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How To Make Spring Training Stats Meaningful
2004-03-31 10:33
by Jon Weisman
Note: The Dodger Thoughts blog has moved to the Los Angeles Times.

... in just five steps.

Step 1: Include walks in box scores and batting statistics distributed by Major League Baseball and The Associated Press.

Step 2: Record and circulate play-by-play logs of Spring Training games.

Step 3: Compute a value, based on regular season statistics from the previous season or from previous seasons, to each player in the major league camps. With Win Shares, EQA, OPS+ and ERA+, the foundation is already there. Put Barry Bonds at 100 and Garth Brooks at 0.

Step 4: Adjust every exhibition statistic according to these values.

Step 5: Circulate these adjusted Spring Training statistics, which, while not perfect, would account for the vast differences in the caliber of competition of any exhibition game.

This process is long overdue, yet seems within reach.

And thus, we could prove such critical facts as whether Jason Romano's eyebrow-raising spring was merely something to be tweezed.

Longtime and even shortime readers of this site know that I put little credence in exhibition stats and am much more likely to evaluate Romano based on his regular season numbers throughout his career, which are pitiful.

The interesting thing about Spring Training at the outset of the Moneyball era is that Spring Training produces performances that are probably best evaluated by observation, rather than statistics. Spring Training leads people to use statistics in a most unsystematic manner – because the statistics are fundamentally flawed.

The time has come to improve Spring Training statistics so that they can be used as a compliment to observation. (And again, Moneyball advocates don't seek to eliminate observation, but encourage us to question what we are observing and place those observations in a quantifiable context.)

Until the statistical powers that be decide that Spring Training is worth the effort, however, I'd rather use regular season statistics, adjusted for level of play, to determine who the best prospects are.

* * *

For what it's worth, by those criteria, Dodger general manager Paul DePodesta might have improved the team this week by acquiring Jason Grabowski for cash and Jayson Werth for a promising reliever who was nonetheless far down the depth chart, Jason Frasor.

2003 Minor-League EQA Adjusted for Major Leagues
Romano .227
Grabowski .247
Werth .257/.223 (two teams)

Grabowski is a better-looking player than Romano, and he bats left-handed. As much as Dodger manager Jim Tracy has tried to stiff-upper-lip that the team does not need a left-handed hitter on the bench, he's fooling no one. Too many rival pitchers weaken against left-handed hitters, no matter who they are – and you need that option to force opponents to work through their bullpens.

"When we talk about readily available substitute players, this is the kind of guy we're talking about," Baseball Prospectus said of Grabowski in its 2004 annual. "Grabowski's a major-league-quality player – maybe even good enough to be a regular under the right circumstances. He can hit for a little average, has some pop with the bat, and has pretty good plate discipline. There are worse players starting all over the place at 1B and corner OF spots in major league baseball, many of whom make a ton of money. When teams like the Devil Rays run Jason Tyner out to the field, the Grabowski family is fully justified in throwing socks at the television in anger."

Werth, a right-handed batter like Romano and 34 days older, is a slighter improvement based on the EQA numbers. But Werth has shown a little more power in the minor leagues –he has 53 home runs and 174 walks over the past three seasons (majors and minors combined), compared to Romano's 13 home runs and 77 walks.

Of course, is it Romano that Werth will replace?

Dodger Bench Candidates (Six Slots Available)
Dave Ross
Jolbert Cabrera/Alex Cora (one will start)
Olmedo Saenz
Jason Grabowski
Jayson Werth

Bubba Trammell
Jason Romano

Jose Hernandez
Koyie Hill
Joe Thurston

According to press reports, the top five are in. Thurston and Hill will go to Las Vegas, along with Hernandez if he is willing (though I wouldn't say for sure that Saenz has made the team until it's official.) I had really thought Hill would make the team, based on his being a left-handed hitting catcher on a team that was depending on both its top-two catchers for offense, but Grabowski and Werth both can be emergency catchers if needed.

Based on previous track record, Trammell should grab the 25th spot on the roster from Romano. The team truly needs all the power it can get, and Trammell has much more of it than Romano.

But it's been clear for a long time how much the Dodgers like Romano, whereas Trammell has been downgraded to the guy they took a flyer on.

What's it gonna be, Jim and Paul? Power or personality? (Or another trade?)

Is it possible that DePodesta already has the enhanced Spring Training stat formula I've advocated – but isn't telling anyone?

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