Peoria’s version of March madness

Peoria Sports ComplexWhen pitchers and catchers from the Seattle Mariners officially report to the Peoria Sports Complex in just a few days, baseball will begin to re-enter the consciousness of many Seattle sports fan for the first time since the start of preseason football.

This annual “re-awakening” of the casual baseball fan from their gridiron hibernation will begin to take hold by the middle of next month. Spring Training is such an exciting time for fans of all teams. After all, everyone has a chance of winning before the regular season begins.

Mixed in with fans catching baseball fever are an unfortunate lot who’re susceptible to a more sinister illness that can be contracted by merely watching Spring Training baseball or reading box scores from the games. The principal symptom of this disorder is placing any level of importance on March statistics.

Steve Sandmeyer briefly touched upon the condition during the Vincent Askew” edition of the weekly podcast that he co-hosts with Prospect Insider founder Jason A. Churchill from Mulleady’s Irish Pub in Seattle. During that episode, Steve opined that he gets irritated when Spring Training statistics come into any conversation on who should or shouldn’t make a club’s roster.

I know that many fans agree with Steve. Perhaps, they’ve built up their immunity after succumbing to this illness in the past or they just know better. Sadly, others will inevitably fall into the trap of putting weight into Spring Training numbers.

It happens every year. A player will unexpectedly take the Cactus or Grapefruit league by storm and those infected with this malady will take to social media or call into a local sports talk radio show to express their optimism about this emerging superstar. Eventually, the regular season will start and it’ll become painfully obvious for this poor soul that Spring Training stats are nothing more than fool’s gold.

After hearing Steve’s comments about the silliness of Spring Training performance evaluations based on numbers alone, I thought it’d be interesting to look at some of the more bright and shiny Peoria performances that didn’t lead to regular season success. Since I’ve lived in the Pacific Northwest since January 2009, I decided to narrow my focus to the seven years that I’ve been observing the Mariners.

To be eligible for consideration, a position player had to play at least 15 games during Spring Training. The position listed next to each player’s name is the position listed on the official MLB statistics for that particular Cactus League season. The only exception was Jesus Montero, who was still a catcher in 2013. I needed a designated hitter for my squad and he was my choice. Without any further ado, here’s my handpicked “Peoria wonder” starting lineup.

   Spring Training   Regular Season
Pos
Name Year
Hr AVG OBP
SLG   HR AVG OBP SLG
1B Justin Smoak 2014 3 .292 ,368 ,523   7 .202 .275 .339
2B Chone Figgins 2011 1 .373 .448 .490   1 .188 .241 .243
SS Munenori Kawasaki 2012 0 .455 .489 .523   0 .192 .257 .202
3B Alex Liddi 2012 1 .370 .453 .587   3 .224 .278 .353
RF Michael Morse 2013 9 .357 .439 .893   13 .215 .270 .381
CF Austin Jackson 2015 0 .333 .359 .467   9 .267 .311 .385
LF Dustin Ackley 2014 2 .382 .408 .603   4 .253 .319 .341
C Mike Zunino 2015 7 .352 .435 .852   11 .174 .230 .300
DH Jesus Montero 2013 2 .400 .438 .711   3 .208 .264 .327

This group should evoke memories – mostly bad – for longtime fans of the Mariners. If served truth serum, I’m sure that more than a few o the team’s faithful would admit that they were excited – or at least encouraged – by the Spring Training performances of at least a few of these players. Austin Jackson and Dustin Ackley were the only players to perform near league-average after Opening Day. The rest of the group had an underwhelming regular season after shining so brightly during the stupendously small sample-size of March baseball.

The players listed above weren’t the only Cactus League studs available for selection. Oh no, there were plenty of Peoria overachievers available for selection. Here are a few more notable examples of great March play that meant nothing once the regular season got underway. I hope that all of these lists won’t cause nightmares or give Seattle fans the urge to drink excessive amounts of alcohol.

