Spring training team stats do tell us something

Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports

I have noticed that there seem to be two contradictory themes when people discuss spring training results. First, the statistics and team records mean nothing. Second, the individual performances do tell us something. I know the second is usually with a lot of caveats, but "he had a bad spring", "he is having a great spring" are things you see in the commentary a lot. The managers of these teams know about small sample sizes, quality of the opponent, etc, but spring training does appear to be an assessment of a player's skills. It seems to follow that if you have a team with a lot of really good performances going on vs. one with a lot of really bad performances that might tell you something about how the team will do in the regular season. It does, but only a little.

I also noticed that this Padres team is having a very bad spring. There are definitely some interesting things stories to tell, and they are probably kicking the tires of more long shot players than most teams given we are in the midst of rebuilding and trying to build a team for some intermediate term time frame, so this year's team performance is not that important vs. the development of key players. That all written, the results from this spring are not too good.

To make things simple, I am looking at net OPS. OPS we hit as team less OPS allowed by our pitching. I am sure there are many flaws to this but I like it because it is a simple way of tracking total team performance. And net OPS correlates very strongly with team records and other important outcomes, so I like it.

Anyway, this year the team has the worst metrics since 2007 (as far back as I went):


Again, the plan is not to compete this year, so even if this was strongly predictive, no big deal. Actually having a really bad year with the accompanying elevated draft pick would be a good thing. Not fun to watch, but a good thing for the outer years.

So for some context, here are the prior net OPS for the last 10 years of spring training team statistics:


Our net OPS for the spring is at -.120 right now, putting us pretty far to the right of the above chart. For some context, that is -1.94 standard deviations below the mean of this data set. Interestingly, ATL has a much, much worse net OPS for this spring (-.157 which would be the third worst in the above data set).

So for the ten years of data I downloaded, here is the relationship between spring net OPS and regular season net OPS:


So there is some correlation but not too much. But when looking at this chart, the tails got me most interested. Does doing really well (or really poorly) in spring training, tell us much about the regular season. To get some insight on this, I looked at the teams that had bad and good spring training seasons and then looked at how their regular season net OPS looked. I took three cases: +/- .050, and +/- .075 and +/- .100. Below is a summary of percentage of regular seasons had a net OPS of .000 (batting = pitching) or better. So roughly a .500 team or better.


As you can see, the teams that did really well in spring training tended to have at least a decent regular season much more often than teams that had really bad spring training stats. The more extreme the split, the more bigger the gap.

The impact on San Diego is modest: they have a pretty high likelihood of having a negative net OPS season, something that would not be a shock to anyone. But the broader implications are interesting. There are two teams currently with atrocious net OPS through spring that are supposedly contenders: HOU (-.112) and TEX (-.120). Now, they may be fine and their stats reflect playing their sub-par players trying to sort out the back end of their rosters or just unrepresentative sampling , but the odds for them having good seasons seemed stacked against them.

Here are the outcome distributions for the three groups:




All teams thrown in for context:


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