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Monday, April 2, 2012
Do spring training records mean anything?

By David Schoenfield

The Blue Jays have scorched their opponents in spring training, winning 23 of 29 games and outscoring their opponents by 77 runs. Jayson Stark has a story up suggesting you shouldn't ignore the Jays, pointing out that in the past 20 years only two other teams have won 75 percent of their games in spring training -- the 1997 Marlins (who won the World Series) and the 2009 Angels (who won 97 games and reached the ALCS).

Can we read anything into a hot spring training at a team level? After all, while we're constantly told that "spring training doesn't mean anything," there's also a lot of cyberspace real estate being spent on spring training updates, reports, analysis and Twitter commentary that suggests it has to mean something.

Let's check back on 10 years of spring training standings to see if we can arrive at any broad conclusions. We'll begin with the team that had the best spring training record each season:


Definitely some correlation here, although last year's Royals are a good reminder that a hot spring doesn't always lead to a successful regular season. If you remember, the Royals pounded the ball all spring -- Melky Cabrera hit .468, Kila Ka'aihue may have been the best hitter in spring training with a .397 average and seven home runs, Alicides Escobar hit five home runs, Mike Aviles hit .357.

What about the teams that ended up with the majors' best regular-season record? Here's how they did:


There's clearly a strong correlation here -- 13 of the 14 teams listed had a winning record in spring training. For what it's worth, here are possible playoff contenders who have had a bad spring: Philadelphia (12-16), Tampa Bay (9-16), Texas (12-17), Atlanta (10-17) and Cleveland (7-21).

I'm not sure we can place too much emphasis on those records, however. Here are poor spring training records for some teams that made the postseason in recent years:

2011 Diamondbacks: 12-25
2011 Rangers: 13-16
2010 Rangers: 10-19
2009 Dodgers: 15-22
2009 Phillies: 13-19
2008 Phillies: 12-18
2008 Red Sox: 8-13
2007 Phillies: 11-18

So as bad as Cleveland or Tampa Bay has looked, we can't write them off yet. (Although I'd like to reconsider my idea of picking Cleveland as an upset special to win the AL Central.)

On a related tangent, how did the majors' worst team fare during spring training?


Well, maybe no surprises here. Only one of worst teams managed to even finish .500. The Astros, everyone's pick as the worst team in 2012, are 14-16. The Pirates are 9-18. But the Twins, Mariners, Padres and A's all have winning spring records, which doesn't mean those teams will finish above .500 but at least suggests they won't be the worst team in baseball.

Finally, let's look at a surprise team from each season:


If the Blue Jays do contend for a playoff spot, they won't exactly fit the definition of a surprise team since they won 81 games in 2011 and 85 in 2010. They'd have to win in the upper 90s to have a win increase that matches the teams on this list. Though there is some correlation here to playing well in spring training, last year's Diamondbacks gave no indication they'd turn into a 90-win club.

So there you go, Pirates fans ... maybe there is still hope.