It happens every year, for better or for worse. Your team starts out the spring slowly and it looks like you may go 0-162, or your team “wins” the Cactus League and all of a sudden, expectations soar higher than you originally thought.
For Padres fans, it seems the former example is setting in as the Padres have struggled as a team in their first handful of games (1-3 so far in play).
First, let’s keep in mind that the Padres have the youngest player in any major league camp in 19-year-old Fernando Tatis Jr., who has played in all three games with a .091 average and five strikeouts in 11 at-bats. He does have a home run, but that has been his only success. The Padres are fielding many young players who are not ready to face major league pitching and it has shown early in the spring training slate of games.
Let’s take a look back at previous spring training seasons and investigate some examples of why spring training wins and losses mean absolutely nothing.
The eventual World Series champion Houston Astros, who won 101 games during the regular season, finished a mere .500 at 15-15 in their Grapefruit League schedule that same season. They also started 2-6 in their first eight spring contests.
The Los Angeles Angels were Cactus League “champions” in 2017. Many consider them to have a barren farm system (aside from Shohei Ohtani) and not much of a bright future. They were 21-14 in Cactus League play. They finished the regular season 80-82.
One of the best examples of why spring training records are meaningless is the 2016 Cubs. They, of course, won the World Series after a 103-win regular season. How did they do during Cactus League play? They finished next-to-last at 11-19, starting 1-7. That didn’t seem to faze them in the regular season when they were the most dominant team from start to finish.
The Diamondbacks played out of their minds in the 2016 Cactus League, finishing first with a 24-8 record. During the regular season, they were one game better than last place at 69-93.
In fact, every year for the last four seasons, at least one of the spring league’s “champions” finished the regular season with a losing record. Also, for eight years in a row, one of the bottom two teams of a spring league ended up making the playoffs.
Need examples of individual stats also not meaning much? You got it.
Jose Altuve was the 2017 American League MVP. During that spring, he hit a miserable .225. National League MVP Giancarlo Stanton hit .250. Corey Kluber won his second Cy Young last season (18 wins, 2.25 ERA, 265 strikeouts, 202 ERA+), and that was after posting a 6.17 ERA in five spring starts.
Let’s all just relax and enjoy the fact that baseball is back. The Padres are still 0-0 where it counts, in the regular season. Spring training is for opportunities for the young guys to make a statement, getting back in the rhythm before a long season, getting stretched out and strong for the long haul, and working and tweaking mechanics before the season starts.
Whenever a pitcher gets shelled in a spring appearance, it might just be that he was throwing only one or two pitches to get a feel for them. Maybe the batters knew a certain pitcher was exclusively working on his fastball and knew to sit on it. Perhaps the veteran starter just wanted to get his arm stretched out and throw live pitches without a thought of racking up strikeouts or winning the game.
Overreacting to spring records and stats (in a good or bad way) is silly. Were we all excited when Fernando Tatis Jr. hit that opposite field home run last week? Of course! Were we encouraged by aging veteran Chris Young’s two scoreless innings? Sure. And that’s OK. Just don’t send yourself on an emotional roller coaster to High Blood Pressure-ville during the spring. It’s not healthy. Let these guys play and improve. This is a learning experience for everyone, veterans included. That’s the whole point of spring training. Let’s just let things happen and enjoy it, come what may.