Do Big Spring Training Numbers Matter?

Domonic BrownDomonic Brown and Ryan Howard have been bashing baseballs since the Phillies opened their Grapefruit League schedule last month.

That’s great, but does it really mean anything?

“It’s good for someone who we think needs to show us something,” Charlie Manuel said following today’s 10-6 loss to the Twins at Bright House Field. “That’s definitely good. But at the same time, when the season starts we’re talking about two different seasons. But it is very encouraging when you see somebody swinging the bat like Brown. I’ve seen some real big improvement out of him.”

But keep an eye on Howard, Brown and other Phillies hitters through the end of spring.

Particularly, pay attention to their slugging percentages.

Baseball statistician and author John Dewan found that players who beat their career slugging percentage by more than 200 points in Spring Training have more than a 60 percent chance at beating their career slugging percentage during the regular season (minimum 200 regular season at-bats and 40 Spring Training at-bats).

It is not a fail-proof predictor obviously, but it is something interesting to watch before the Phillies open the regular season April 1 in Atlanta. Consider for a moment that since Dewan started writing about his Spring Training predictor in 2005, eight of the 12 Phillies on his list ended up surpassing their career slugging percentages during the regular season. And of the four players that fell short, two were not everyday players (Eric Bruntlett in 2009 and Pete Orr in 2011) and one got injured midway through the season (Jim Thome in 2005).

Jimmy Rollins had a great spring in 2009, but fell 18 points short of his career .441 slugging percentage during the regular season.

But the list successfully predicted good seasons for Pat Burrell and Placido Polanco in 2005, Howard in 2006, Chase Utley and Greg Dobbs in 2007, Jayson Werth and Carlos Ruiz in 2009 and Ruiz again in 2012.

It is early in the spring, so no Phillies player has accumulated 40 at-bats. But of the nine players with 20 or more at-bats entering today’s game, Brown, Howard and Kevin Frandsen are fitting the bill.

Brown entered the game with an .808 slugging percentage in 26 at-bats. He has a career .388 slugging percentage, a hefty 420 points better than his career mark.

“It’s definitely a confidence booster,” Brown said. “The thing about it is, with the hitting coaches we have, they don’t let you take an at-bat off. If I do something during an at-bat, they’re saying something to me when I get back to the dugout, even if I get a hit on the next pitch. That keeps me focused.”

Frandsen opened the day with a .727 slugging percentage in 22 at-bats. He has a career .364 slugging percentage, putting him 363 points above his career mark. Not bad for a typically slow starter in the spring.

“I don’t put usual stock in the numbers,” Frandsen said. “At-bat-wise, hitting the ball hard consistently, having deep at-bats, doing those things, that’s what has separated me this year from the last four or five years. But I feel the same. Nothing has changed as far as my approach.”

Howard started the afternoon with a .767 slugging percentage in 30 at-bats. He has a career .551 slugging percentage, putting him 216 points above his career mark.

If they keep up their pace it could bode well for the Phillies lineup. It has in the past.

But Brown also is playing well defensively. He cut off a ball in left-center field in the second inning, preventing Twins leftfielder Wilkin Ramirez from turning a single into a double. He also made a nice shoestring catch in shallow left field a few innings later.

Brown, who had issues with both his knees last season, would not have made those plays last year.

“Come on,” Brown said. “You guys saw me out there last year. No chance.”

Yes, everything seems to be going right for Brown so far this spring. The Phillies hope he keeps it up.

7 Comments

If spring training numbers mattered, Ron Stone would be in the Hall of Fame.

I am really trying to contain my excitement until I see the regular season, but it’s hard not to feel much more optimistic about it after seeing so many positives this spring. Lets hope he can live up to or surpass my projections for him.

If the Phillies do as well as I think they will, my slugging percentage is going to go down 200 pints.

I am encouraged by Frandsen’s play, because it’s coupled with a .338/.383/.451 line in 200 AB in the majors last year. I only wish he was younger. At 31, he’s not gonna be a 3B of the future. But he’s a good guy to have on the roster if Young struggles or gets hurt, and as a DH during interleague.

I have a feeling that Delmon Young, Nix, Mayberry, or Ruf (depending who is playing/on the roster) will be the DH so he can have Frandsen there for a defensive replacement late in the game if needed, or if there is an injury during the game.

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