To the old adage that spring training statistics don’t mean anything – well, it’s pretty much true. They can signal great things to come. Last spring, Nolan Arenado hit .542 before turning in an MVP-type season. They also can tease with impish delight. See: Maikel Franco, 2016 spring training home run leader. And then come the times they’re just dead wrong. Before an oblique injury, Matt Carpenter’s OPS was nearly double the .507 he put up in Florida.
Point is, trying to turn a month’s worth of statistics from exhibition games in which the quality of pitching ranges from the best in the world to guys who will be unemployed before March ends is, at best, inexact. So understand, the following is not as much a prediction of Major League Baseball’s 2017 season as it is an accounting of this last month and where some of baseball’s best and brightest slot in.
Getting boldfaced, of course, necessitates a sway in one direction or the other, and …
1. Bryce Harper finds himself on the right side of the ledger after his disappointing 2016 season. It’s crazy to think Harper is still only 24 years old, still full of so much more after hitting .330/.460/.649 in his MVP-winning 2015 season. And yet chasing that with a .243/.373/.441 line was like following a shot of Bailey’s with some lime juice.
Bryce Harper hit .243 with 24 home runs last season. (AP) More
This spring has offered something closer to the 2015 version of Harper. His eight home runs lead baseball, and they came in just 56 at-bats, the sort of ratio that would make Babe Ruth jealous. Know what else would make him jealous? Getting to hit off Sean Gilmartin, Cy Sneed, Stephen Fife, Mike Leake, Reymin Guduan, Zack Wheeler, Seth Lugo and Paul Sewald. Those were the eight pitchers who surrendered Harper’s octet.
Sorry to be all Debbie Downer. It’s just that no one needs a great show of spring power to say that, if healthy, Bryce Harper’s going to be phenomenal. It’s like saying …
2. Mike Trout should win another American League MVP award. Some truths are just obvious.
In Trout’s five major league seasons, he has won the MVP twice and finished second the other three times, the first two of which he deserved to win and the third of which was more or less a coin flip. Perhaps the most amazing part of Trout’s run is his consistency. His batting average always leveled between .287 and .326, his on-base percentage between .377 and .441, his slugging percentage between .550 and .590. He is who he is, even in spring training, where his line this year is a positively Troutian .309/.424/.527.
10 Degrees More
Trout’s kung-fu-grip hold on best-player-in-baseball status isn’t primed to relent anytime soon, not with his prime fully blossoming. Age 25 is a special season. It was Babe Ruth’s finest. Same with Mickey Mantle. Derek Jeter deserved the MVP at 25. Harmon Killebrew never hit better. Vladimir Guerrero, too.
All of which is to say what we know already: Baseball is Mike Trout’s world, and everyone else is subletting. That includes …
3. Greg Bird, he of the spring training-leading 1.582 OPS. It’s easy to forget that coming into the spring, the plan for Bird was a first-base platoon with Tyler Austin. Bird had missed all of last season with a torn labrum in his shoulder. Concerns about his ability to hit left-handed pitching dogged him. A month of crushing mediocre pitching, and all the whispers about Eric Hosmer wearing pinstripes in 2018 seem to have died down.
The Yankees featured the best pitcher this spring as well, with Masahiro Tanaka doing the sort of things New York expected when it guaranteed him $155 million on top of the $20 million it spent on his rights. One earned run across 23 2/3 innings will play. He’ll start the first game of the season Sunday afternoon, as MLB goes to a staggered opening day, with Yankees-Rays at 1 p.m. ET, Giants-Diamondbacks at 4 and Cubs-Cardinals at 8:30, before the remaining 24 teams play Monday. In the meantime, here are that first slate of games’ pitching matchups, worst to best: