Spring training is in full swing, and fantasy owners everywhere will be preparing for their drafts for the upcoming 2013 season.
Preparation is different from owner to owner; some look at projections based on previous seasons, while others just print off the top 300 list from their league website. Whatever approach an owner takes, one shouldn't completely ignore spring training stats.
Many may scoff at the idea of analyzing spring training statistics and, traditionally, a good spring does not indicate a great year (inversely, a bad performance in February and March does not mean that the rest of the year will be lost either).
However, there are a few things that one can take away from spring training performances that have, historically, helped to accurately predicted a player's season performance. Below are just a few things to look for in the next six weeks or so as fantasy owners make the final tweaks to pre-draft rankings and values.John Dewan's Slugging Percentage Indicator
For the past seven seasons, writer John Dewan (founder of STATS, Inc.
, co-founder of Baseball Info Solutions
, author of Stat of the Week
and The Fielding Bible) has used spring training slugging percentages to successfully predict breakout seasons for hitters at a 60 percent rate. That 60 percent may not seem overly accurate, but many other methods of projecting the outcome of a player's overall season performance usually sit closer to 30 percent.
The criteria for finding these players is rather simple. If a player with at least 200 career major league at-bats posts a slugging percentage at least 200 points higher than his career average in 40 or more spring training at-bats, he is poised for a breakout year. A few 2012 hitters who fit this criteria were Melky Cabrera, Chris Young, Billy Butler, and Alex Gordon. Barring the players that ended up injured - or suspended, fantasy owners who went the extra buck or two or reached a draft round early on these players were probably pleasantly surprised with their team's outcome last year.
New Skills or Approach (Good or Bad)
Successfully evaluating players for fantasy purposes doesn't mean just finding the players who will outperform their investment, it also means avoiding players who will under-perform. In spring training, a player's off-season preparation, or lack thereof, gets revealed to everyone. If a player is performing at the good or bad end of this spectrum, it's important to find out why. Did they change their batting stance? Is their pitch selection different? The answers to these questions during a notably good or bad spring training are the key to determining whether there could be a long-term change or it is indeed - "just spring training stats".
There is also the "I'm in the best shape of my life factor." Whether a player has beefed up or slimmed down to reach this peak physical prowess, it always nice to see how it will transfer into performance on the field. Granted spring training games are a small sample size, but you should be able to pick up on things like bat speed, foot speed, and mobility if you are able to catch some game highlights. The biggest story heading into position players reporting was Mike Trout's weight gain, and how it will effect his speed. Well, if you were able to see him reach first base this weekend on a dropped third strike that did not bounce more than 12 feet from the catcher, you know that he is still fast.
Injury and Opportunity
Finally, one of the more absolute things that can be taken away from spring training is a player's opportunities to be on the field. In deeper fantasy leagues like a 15-plus team mixed league or a 10-plus team AL or NL-only league, guaranteed at-bats and playing time are a vital consideration when evaluating players for the later rounds. For instance, selecting an unproven big league player like Cardinals prospect outfielder Oscar Taveras, even in a redraft league, in the reserve rounds of a draft could come in handy, given the aging and often injured starting outfield the St. Louis Cardinals currently have.
In summary, there are several things in spring training that one can study and utilize to evaluate fantasy players. The statistics and trends may not all hold up throughout an entire major league season, but some are more likely to sustain than others and, with careful examination, can be used to win fantasy leagues.