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Astros spring training: Spring stats and the fifth starter race

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Why Asher Wojciechowski won't make the rotation just based on his spring performance.

Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

It's a mantra to be used as a shield at this time of year.

Spring stats don't matter.

Spring stats don't matter.

Fear is the mind-killer.

Spring stats don't matter.

Why do we need this simple phrase? To combat the likes of Asher Wojciechowski.

You no doubt have seen Wojo's performance this spring. He's at nine scoreless innings and counting. He's tied for third on the team in strikeouts and he's allowed nine baserunners in those nine innings.

With no clear-cut fifth starter candidate, why shouldn't he be in the mix? Isn't he showing this spring that he belongs?

There's a trap that's all too easy for sports fans to spring. Spring stats lead to recency bias. Someone is performing well, so they must deserve a spot. Combating that takes the long view. It combines the scouting side tied in with the career numbers.

Nine innings just isn't enough time to say that Wojo has turned a corner.

It's the same trap we could have fallen into with Collin McHugh. That first start was brilliant. He shut down Seattle, striking out 12 while walking no one. Two starts later, he got blasted by those same Mariners.

Given his small, three-start sample size, was there any evidence that McHugh deserved a spot in the rotation? Outside of that 12-K performance, he had 11 whiffs in 13 innings.

Last spring, by the way, McHugh was awful. He gave up 12 hits and nine runs in 5 2/3 innings while striking out five and walking two. Heck, even in his five appearances in Oklahoma City, he didn't flash anything spectacular, striking out 13 in 19 innings while giving up 15 hits and eight runs.

It's hard to see the forest for the trees, especially in the spring. That's all I'm saying.

Now, the Astros may still be able to hedge their bets with the rotation. If Brett Oberholtzer's lat injury sets him back any significant length of time, he could very well open the season on the disabled list. With him and Brad Peacock both on the DL, Houston would have two rotation spots and one long relief spot to fill with Dan Straily, Wojo and Fausto Carmona/Roberto Hernandez or Samuel Deduno.

They could open the season easily with Straily, Wojo and Deduno without having to make a 40-man roster move. That way, they could let the three sort out performances with another two weeks worth of starts and long relief appearances before having to make decisions on Obie and Peacock.

Two more weeks won't make things any clearer in the sample size department, but they could give the coaching staff and front office that much more time to refine their evaluations.

They already know some info on those players. They probably have extensive scouting files on them. All the data this spring just enhances that. It doesn't change it dramatically.

Which is to say that spring stats don't matter. If Wojo makes the team, it will be because of the three years he's put in with the Astros farm system. It'll be because of his work ethic when he's been around the big league team. It'll be because of that 91 mph fastball and his secondary offerings.

It won't be due to his nine and counting scoreless spring innings.

Think of those as a symptom, not the cause.

Spring stats DO matter. There's plenty of evidence that some of them are even predictive. But, they shouldn't determine whether a guy makes a roster or not.