Spring training stats don’t matter, they say. This time of year is just to get players into game shape and ready for the regular season, they say. Players are working on so many different things it’s impossible to take the results seriously, they say. We all hear those things on a damn-near everyday basis this time of year, and for good reason. It’s not that spring training stats are completely meaningless, it’s just that most of us aren’t smart enough to separate the useless from the useful. Do we always take all of this to heart? Absolutely not. Sometimes it’s just too hard to ignore what you’re watching in March. It’s the only baseball we can watch right now, and it’s only human nature to get excited about it.
Enter: Mookie Betts.
The Mookie Betts hype train was going off the rails before the spring even began. After his rapid ascension through the farm system and subsequent major-league performance last year, everyone is ready to see what 2015 holds for him. All we have so far is spring training, but he’s certainly not letting us down. In 34 plate appearances he has hit .471/.471/.853. That’s not too shabby. The main argument against performances like this, of course, is that the competition is so watered down with prospects, quad-A depth pieces and non-roster invitees. Baseball-reference has a metric to measure opponent’s quality based upon where guys played last season. Betts’ is an 8.6, which means he’s faced, on average, something between a AAA pitcher and MLB pitcher. I thought I’d dive a little deeper.
First, I dug through the spring training game logs to find out exactly who he’s faced this spring. His 34 plate appearances have come against 25 different pitchers. Of those 25 pitchers, 16 of them are projected (by Roster Resource) to begin the year on an Opening Day roster. Of those 16, ten are projected to be in the rotation. Obviously, these starters are of different qualities, ranging from Jerome Williams all the way up to Matt Harvey, but it was still a bit better than I expected. Additionally, he’s faced one top prospect (Noah Syndergaard) and two stud relievers (Andrew Miller and Brian Matusz).
Now that we know just who Betts has faced this spring, let’s take a look at who he’s been able to hit against. In those 34 plate appearances, he’s managed to rack up 16 hits. Ten of those 16 hits have come against projected MLBers, including eight off MLB starters. He also had a hit off Syndergaard, who may not qualify as an MLBer but has similar, if not better, stuff. Betts has also had nine extra-base hits this spring. Seven of those have come off major-league pitchers, plus another off Syndergaard. In total, he’s hit an impressive 10-22 off major-league arms with a .454/.454/.863 batting line.
If you’re interested in a deeper look for yourself, here is a spreadsheet with every plate appearance from Betts this spring.
So, what do we learn here? Not that much! Even when legitimate major-league arms are on the mound, they’re often working on one specific aspect of their game. It’s hard to take those results seriously. With that being said, Betts has faced much better competition than I expected, and has fared extremely well as the competition has gotten tougher. Does this mean I’m calling for a Betts MVP season? Of course not. But it means if/when you hear someone say "don’t pay attention to Betts' spring training because he hasn't faced real competition", you can tell them to shut it. And who doesn’t love that?