It's been one week now since the Red Sox opened their preseason schedule against Boston College and Northeastern, and already we've seen some spring training stars start to emerge. Xander Bogaerts has already jacked a pair of huge home runs, Dustin Pedroia has made all of one out, and Brock Holt has reached base seven times in ten attempts, swiping three bags in the process.
Obviously, this is very early on, and there aren't many out there desperate enough for storylines to try to make any out of these performances just yet. But whether it comes after 10 at bats, 20, or 30, invariably the hype machine will start chugging surrounding one player or another, with a dazzling spring performance leading fans to get excited for a big year from players X, Y, and Z.
Now, this is just a suggestion, but maybe don't buy into it. At all. This happens every year without fail and, well, let's just say the results haven't been very encouraging. Let's take a look back at the last few years and see how rarely momentum from spring carries into summer.
2014: Will Middlebrooks
Everyone remembers 2014 as the Spring of Sizemore, with the hype surrounding the possibility of a healthy Grady Sizemore sweeping a city with few shiny new toys to focus on. We all know how that turned out, but really Sizemore was just decent in spring (.786 OPS), while Will Middlebrooks was on fire. The third baseman hit .353/.389/.667 in 51 at bats with four home runs, the only player to exceed a .900 OPS on the team with even half that many at bats. He proceeded to hit .191/.256/.265 in Summer, and is now a San Diego Padre.
2013: Jackie Bradley Jr.
Who among us does not remember the ridiculous tear Jackie Bradley Jr. went on two years ago? He hit over .400 in 62 at bats, earning a spot on the Opening Day roster in part thanks to the early-season absence of David Ortiz. The debates about service time and the dangerous possibility that the Red Sox could lose a full year of Bradley if he played too well to be demoted somehow manage to look even sillier in hindsight.
While Bradley started off the regular season well enough, drawing three walks on Opening Day, it did not take long for major league pitchers to find the hole in his swing, sending him back to the minors after six straight games without a hit. He has still yet to prove capable of adjusting, and while the Red Sox have not completely given up on that possibility, the window in which that's really at all believable is closing fast.
2012: Just about everyone (Cody Ross, Darnell McDonald, Pedro Ciriaco, etc.)
The 2012 Red Sox crushed opposing pitchers in 2012. It's a frankly ridiculous collection of performances. Let's go down the line by OPS:
Finally we have an actual summer success in Cody Ross, who exceeded expectations during the regular season. And if we call his .267/.326/.481 performance a success, the same must be said for Adrian Gonzalez' .300/.343/.469, however disappointing it was all things considered.
Ranking the 'ace' potential in the Sox' rotation
The Red Sox are probably going into the season with their current rotation, so which pitcher has the best chance to fill their "ace" void.
The rest, though, didn't produce a single average season between them. Pedro Ciriaco was closest with a 90 OPS+, while Ryan Lavarnway was hilariously bad, hitting .157/.211/.248 in 166 plate appearances. Lars barely even played. All told, still not a good showing for spring training stars.
It's going way too far to suggest that a positive spring should be seen as a bad sign for things to come, but we do seem to see a lot of players going from good beginnings to bad endings. This could in part be because the players who have the most incentive to perform any given spring will be those who have the most to prove. David Ortiz has long-since punched his Opening Day ticket, and taking it easy in March frankly only seems to make him better from April onward, so why bother? Instead, it's the guys halfway between Triple-A and the majors, or those barely hanging on after poor performances in years past who need to show they're worth keeping around.
So don't despair just because Xander Bogaerts is going crazy at the plate. But don't get too excited either. Spring training is in many ways the month-long batting practice session leading up to Opening Day, and if it's always nice to hear about one player or another demolishing BP (what else are beat writers going to tweet about that long before game time), it's not the sort of thing teams use to make roster decisions.
Spring training: enjoy responsibly