There are three ways to look at Spring Training- as an arbiter of things to come in the season, as a sneak peak of which individual players are progressing nicely (or poorly), or as a complete and utter random act of nonsense. There are those who bread down Cla Meredith’s inning here, Adam Jones’ game there, the one at-bat that Nolan Reimold took, or the 3-inning “start” that one contending pitcher or another put together. Others, even more dangerously use it as a signal of how the season will go. Fans I have encountered have run the gamut, while I have distinctly put myself in the “complete and utter random act of nonsense” category. There are few things in sports where I am willing to kick my feet up and let it go, but this is one of them. And I recommend you stop worrying about that box score from Sarasota too.
Let’s remember that Spring Training is essential a month’s worth of games, so let’s compare it to a month in the majors, shall we? On April 30th, 2009, Boston and Toronto were tied for the lead in the AL East, Kansas City held a half-game lead in the Central, and Seattle had a 2.5 game hold on the West. In the NL, Florida, St. Louis, and Los Angeles held sway. Of these teams, only Boston, St. Louis, and the Dodgers made it to the postseason. Toronto finished in 4th place, Kansas City in the cellar, and Seattle in 3rd place in their respective divisions. Let’s try not to read too much into a small sample size. Baseball is notorious for being a long and gruelling season- some players start hot and fade away, others start slow and gear up as the season goes on (Aubrey Huff and Melvin Mora used to be historically good second-half players). Most of this team is so young that we have no idea how good they will be when the season starts, much less in August, when let’s hope it still matters.
Spring Training is also more of a showcase of organizational depth than anything else. Unfortunately for the O’s, most of their players who aren’t already in the majors are either marginal major league talent or too young to be ready for the big show. They don’t have the luxury that other teams do of trotting out established talent and picking out which one to start. So while they are sending out their soon-to-be Single-A and Double-A players, their opponents are able to counter with quality veterans. We can use yesterday’s game as an example. The O’s trotted out Felix Pie (bench), Robert Andino (bench), Lou Montanez (AAA), Nolan Reimold (injured starter), Brandon Snyder (AAA), Josh Bell (AA/AAA), Scott Moore (AAA), Chad Moeller (bench), and Justin Turner (AAA). The Cardinals countered with essentially a major league roster, featuring veterans Julio Lugo, Brendan Ryan, Yadier Molina, and Ryan Ludwick, not to mention Matt Holliday and Albert Pujols. The fact that the O’s lost 4-2 shouldn’t surprise anyone- the very fact that our AAA squad could hang with them should be a credit to them.
Now, I know that certain individuals are struggling and not giving Baltimore fans much of a reason for confidence. Above all, Jeremy Guthrie seems to be coming apart like he did much of last year. But a lot of players start slow, especially at the plate. Nolan Reimold seemed to get his swing back a bit yesterday, and will undoubtedly improve his dismal .129 average. However, he has only gotten 10 games worth of at-bats. If a player goes through a slump for 10 games no one thinks too much of it- but in Spring Training we analyze all. Matt Wieters started off slow last year too, who’s to say it isn’t the same thing happening again? I understand that the pitching isn’t what Baltimoreans are hoping for this season, but let’s put it once again into perspective. There are only 3 pitchers who have at least 2 starts’ worth of innings- Chris Tillman, Jeremy Guthrie, and Brian Matusz. Tillman and Matusz are doing very well, and isn’t that what’s important right now? Jeremy Guthrie will either come around or he won’t- he certainly can’t do much worse than last year. In 15.2 innings, there isn’t much to evaluate.
Remember, this time last year O’s fans though Alfredo Simon would be a solid #3 starter. In a sport that’s measured in months, let’s try to wait at least until May to start wondering this team has been overhyped. Fretting over spring training is like worrying about a marathoner while he stretches before a race. At least let the man start running first.