I’m not about to make the claim that spring training stats mean anything. I mean, Greg Dobbs has 3 HR and is out hitting Ryan Howard and Albert Pujols. In short, spring training stats historically mean nothing. But there are a couple of things happening so far this spring that should have Ned Yost and Moustachio Melvin considering ushering in the future a tid bit sooner than expected.
1. Yovani Gallardo (btw, a “ll” in Spanish makes a “y” sound, so let’s all start out right and pronounce it “Gaiyardo”, not Gall-lardo — we don’t want to disappoint/embarrass our #1 prospect when we exclaim and chant his name) has only pitched 5 innings, but he’s allowed only 2 hits, no walks, and struck out five. That’s better than Dice-K. In contrast, Claudio Vargas, thought to be the favorite for the fifth and final rotation spot, has given up 9 hits, a walk, and 7 ER in 4.7 IP. Granted, none of the four other rotation shoe-ins (Sheets, Capuano, Bush, & Suppan) have pitched that well, but none of their jobs were in question to begin with, and none have done so poorly as Vargas. Carlos Villanueva is making a pitch (pun somewhat intended) for sticking as well with 8 K and 0 BB in 6 IP. It makes you wonder why we bothered signing Suppan (oh wait, I wondered that when they first mentioned they were talking to his agent).
2. Ryan Braun says he feels great, team doc William Raasch has given the okay, and the 3B will get to resume mashing immediately as a pinch hitter, and full-time in “three to five days.” (Can someone please tell me if this article was written by Braun’s brother/uncle/cousin? It’s a little weird . . .) 3 taters and 16 total bases in 10 ABs is a sick stretch, however insignificant a sample size. If he keeps it up, and proves that the elbow is healthy by not throwing any more balls away (thereby also proving (somewhat) that he might be able to handle 3B for at least a couple of years before moving to an OF corner), how is he not going to be a better option than Graffasell Counino? His MLEs (as calculated by Clay Davenport and Nate Silver of Baseball Prospectus) from AA last year were .294/.350/.596, with an EqA of .310. These are numbers that indicate what his performance would have been in a neutral park MAJOR LEAGUE setting. His weighted mean PECOTA projection this year is .283/.341/.504. If Yost thinks he’ll get anywhere near that kind of power with his platoon, he’s sorely mistaken. Plus, I think Braun has a pretty good shot to hit his 60th PECOTA Percentile for another 25 points of OPS.
The main focus in spring training is to get players ready for the season — get their bodies warmed up, gauge their conditioning, continue to work on kinks in their game, etc. But position battles are also a part of it. Sadly, it looks like Geoff Jenkins is winning his, which was very real from the get go; if Jenkers keeps it up all season long, I’ll gladly eat my words — and fifty eggs. I hope that Ned Yost takes these aforementioned situations seriously as position battles also.
In Gallardo’s case, the stuff isn’t going to get much better with more time in the minors, as pitchers don’t tend to improve their “stuff” too much as they get older the same way a hitter continues to develop power and patience (i.e. hitting skills) into their late 20s. Where pitchers can improve, and where they often take longer to do so, is in terms of control; for the ¡Gallardo!, the control is already there. His time is now, but the most likely case is him pitching in AAA Nashville until something happens to one of the “top” five guys. But when he is summoned, the ¡Gallardo! will not be contained — or optioned back down. There’s no looking back then. An alternate scenario has him pitching in long relief to ease him into the Bigs, ala Earl Weaver. I wonder if Yost has read that book. It might do the Crew some good.
Most likely scenario with Braun is that he also starts the year in Nashville (probably “to work on his fielding”), but after a [hobbling] pedestrian starts by Bat Boy Counsell and Graffy, he gets called up sometime in May, with enough time to hit 20 HR and be this years version of Francisco Liriano in that you wonder what the heck took management so long to realize that this was a better option than Kyle Lohse or Graffasell, respectively. Braun should be about wins better than the wonder twins.
Whatever happens, all I know is that if Braun and the ¡Gallardo! were chickens, I would hope that Yost and Co. are more effective than this guy: