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Bleeding Blue: What does Spring Training Really Say?

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A common question many people hear around this time, is how much stock can really be put into the numbers coming out of spring training? Many people believe the games and numbers are meaningless, while others believe that spring training can be a predictor of things to come in the season ahead, and more than ever, I feel that a majority of Blue Jays fans are falling into the second category, and why not? More than ever before, Blue Jays fans want Spring Training to mean something and to say something. Last year’s squad finished spring training with a 16-14 record, but with no real stand out performances, and after a tumultuous offseason, and a lot of question marks on the roster, expectations weren’t that high… but now? Now the Blue Jays have lit spring training on fire.

As I write this, they have the best spring training record in the majors with a 20-4 record (an .833 winning percentage) with several players playing exceedingly well. After such success many Blue Jays fans want this to be an indication that the postseason is just 162 games away, while others feel that this is just a warm up to the regular season. So which is it? Well, the truth is likely somewhere in the middle. While the historically, Spring Training records haven’t been the most accurate of predictors, they aren’t totally meaningless either.

Let me clarify. I know a win in spring training isn’t going to help any team get to the postseason, and a player’s performance in the Grapefruit or Cactus Leagues won’t help them land any MVP votes, all I am saying, is that sometimes it can highlight something people didn’t know was there. In 1985, the Blue Jays had one of their best spring training records ever going 19-10, before starting one of their most successful seasons ever, winning a franchise record 99 games and capturing their first AL East division title. Again in 1989, the Blue Jays posted a 21-19 record in spring training, their current record for wins in spring training, and would go on to win their second AL East division title. On the flipside however, the 1986 NL West Champions Houston Astros went 9-18 in spring training that year. But what about the Blue Jays greatest seasons?

In 1992 and 1993 the Blue Jays would win back-to-back World Series Championships and would put the exclamation point on one of the most successful decades in Canadian sports history, but no one would’ve thought so looking at their spring training records as they would post records of 13-18 and 11-19 in ’92 and ’93 respectively. Far from what one would call championship caliber, but over the course of 162 regular season games and into the post-season beyond that, the Blue Jays proved otherwise. It’s not just the Blue Jays that win despite rough starts either. Most recently the 2011 World Series Champions St. Louis Cardinals finished spring training with a 14-16 record and the 2008 Philadelphia Phillies finished spring training even further behind that with a 12-18 record, but both managed to win it all. So spring training records can’t exactly predict division or World Series champions, but that doesn’t mean spring training is meaningless either.

In 2011, we had Game 162, which will be remembered for generations as one of the greatest nights in regular season baseball, as the post-season hopes of no less than four teams hung in the balance, including the Boston Red Sox, who many had predicted would walk away with a World Series championship for the third time in a less than a decade. But as history would have it, the Red Sox where eliminated the last night of the regular season, and wouldn’t go to the post-season because of one game. But was it really because of one game?

In the spring of 2011, the Boston Red Sox lost more games than any other Grapefruit league team, with the exception of the Houston Astros (56-106) and the Pittsburg Pirates (72-90), and would go on to start the 2011 regular season with a 2-10 record, and would remain in the basement of the AL East as late as May 6, more than a full month into the regular season. To say that something was amiss in the Red Sox organization to start 2011 was putting it lightly, and looking back, maybe spring training was the warning sign that everyone overlooked. After all, spring training is meaningless right?

The truth is, the results are meaningless, but the games are not. For all the talent that the Boston Red Sox already had and the new talent that they acquired after the 2010 season, 2011 was supposed to be a breeze, and for all that talent to struggle in spring training should’ve been the writing on the wall. There were problems in the Red Sox organization on the field and their players were off to a very slow start, which may have lost them a World Series championship in the end. Of course there are other factors to consider as well, so it’s not a be-all-end-all argument. To paraphrase John Farrell from earlier this spring, “being successful in spring training is more a testament to the depth and talent of your minor league systems and players, than a test of your major league system or players,” and he makes a point that’s hard to argue.

There is a common consensus among the baseball elite that the Toronto Blue Jays have one of the best farm systems in the major leagues, so maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that they’ve been so successful in spring training. So what does their success really say?

Spring training is an indicator, not a predictor. Spring training isn’t the a crystal ball into the post-season, it’s a litmus test to see where you stand. It will highlight what is right and what is wrong. It builds confidence and gets the ball rolling. It is the start of a very long marathon. So I guess in many ways, spring training is like positioning yourself on the starting blocks for a race. A misstep at the first of the race could cost you in the end (2011 Red Sox), but usually you will have time to recover (2011 Cardinals), so use it to get ready the right way, because it’s a long season.

You can follow Brandon on Twitter @Bam_86

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