<
>

What to make of spring numbers

3/13/2013

Clayton Kershaw gave a refreshing answer last week when he was asked if he found it easy to shrug off his poor early spring results. Not only doesn't he shrug them off, he said, he uses them as the best gauge of how he's doing. When he doesn't get hitters out, whether in Peoria, Ariz. or San Francisco, he said, he is not happy about it.

It's easy to look at spring training as one long, slow lead up to the season, but some of the things that crop up now will never quite go away as the season moves along. Other issues will be forgotten by the time the Dodgers' game against the San Francisco Giants is over on April 1.

Inspired by Kershaw's example, let's take a look at some of the numbers the Dodgers are generating in the Cactus League and determine how meaningful they might be in a month or two:

Eight. Matt Kemp strikeouts

He has had just 17 official at-bats in Arizona and he has struck out in more than half of them. He has gotten hits in only two of them. He admitted to reporters the other day that he's not cutting loose with his swing as much as he would like.

Is he hampered because of weakness in his surgically repaired shoulder or is this just a veteran player getting his swing and timing in order? Since we're not Kemp, it's hard to know and, at this point, he may not be entirely sure.

But he has earned the right to look awful in spring training. Last spring, he struck out 26 times in 65 spring at-bats, then batted .412 with 12 home runs in April.

Meaningful? Barely.

.429: Dodgers winning percentage

What do Yasiel Puig, Alfredo Amezaga, Skip Schumaker and Alex Castellanos have in common? Virtually nothing, other than the fact they have gotten the most at-bats of anybody in camp.

It's a pretty good bet that those guys won't be the horses trying to pull the Dodgers into the playoffs come August and September.

With 30,000 season tickets already sold, it's not as if the Dodgers have to convince their fans that they're legit. They kind of did that by spending north of $600 million to get a bunch of players over the past year.

Meaningful? No.

Zero. Carl Crawford at-bats

He faced some live pitching Tuesday, which was a good step. But there is a difference between live pitching and competitive pitching and, once April rolls around, the Dodgers won't have the luxury of using him at designated hitter.

He's going to have to test his arm by letting loose with some full-effort throws. That's when he'll really know if his elbow is all the way back from surgery just seven months later.

The Dodgers are lucky that this is the longest spring training in history, due to the World Baseball Classic, but Opening Day is less than three weeks away and Crawford's lack of game seasoning looks like it will land him on the disabled list to start.

That's a bummer on several levels for Crawford, who is eager to prove that his past two seasons were largely the result of injuries rather than an erosion of skills.

Meaningful? Yes.

.424. Puig batting average

The Oakland A's weren't sure where Yoenis Cespedes would start the season a year ago, but they saw enough of him in Arizona to decide that place would be Oakland. Could Puig's hot spring open enough eyes that he could wind up filling in for Crawford in the season's early weeks?

Almost no chance. He's five years younger than his fellow Cuban, has never touched Double-A and, according to manager Don Mattingly, he still plays like a "wild horse." He's going to need a couple of months in the minors, at the very least. His tools are off the charts, but why would the Dodgers risk crushing the psyche of one of their best young players, who also happens to be a $42 million investment?

Meaningful? Kind of, just for fun.

4.84. Dodgers team ERA

They have pitched worse than all but four National League teams this spring. Opposing hitters are batting .289 against them.

Chad Billingsley (7.04 ERA), Kershaw (5.54 ERA) and Hyun-jin Ryu (5.91 ERA) have all been getting knocked around routinely. On the other hand, Josh Beckett has been dominant in all of his starts and the key bullpen guys have been fine.

The most important thing is that pitchers get their arms ready for the long season in slow, steady fashion. With the exception of Zack Greinke, they have been able to do that.

Ryu probably raises the most concern, because he has no major-league track record. The Dodgers probably haven't had a moment of worry about any of the other starters, with the obvious exception of Greinke.

6. Dodgers rank in on-base percentage

Of all 30 major-league teams, the Dodgers .360 OBP is good for sixth. Granted, they are facing a lot of young pitchers and guys just getting a handle on their command, but one of the top orders of business for Mattingly and hitting coach Mark McGwire was to instill a more team-centric, patient approach.

The Dodgers have taken 56 walks in 16 games. Who knows, maybe it's working.

Meaningful? A little.