are an indicator the Nats have, at least and at long last, reached the level of mediocrity and possibly better.

This Spring seems to show the Nats have more than a sufficient no. of bona fide major league players and prospects to not only fill the 25-man roster but also plug holes that might occur due to injury, etc. Because they are one of the 12-15 teams that will be able to afford to sign their free agents, they will not slide backward and are likely to get stronger going forward. So even if this year is "mediocre," what's going on in Viera augurs well for the future.

Wally said...

Spring training results through March 15 are ..... meaningless and irrelevant? Slightly less so from here through the end, as regulars play more often and spend less time on things like 'fastball command'.

There are still plenty of things to be excited about though - Espinosa doesn't appear to be suffering from the hamate injury too badly; Detwiler's increased velocity; Marquis's sinker.

On the other hand, I wish Desi and Morgan were fielding better.

Doc said...

My take on ST team winning stats, suggests that the 2011 Nats are deeper in depth chart talent than in other STs. Subsitute and farm talent, that the Nats didn't have in other years, is slotting into games and being competitive.

Be neat to hear from a Sabernut on ST correlations with real season success. I'm thinking that it's kinda weak.

Given that the 2010 ST Nats were, overall, 10-20, and the current 2011 ST Nats have already won 10, then we can say that progress is being made, even if all that success doesn't directly translate into the real season.

Mark, I think, though, the pitching stats that you have quoted, will be predictive of the regular season. And certainly distinct from STs over the recent past years.

Goooooooooooooo Nats!

These Nats are close to being a competitive team, and maybe more competitive than for which they are being given credit.

HHover said...

Does a team’s ST record matter? All other things equal, winning still feels better than losing.

Does it predict regular season performance? That’s a different question.

Being one of the winningest teams in ST isn’t that good a predictor of doing the same in the regular season. Of the 8 best ST records in 2010 (Tampa, SF, Cleveland, SD, ChiCubs, Detroit, Colorado, Atlanta), you’ve got only 3 of the 8 playoff teams, including the WS winners. 2 of the 8 ended the regular season with losing records, and one at .500.

Of the 8 teams with the worst 2010 ST records, 3 made the playoffs (Texas, Cincy, NYY), and 3 ended at the bottom of their divisions (Orioles, Nats, Pirates).

It will be interesting to see what the Nats do in the next 2 weeks. Winning games later in ST, when the rosters are pared down and they're doing final tune ups, means more than in the first weeks.

Anonymous8 said...

I totally agree with you Wally. Espinosa was a big question mark with the hamate bone and seeing JZim and Marquis mow through the early innings when the opposition has their starters in is encouraging.

Still need to see Detwiler for a full 5 innings against starters before I can feel as confident as others here.

Morse isn't a surprise to me as he is a star in the making. Let's see what he does with 500+ ABs.

MicheleS said...

Bottom line. Winning is better than losing! Anything to give them some confidence going into the season is a bonus!

Anonymous8 said...

HHover, you say last years best ST records were
Tampa 1st place
SanFran WS Champs
San Diego Surprise Contenders 90-72
Tigers at .500
Rockies winning record
Braves Playoff Team

So 6 of the 8 teams with the best 2010 ST record were at .500 or better and this is a much better indicator than a losing record so this should bode well for the 2011 Nats.

erocks33 said...

It's a marathon, not a sprint. I don't care how the stats are right now. I just want to see progression on the field and health off of the field as ST winds down. Case in point: Nyjer vs Bernadina.

Most everyone still wants Nyjer gone and Bernie (or Ankiel) to take over as the starting CF. Some based this on Nyjer's subpar 2010. Others said they would wait to see how Nyjer comes out and performs in ST before making a decision. And after 2 weeks of games, the consensus seems to be that Nyjer must go because he's been terrible at the plate and that Bernie has outplayed him.

