A day from now, spring training games will return. Pitches will be thrown, hits will be had, home runs will fly over the fences. It's a great time of year when the novelty of having baseball games back make us forget that these games are, well, meaningless.
That doesn't mean we can't glean information about the team from spring training games. We just have to be careful about how we do it. That's why I put together a quick Do's and Don'ts list for spring games. As always, feel free to ignore them, as I'm sure most of these will be second-nature to you seasoned TCB readers.
Do Enjoy The Return Of Baseball
As I said above, it's a great time this spring when competitive baseball returns. It's been a long, cold winter without actual games to analyze, so it's always nice to see the hometown nine suit up again. With so many changes this winter on the field, this is also an important step to getting to know players and coaches.
There will be plenty of soul-crushing losses this season, but for now, when there's still some shred of hope for the 2013 season, let's enjoy these games. Baseball's back!
Don't Get Caught Up In Spring Stats
At the same time, it's hard to get too invested in the actual statistics players will be putting up this spring. As clack has shown before on this site, there is little correlation between spring statistics and carryover to the regular season.
Anecdotally, that's true for guys like Jeff Bagwell, who would often have great springs and then slump badly in April before rebounding with a big May. If I remember correctly, Lance Berkman did the same thing a few times.
There are so many different things going on in the spring. Sometimes, a team will throw out some Double-A pitcher who is a ways off from making the majors and teams will feast on him. Other times, a pitcher will be working on one pitch and throw that 80 percent of the time, making it hard to judge his performance. Still other times, a pitcher's repertoire will be limited just to avoid injuries.
While it's nice to enjoy the games and see actual box scores again, remember that tell-tale signs in the spring often lie in how a player looks, not what his stats look like.
Do Watch For Breakout Performances
Can I contradict everything I just said above?
Yes? Okay, well, one of the neat parts of spring is to watch for that player who just goes on a blitz for a month and wins a job on the big league club. While spring stats have little predictive value, they do seem to make the big league club step up and notice young players who are on the fringes of making a roster.
That's sort of what happened for Lucas Harrell last season and it's what got Luke Scott a job on this team years ago. Having a young guy hit .400 in the spring may not mean much for how he'll do in the season, but it's a pleasant surprise and you should keep an eye out for those breakout candidates.
Who might they be? Well, two that I've been talking to death lately are right-hander John Ely and shortstop Jake Elmore. I could also imagine an outfielder like Marc Krauss or Brandon Barnes going crazy this spring and solidifying a spot on the roster.
Don't Be Disappointed If A Promising Rookie Gets Sent Down
Look, as much as we'd all like to see George Springer hit the cover off the ball and lock up a spot in the starting lineup, it's not going to happen. Likewise, it's very unlikely that Jarred Cosart will flat out win a job this spring.
Because there are other things to consider with prospects. I've kind of moved the other way with this team on service time, thinking that with this stripped down payroll, losing a year of cost control on a Cosart might be worth it for the longer term benefits.
However, service time concerns are very real and will likely keep the top-tier prospects from breaking camp with the Astros. Even if they do have great springs.
Do Listen To New Broadcasters Robert Ford and Steve Sparks
Another plus of this spring is that we get to listen to the new radio team for the first time. I've enjoyed following Ford on Twitter so far and am looking forward to hearing him call a game Saturday. As I've talked about a bunch on the site, baseball and the radio go together for me in some primal way.
That's why I'm looking forward to listening to the new guys almost as much as I am hearing about the game itself.
What about you? Do you have any Do's and Don't's for following spring training? Any helpful tips for fans old and new alike? Are you excited for baseball to return?