Predicting Red Sox Breakouts With Spring Statistics

Boston Red Sox left fielder Cody Ross is congratulated by designated hitter David Ortiz at home plate after he hit a 2-run home run in the fifth inning against the Philadelphia Phillies at Bright House Networks Field. Mandatory Credit: Kim Klement-US PRESSWIRE

Trying to analyze spring training statistics generally leads to disappointment. Everyone is just trying to get into a routine, and hundreds of at-bats are given to players who might very well never participate in a game of Major League Baseball that year. There aren't entirely without any meaning, though, according to John Dewan.

Dewan, formerly of STATS, Inc. and currently with Baseball Info Solutions, has stated that a player who slugs 200 points above their career slugging percentage in spring training is likely to improve in the following season. It's not a hard-and-fast rule -- not everyone who accomplishes this goes on to be better -- but it is something that happens. Just on the Red Sox last year, Jacoby Ellsbury and Jarrod Saltalamacchia had huge springs, and both had their most productive seasons ever in the majors. Ellsbury's slugging wasn't quite high enough to qualify for Dewan's Rule, but Saltalamacchia's was.

There's no guarantee that slugging over 200 points higher in the spring than your career average will lead to improvement, but it's something to watch out for. And a few of this year's Red Sox crop have qualified for this attention with their pre-season performances.

Player Team Pos AB AVG OBP SLG OPS Career SLG Difference
Darnell McDonald BOS CF 30 .467 .515 .900 1.415 .400 .500
Nate Spears BOS LF 37 .324 .432 .459 .891 .000 .459
Lars Anderson BOS 1B 35 .343 .425 .543 .968 .200 .343
Cody Ross BOS RF 38 .342 .405 .711 1.115 .456 .255
Pedro Ciriaco BOS SS 35 .429 .444 .657 1.102 .513 .144

McDonald has impressed manager Bobby Valentine this spring, enough so that one wonders if he's going to end up with some extra at-bats in right field behind Cody Ross once Carl Crawford is back. It's hard not to be impressed by the performance he's put on this spring, as he's hitting anything that comes close to him, and hitting it both hard and far.

The Nate Spears difference is a bit misleading, given he has a slugging percentage of zero in the majors. But he's slugged .401 in the minors, including .458 at Triple-A, so it's just good to see the 27-year-old keeping it up. He's possibly the first line of defense at Triple-A for a utility player, should something happen to Nick Punto, assuming Jose Iglesias hasn't worked on what he needs to by then.

Lars Anderson has never done well in the bigs, but he's also had very limited exposure. He's looked much better this spring -- less passive, featuring a better mix of the aggressive patience the Red Sox want their hitters to utilize -- but was optioned to Pawtucket in order to continue to play every day. These numbers also beat out his Triple-A performances, albeit not by as much. As with everyone else, you don't want to take too much from a spring performance, but as a follow-up to a solid second half last year, it's starting to look like maybe there is something left to his chances at a career, as long as he can keep it up.

Pedro Ciriaco has hit in his limited time in the majors, a fact that's funny mostly because his minor league numbers are horrible. He's been a monster this spring, though, and gives the Red Sox another option to backup the infield should something go amiss during the year, although it's likely his glove will be the reason for that.

Cody Ross is likely the most important performance here, in terms of players the Red Sox need to contribute. Fenway South is based off of the real thing for a reason, and Ross's swing is just perfect for both parks. The righty should be able to pepper and clear the wall in left often, as he's already done four times this spring, and he cleared the 200 slugging difference mark with room to spare. If he keeps on hitting during the regular season, it's not hard to see Ryan Sweeney becoming marginalized and used as depth more than anything.

*****

Now, remember: there are studies backing up Dewan's Rule, but it's not guaranteed to be on target with everyone. It's just one way to look at statistics that give little in the way of predictive value, during a time of year when scouting and appearances rule over results. If just one of these players were to have an improved performance, we should all be thrilled. Especially if that one player is Cody Ross. Bat flips for everyone!

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