It’s never easy to see your pitchers’ ERA over six or their WHIP nearing 2.50, but everyone needs to understand that Spring Training stats mean next to nothing – I promise, Milwaukee Brewers fans.
Yes, the Crew’s 5.45 team ERA ranks 25th this spring. No, we can’t pretend a starting pitcher’s 19.08 ERA is encouraging (hi, Matt Garza), or that watching your team’s closer give up six earned runs in five innings makes you feel good (I see you, Jim Henderson), but it’s also illogical to panic.
There are rare occasions where a player’s struggles in March could mean an injury or mechanical issue. Most times, however, the stats accumulated during the exhibition schedule are the result of a myriad of factors that work against pitchers.
First, hurlers rarely throw all their pitches in the early going, and they often focus on one area in each outing. For example, a starter may say, “I’m working on throwing my cutter inside to lefties.” Clearly that puts the pitcher at a disadvantage, throwing the same pitch and not working to a hitter’s scouting report.
Secondly, in Arizona, home of the Brewers’ Cactus League, the climate tends to limit the effects of breaking balls, further negating the tools of certain hurlers. The changeup still plays well, but the ball carries through the air, so any solid contact can mean trouble for the defense.
Finally, we’re talking about extremely small sample sizes, creating monstrosities of statistics when a pitcher gives up a few runs. Judging a pitcher on 10 or 20 innings during the regular season is foolish, let alone in a handful of practice games.
Give up six runs in a pair of Cactus League innings and suddenly you’re ERA is at 27 and fans are questioning your right to play ball. As difficult as it may be, individuals need to take a firm grasp of the realities of pitching in Spring Training, because otherwise, they’ll go crazy.
Let’s take a peek at the 2014 spring stats from the St. Louis Cardinals entering play on Mar. 18 as a reference.
The Cardinals had the worst ERA (6.27) and WHIP (1.59) in all of spring baseball up to that point. We all know their staff is terrific, and yet the struggles existed there as well. Plus, they play in Florida, which is far friendlier for pitchers than the desert. The Redbirds also have allowed the second-highest slugging percentage and OPS in the spring.
Shelby Miller is up to a 6.23 ERA and 1.38 WHIP, having allowed three home runs. Lance Lynn owns a 6.18 ERA. Joe Kelly has an ERA of 7.71 with opponents hitting .325 against him. Seth Maness has posted a 9.39 ERA, 2.22 WHIP and an opponents’ average of .400 thus far.
Again, this is happening in more favorable conditions with one of the best pitching staffs in baseball. It’s spring. Getting hit hard happens.
Even two-time Cy Young award-winner Clayton Kershaw has had problems this spring. Through four starts, Kershaw had a 9.20 ERA and a 1.70 WHIP. He wasn’t inspiring last spring either, posting a 4.18 ERA and 1.36 WHIP, and yet, he won his second Cy Young with a 1.83 ERA and WHIP under one.
Look to other past performances if you need more proof that spring results usually mean little when it comes to the regular season.
Zack Greinke won the 2009 AL Cy Young award after owning a 9.21 ERA, 1.98 WHIP and .367 opponents’ batting average that spring. That same season, the Seattle Mariners’ Felix Hernandez finished second in voting with a 19-5 record and 2.49 ERA in the regular season. In the spring, he had an 8.36 ERA and .417 batting average against.
Chris Sale has a career 4.26 spring ERA. Matt Cain’s exhibition ERA is 5.12. Cole Hamels never had an ERA under 6.00 during spring in his first five years of MLB.
Every season, good, and even great, pitchers put up some ugly numbers when the games don’t count, only to flip the switch when the lights get bright.
The Brewers’ staff is solid, but if you want to feel better about what lies ahead, just look at Yovani Gallardo‘s 2.77 ERA and 1.15 WHIP, Marco Estrada‘s 2.70 ERA and 11 strikeouts in 20 innings, and Will Smith‘s 11 strikeouts to zero walks in 10.1 frames thus far. But again, their past regular season stats are more indicative of future performance.
Either way, there is no need to panic.