Well ... thru the first 8 games of ST:

Nyjer: 1-16; 0 BB; 2 SO; .063 AVG; .063 OBP; 0 SB; 0 CS
Bernie: 5-14; 2 BB; 1 SO; .357 AVG; .438 OBP; 2 SB; 1 CS

Okay, Nyjer was bad. REALLY BAD. But look at the last 7 games for both players:

Nyjer: 6-17; 3 BB; 3 SO; .353 AVG; .450 OBP; 5 SB; 2 CS (one was the missed suicide squeeze by AGonz)
Bernie: 4-18; 0 BB; 8 SO; .222 AVG; .222 OBP; 2 SB; 0 CS

To me, Nyjer has clearly outperformed Bernie during this stretch. What does this all mean?

Is Nyjer more likely to hit like he did during his first few games, or are his past few more indicative of what he's going to do? What about Bernie? He does have more power than Nyjer, which is nice but also means he's more apt to strikeout more.

I'll be honest ... I have no stinking clue what to think. To me, neither is the long-term solution in CF and neither will be a consistent hitter that gets on base at a regular clip. The only thing I can take out of all this is not to jump to conclusions after one or two weeks of games.

Let the Spring games play out over the next couple of weeks then let's see where we're at. Hopefully, most of the starters will be healthy and will have continued to pitch well. Hopefully, Nyjer continues to hit and get on base more frequently. Hopefully Werth and LaRoche feel comfortable at the plate and will find their groove. And for gosh sakes, let's hope that Morse never loses his groove!

Mr. NATural said...

I really think you have to consider human nature in this discussion. I believe early success in any endeavor--sports, academics, building friendships--moves the individual toward success in the long run. It does not guarantee it, but it certainly moves people in the right direction.

Think of your experience (playing, coaching, or as a dad) with high school football. Remember years when the summer practices and early scrimmages were marked by a lot of injuries, a bad vibe because of a prima donna player or coach, or lousy practices and scrimmages. The beginning of things matters.

Then think of those years (in any endeavor) when things really came together--maybe your company won a big contract, or your team received some great recognition because of your work on a project. Unfailingly, in these (good and bad) situations, people will say, "You know what? I had a good feeling about this group from the beginning. They really came together, had fun on the project, and played to win. I'm not surprised by their success at all."

I am saying that there is something different--materially as well as spiritually--about this team. And by different I mean better, far better, than anything we've seen since baseball returned to Washington.

The reasons they're winning now, and will continue to win during the regular season, are:

- They prepare to win
- They expect to win
- They shipped losers out and brought winners in
- They are sick, really sick, of losing.

Winning is a habit, and the Nationals are acquiring it.

Jon said...

One more thing about the starting pitching. The difference between mediocre and good starting pitching is often the ability to get through the lineup 2 and 3 times. I don't think we have that information on these guys based on this spring training.

Nattydread said...

In the Nats case, a winning record does make a difference. The players want to win.

Rizzo, to his credit, has "turned over" the culture of losing which has resided in DC baseball for 5 years. We are playing to win, spring training or regular season.

Last nite, when the score was 4-2 in the 9th, you got the feeling that they were trying to win the game --- giving young players a chance to be "clutch". And we almost pulled it off.

It wasn't a game where players were simply going through the motions.

JayB said...

Exactly....Winning at every opportunity is just what this franchise needs to learn....Starting with Spring Training and keep the feeling in April. This team is ready now to win more than they lose.

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_For_Me said...

First time I've ever said this: I'm with JayB.

I think we're ready to win. This year: 83-79. In the WC hunt ... and the Phils are no lock with injuries to Mr. Prick 2B, Second Mr. Prick Closer and All Those Wonderful Phillie Phans and their skanky girlfriends.

Steve M. said...

Wow, JayB, daddy like!

Doc said...

Someone needs to develop a Philly Voo Doo doll that Nats fans can buy, and stick pins into! I'd take 2!

GoNatsGal said...

I agree with my fellow Nats fans. Nats are ready to win & hopefully that will transition over to regular season! 15 days until OD! Go Nats!

Avar said...

Obviously better to win than lose.

The trouble of course is tiny sample sizes. Those starting pitchers Mark listed have the equivalent of 2 starts. Not much to go by. But it's of course a great start.

Agree w/ whoever said that by this time in previous springs, we knew several of our SPs sucked. Not so this year. In fact, this year it looks like the Syracuse rotation will be excellent. Great for organizational depth (see Caps' AHL team for reference).

