Covering the Front and Back Pages of the Newspaper
March 29, 2007
BASEBALL: Spring Samples
The Mets' decision to give Mike Pelfrey the fifth starter job is, actually, a rare example of a situation in which the team properly considered spring training performance. Let me explain why.
The problem with relying on spring training performance is threefold. First, the spring is just a month - anybody can have a good or bad month. Small sample sizes don't tell you what you need to know compared to the years-long track records most players bring to camp. Second, the level of competition is uneven - especially in the first half of the spring, a lot of playing time goes to minor leaguers, and the ability to beat them may not be as indicative or as evenly distributed as playing major league competition. And third, pitchers in particular in the spring may not mix their pitches the same way they do in the regular season when they are playing for real money - they may be more apt to experiment with pitches and less apt to use their best pitch sequences.
That said, the Mets' fifth starter competition was a perfect storm for allowing spring results to matter. The Mets had in camp two prospects who they planned to make long-term parts of the rotation, Pelfrey and Phil Humber. Also on hand were three guys with at least intermittent success as big league starters - Chan Ho Park, Aaron Sele and Jorge Sosa - but whose performance in recent years would not justify making them part of any long-range plan in the rotation. The questions were, (1) whether Pelfrey and/or Humber were ready enough to contribute in the short run and not get ruined by being sent in over their heads, and (2) if not, whether any of the others at least had enough gas to give the Mets 10-15 decent starts before the prospects were ready or before a midseason deal could be swung.
In that situation, it makes perfect sense to let the spring tell you what it can: not who is better than who, but who is in a better groove right now. If Park, for example, was throwing the ball really well in the spring, that may tell you nothing about October, but it might suggest he was primed to have a solid April, and if you get one or two good months from a stopgap solution, that's a thing of value in itself.
As it turned out, the competition was lopsided: the three veterans pitched poorly, Humber got clobbered, and the best long-term pitcher of the group, Pelfrey, was lights-out. So maybe the small sample size was just the same as a larger one, this time.
In other Mets news, as I've advocated it before, I'm happy to see the Mets try David Wright in the #2 hole. Even though Lo Duca turned out well batting second last season, at 35 it's unrealistic to expect him to hit .318 again, and he lacks the walks, power, or speed to compensate if he hits .280.