Dingers Are Fun!
Coming into today’s Cactus League matchup against the Texas Rangers today, the Mariners had hit 14 home runs in just seven spring training games. At the time of this article, the Mariners had already added three more home runs: a towering shot from Carlos Peguero to right field for his third, an opposite-field liner by Michael Saunders, and Jason Bay to center. This means the Mariners are at worst going to stay on a two home run a game pace. Interestingly, not a single one of these dingers has been hit by Michael Morse or Kendrys Morales, the two big bats the Mariners acquired this offseason. The Mariners currently lead the cactus league in home runs with 17, six more than the second place Detroit Tigers. So what can we take away from this?
Now, it’s important to note that Spring training stats mean almost nothing. I could write a whole treatise on this myself, but Dave Cameron has done a nice job of summing that up over at U.S.S. Mariner. If you haven’t read that yet, read it here now, then come back to this piece.
Done? Ok, great. So we know that pretty much, these things don’t matter. That doesn’t mean that there aren’t some things that stand out a bit. For example, Justin Smoak, who struggled as a left-handed hitter last year hit one of his two home runs as a left-hander against Brewers closer John Axford. It’s not like Axford is an elite closer, but he’s certainly an above-average major league reliever. While it still doesn’t mean that Smoak is fixed because he homered against a major leaguer, it’s certainly better than him failing to reach base.
So if you dig deep enough, you’re going to find some reasons for optimism in these stats, and that’s fine. Michael Saunders’ home run, for instance. While it didn’t come against anyone of note, it was an opposite-field blast. The more Saunders does that, the more we can believe that the strides he made hitting to the opposite field last year are for real. If you take a look at his home run spray chart, you can see that he hit a few home runs to center or left-center, and one to left, while the majority still went to right field. Saunders’ home run to left field shows us that he’s continuing to improve his ability to go the other way.
Although all of you may know me as a stats guy, in Spring training, I go almost 100% the other way. The home runs are nice. I’d rather the Mariners be hitting home runs than striking out. It’s certainly more fun than the alternative. But really, looking at spring training stats don’t tell us much of anything. Breaking down a specific instance or demonstration of a new skill is more important. Skills progressing further is important. It’s nice that the Mariners lead the Cactus League in home runs, and while they’ll almost certainly hit more home runs in 2013 than in 2012, they probably won’t lead all of baseball. Enjoy it, but don’t try to extrapolate too much from it.