Rizzo has given us pitching depth, starting and pen. We have more legit big leaguers there than we have roster spots. Massive turnaround.

He hasn't given us position player depth yet but that is the hardest, I think.

If Desmond fails, who plays short? Same with Espinosa. Obviously CF depth is a concern. Even catching. If Ramos struggles, we're weak at catcher. But at least we have Flores and Norris to come along soon.

Hopefully, the pitching depth will lead to trades that provide more position player depth.

Steve M. said...


First Tom Boswell and then JayB, I had to check my calendar to make sure it wasn't April 1st.

Boswell wrote a really good article today and want to give him props since he really ticked me off about his early Spring article of who the Nats didn't sign. Also, No mention of Lerner, just talkin' baseball!

As Boz says, the portion about luck is so true in sports as well as the "core" he speaks of. I have mentioned the same here before how all winning teams have it and the nucleus is building of homegrown talent here with the Nats.

Reading that article of Ken Rosenthal's that Mark'd tagged in the previous post and this Boz article really hits on many of the same positive points which hilights the true progress made.

eRocks33 makes a good analysis side-by-side of Nyjer and Bernadina. Here is the short answer, neither is the solution but Bernadina I believe is more serviceable in the short-term until the Nats develop a CF which needs to be Werth or Bryce Harper unless Rizzo can land Lorenzo Cain for a backend starter. Cain looks to be playing behind Melky Cabrera or swithed to the corner OF or sitting and waiting so "luck" may be a phone call away to landing him.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, Spring Training numbers, especially offense ones mean absolutely NOTHING, most of the time hitters are facing marginal major league talent and even when they are facing major league talent those guys may be working on something like a new pitch or a new grip so whatthey do against them in the Spring does not translate to the full 182 game season!!!

Now for a team like the Nats, winning (not the Charlie Sheen kind) can be responsible for attitude adjustments which we need, so bottom line individual stats mean SQUAT but overall performance COULD make for positive results in the regular season but even that is rare...winning the Grapefruit League = ZERO, I remember a few years ago the Yankees won only 3 or 4 games and people were preaching gloom and doom and the won the division easily and vice versa I think the Priates came out of the spring gate roaring and finished in the basement.

NatinBeantown said...

Another important result from ST wins: raises expectations.

1) By fans, which translates into more excitement about the team (this was going to be a "lost year" without SS).

2) By the media, which I predict will have a lot more forecasted 4th and 3rd place finishes than 5th. That kind of respect is important in attracting FAs and more fans to the team.

3) By the team itself, which already has started to change the clubhouse culture significantly. As others have said, establishing good habits in ST only reinforces that.

Mr. Doggett said...

Mr. Natural:

The reasons they're winning now, and will continue to win during the regular season, are:

- They prepare to win
- They expect to win
- They shipped losers out and brought winners in
- They are sick, really sick, of losing.

Winning is a habit, and the Nationals are acquiring it.

That says it all.

Anonymous said...

Losing is a disease, as contagious as syphilis. Losing is a disease, as contagious as bubonic plague: attacking one, but infecting all.

But curable.

Now, I want you to imagine you are on a ship at sea, gently rocking.

Gently rocking.

Gently rocking.

Gently rocking.

Tim said...

Forget about spring training, Nats were 5 games over .500 last may. Where did they end up?

A hot start is great, but keeing it going all season is the key. Playing the hot hand, having depth to reload when players get hurt or underperform. I think thats where this team should be so much stronger than last season.

Neato Torpedo said...

A few years back, I saw the ST records of post-season teams and non-post-season teams. The upshot was:

* All of the post-season teams had winning ST records
* Plenty of non-post-season teams also had winning ST records
* No teams with a losing ST record made it to the post-season.

So we've not been mathematically eliminated.


HHover said...


That sounds nice, but it's not true.

Last year, 3 of the 8 postseason teams had losing ST records (see my earlier comment); in 2009, 2 had losing records; in 2008, 4 did, and a 5th had a .500 ST record.

There is a positive correlation bwn ST and regular season W-L records, but it's a weak one.

Winning in ST is better than losing, but I wouldn't base any extravagant expectations on where the Nats stand in mid-March.

Post a Comment