The great Vin Scully once said, "Stats can sometimes be like a drunk leaning on a lamppost. They are used more for support than illumination.” Yet, we hang on to the stats we see in spring training as a hidden treasure that will somehow help us to explain how players will perform in the regular season. If the truth be told, that is a dangerous and slippery slope.
It has been well-documented that the New York Mets' starting rotation has put up horrible numbers in Florida, and the critics of the Mets' pitching staff point that out as evidence the 2010 season will look amazingly like the 2009 season. What has been swept under the rug is, high ERAs are rather commonplace in spring training. How commonplace, you say? Well, check out some of these 2010 spring training numbers.
CC Sabathia: 7.23
AJ Burnett: 5.12
Adam Wainwright: 6.14
Justin Verlander: 5.48
Cris Carpenter: 5.40
Tim Linecum: 6.94
Jake Peavy: 6.55
Josh Johnson: 5.82
Dan Haren: 5.25
Add in two pitchers Met fans were clamoring for in the off-season: Ben Sheets, 11.20, and Jason Marquis, 9.15.
Those numbers jump out on you, don’t they? But they shouldn’t, because it's spring training, and pitchers are working on things, recovering from injuries and rounding into shape. Do we really think that the above list which is filled with No. 1 and No. 2 starters has their teams concerned? Of course not, but spring training stats have us all believing the 2010 Mets' staff will flat-out stink.
Now, don’t get me wrong -- Pelfrey, Perez and Maine have a lot to prove, but when I hear people poking holes in the left arm of Johan Santana, I think of the drunk at the lamppost that Scully was referring to in his famous quip. You would think Santana has built up enough equity so that he would be a given, especially considering the fact that earlier in his career he experienced the same exact surgery and won the AL Cy Young Award the very next season.
Yet, people are still holding on to to spring training stats like they are precious commodities. My only reaction to that is: can you tell me what pitcher had the best ERA in spring training last year? You cannot without the help of the ESPN.com stat page, and there is a reason for that: The games don’t count. Never have and never will. You know how I know that? The 1962 Mets, who went 40-120, went a very respectable 12-15 in their initial spring training.
You know when Mike Pelfrey had his best spring -- 2007 -- he proceeded to lose his first seven decisions in the regular season. You know when Jeff Francoeur had his worst spring trainings, he compiled over 100 RBIs each year with the Atlanta Braves. I grew up watching Tom Seaver having uneven spring trainings and that worked out pretty good. I watched Mike Piazza have so-so spring trainings and that worked out OK as well.
Remember what you see in March is not always what you see in April, and vice versa. Yet every year experts hang their hats on meaningless exhibition games. Some people never learn.