Apparently Spring Training Numbers Don’t Matter (Except When They Do)

(Image: Associated Press)

The Brewers officially announced the end of the Juan Francisco experiment earlier today.  My colleague Nick Michalski said this is the right move for Francisco, and I see no reason to disagree.  Francisco seems to have worked hard in winter ball, made adjustments to his approach at the plate, and was having a great spring at the time of his release.  Although he may be remembered by Brewers fans for striking out too much, let’s hope Francisco takes what he’s learned and finds success elsewhere.

An interesting aspect of Francisco’s release is that it highlights the arbitrary value fans, players, and coaches assign to spring training performance.  There’s no denying Francisco’s numbers in spring training were impressive: .346 / .500 / .731.  Mark Reynolds’ slash line is pretty good as of this writing (.250 / .353 / .477), while Lyle Overbay’s is in the let’s-not-talk-about-it-besides-he’s-a-veteran-and-his-defense-is-boffo category (.179 / .319 / .231).  As a left-handed batter, Overbay was viewed as Francisco’s main rival for a roster spot.  With the competition posting numbers like that, one has to wonder what Francisco could have done to make the team.

When it was announced yesterday that Overbay and Reynolds were in, manager Ron Roenicke went pretty far to downplay the importance of spring training statistics:

"Spring training is to get in shape. Spring training is not to see who you think should be on the team. If you did that, there would be some weird stuff happening every year," [Roenicke] said. "Any of these guys, the veterans, could walk in and hit .200. Does that mean you don't keep them on the team?

"Spring training is not on numbers. It isn't. That's the misleading thing that people don't understand. The people that I look up to in this game always say, 'Do not be misled by spring training,' and it's the truth.”

I understand a manager has to justify his decision-making, and what Overbay brings to the team can’t necessarily be defined by a pretty lousy spring training performance.  But by going out of his way to stick up for Overbay, Roenicke lets himself get just a bit disingenuous.  Surely, spring training isn’t all about statistical performance, but the numbers count for something.

Last year, Khris Davis made the Brewers’ roster even though he could only play left field, and at the time no one knew that Ryan Braun would be suspended half the season.  Something tells me Davis’ crazy delicious 2013 spring training numbers probably had something to do with that.

In July, Davis ended up being optioned to AAA after he struggled without regular playing time.  At that point, maybe Roenicke was thinking he made a mistake by reading too much into Davis’ spring training numbers.  Then Braun was suspended, Davis replaced him, and he had the brilliant half-season we all hope wasn’t a fluke.  Now he’s going to be the Brewers’ starting left fielder on Opening Day.

Maybe Davis’ 2013 spring training performance was a harbinger of big league success, maybe it was just the kind of hot streak professional ballplayers have from time to time – but it’s a pretty clear example that Roenicke puts some stock in spring training numbers.

To be sure, I’d be a picky sports fan if I criticized Roenicke too harshly for some loose comments in defense of Overbay.  He has to answer questions from the press every day about how he does his job, so a few glitches here and there come with the territory.  It’s just worth noting how much of player evaluation is intangible and subjective, even for guys who have been in this business their whole lives.  We’ll have to keep that mind when the Rickie Weeks vs. Scooter Gennett decision comes down in the next few days. 

Enrique Bakemeyer

About Enrique Bakemeyer

Enrique is a writer and baseball enthusiast living in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. He has been contributing to The Brewers Bar since 2013, and has previously written for 411mania.com. Follow him on Twitter at @C_Enrique_B