Spring training is here. Parched, we finally spot a luscious stream of water ahead, and we are too enthralled at the chance to drink from the well to notice that what is in front of us is only a mirage. When I say "mirage," I refer to spring training performance, results we tend to latch onto as if they were the only lifeline saving us from plummeting into the mouth of the Grand Canyon.
In fact, spring training stats are worth about as much as a Jairo Garcia passport--they are sometimes vaguely related to the truth. Remember the 2005 Cactus League "season"? Here's a trip down memory lane...
Eric Chavez peppered drives to all fields throughout the Cactus League season, posting a .386 batting average and an OPS of 1.111. Chavez went on to open the season looking like he needed either a long white cane or a long session with a good shrink.
Huston Street wowed the coaches so much in spring training that the plan to start him in Sacramento was scratched and he was placed on the big league roster on Opening Day. Street went on to dominate major league hitters as the American League's top rookie.
Juan Cruz was consistently effective in the Cactus League, throwing the ball well and finishing the Cactus League with a solid 3.86 ERA. Cruz went on to be, well, consistent in the regular season.
Justin Duchscherer's curve looked, in the Cactus League, like it was in mid-season form. It looked that way mid-season, too.
Keiichi Yabu was lit up in the Cactus League, and it was widely agreed that his splitter just didn't behave at a high altitude. However, in the summer Yabu was lit up at sea level, and it was widely agreed that he just wasn't very good.
Dan Meyer wobbled through the Cactus League, throwing his 93 MPH fastball at 87-88 MPH, and prompting whispers questioning whether his arm was all right. Meyer went on to admit, eventually, that no, his arm was not all right.
Scott Hatteberg spent spring training "trying some new things," which led to a Cactus League batting average of exactly -.012. Hatty went on to be one of the A's better hitters in April, highlighted by his game-winning hit off of K-Rod. He also went on to be one of the A's worse hitters in September, when he appeared to be "trying some new things" again--but this time, he appeared to be trying "being over the hill".
Dan Johnson showed remarkable patience at the plate in Phoenix, and when he swung the ball jumped off his bat. The story was the same when Johnson finally arrived in Oakland.
All of which is to say: From watching spring training and following the stats, you can always predict how a player will perform in the regular season. And you'll actually be right about half the time.