   Spring Training   Regular Season
Pos
Name Year
Hr AVG OBP
SLG   HR AVG OBP SLG
 1B   Chris Shelton  2009 3 .460 .534  .720    0 .231  .286  .308
LF  Cole Gillespie 2014  0  .433  .469  .533    1  .254  .312  .324
 3B   Matt Tuiasosopo 2009  2  .424  .453  .644    1  .227  .280  .409
1B  Justin Smoak 2013  5 .407  .455  .797    20  .238  .334  .412
1B  Justin Smoak 2012 0  .378  .479  .486    19  .217  .290 .364
 SS  Yuniesky Betancourt 2009  3 .400  .419  .683    2  .250  .278  .330
2B Josh Wilson 2011 1 .348 .423 .500   2 .224 .258 .353
 2B  Robert Andino 2013  1 .327  .413 .455    0  .184  .253  .237

Ironically, a few of the players listed above did well during several Spring Training seasons only to disappoint during the regular season. Most notably, Ackley, Justin Smoak, and Mike Zunino fall into that category. Smoak was a“Peoria Triple Crown” winner by playing superb desert baseball in three different years.

This Peoria-bred lunacy knows no boundaries and applies to starting pitchers too. Since there are fewer players vying for a limited number of rotation spots each spring, I selected only three Peoria Cy Young award winners for review. This trio looked so great in March, yet they couldn’t keep it going after Opening Day.

   Spring Training   Regular Season
Pitcher
Year GS
IP ERA OPP AVG   GS IP ERA OPP AVG
Erasmo Ramirez  2014  5 23.2  1.14  .212    14 75.1  5.26 .277
 Brandon Maurer  2013  4  24  1.50  .261    14  90  6.30 .311
Chris Jakubauskas  2009  4  22.2 1.99  .215    8  93 5.32 .254

Unlike position players, who play nearly every day in Peoria, starting pitchers get a limited number of opportunities to show their stuff. Normally, the most Spring Training starts a pitcher gets is five. To compound the evaluation process, pitch counts are limited as the hurlers build their arm strength. As you can see from the list above, all three starters pitched very well and logged just over 20 innings.

On the topic of bad performances, those fans enamored by Spring Training metrics will succumb to being anxious about the poor performance of an established player. My advice to those afflicted is don’t worry, everything will be okay. Look at these five Cactus League pitching performances to see what I mean.

   Spring Training   Regular Season
Pitcher
Year GS
IP ERA OPP AVG   GS IP ERA OPP AVG
Felix Hernandez 2013  12.1 4  10.22  .277    31 204.1  3.04  .242
Roenis Elias 2013  14.2 4 6.75  .426    29  163.2  3.85  .248
Doug Fister 2011  23.1 6  5.01 .275    31  216.1  2.83 .237
Felix Hernandez  2014  13.1  4  4.73  .250    34  236.0  2.14  .200
Hisashi Iwakuma  2013  19  5 4.26  .254    33  219.2 2.66  .220

Although Felix Hernandez and Hisashi Iwakuma pitched poorly – statistically speaking – during Cactus League play, they went on to be finalists for the American League Cy Young award; Felix in 2014 and Kuma the year prior. Make sure to point this out to the inflicted if Felix stinks up the Peoria Sports Complex next month. He knows what he’s doing and the odds are good that he’ll be ready for Opening Day.

If you encounter someone suffering from the Peoria strain of March madness, try logic first. Point out that an everyday player will typically get roughly 60 at-bats during Spring Training. That’s slightly more than half of what they normally log during a full month of regular season play. The sample size isn’t large enough to gauge performance. Maybe that will shake some sense into the person.

Another option would be to get the afflicted person to make frequent visits to Prospect Insider and faithfully listen to the Sandmeyer and Churchill podcast. Perhaps, constant exposure to common sense and good baseball judgement will help reverse the illness.

When all else fails, try to be patient with this soon-to-be tormented fan. Reality will likely crash down on their Spring Training dreams by Memorial Day and they’ll need a friend to help prevent a recurrence of their Peoria madness in March 2017.

About the author

Luke is a native New Yorker, who was sent to the Pacific Northwest by the Navy and then decided to stay. He grew up as a New York Mets fan and continues to follow them from afar, although he can be frequently found at Safeco Field observing the hometown team.

You can follow Luke on Twitter @luke_arkins

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