Diverging springs

What do we make of spring stats? I feel like I ask myself this question every single March, and I still don’t know the answer. That’s because there really is no answer, I don’t think. For some players and trends, they’re indicative. For others, they’re not. The key is figuring out who falls into which category. This spring, we’ve got two interesting studies: Tom Gorzelanny and Andy LaRoche. Both are coming off of terrible 2008 campaigns and both have the talent and ability to get turned around in 2009, though no one I know is certain of a bounceback year for either. LaRoche is off to an awesome start this spring while Gorzelanny is off to a terrible one. Is either one a prediction of what we’re going to see in 2009? Let’s take a closer look.

I’ll start with Gorzelanny, because I think I have a better handle on him. He’s pitched in three games this spring, but only made it through six innings with five walks, three strikeouts, and five earned runs. What really worries me about him right now is that the ugly line he’s put up this spring pretty closely resembles what he was doing poorly last year: a high walk total, a pretty diminished strikeout total, and lots of hits and runs. It would seem to me that if he’s struggling now with the same things that he was then, there’s a good chance that his struggles are going to continue in to 2009.

But wait! There is a caveat with Gorzelanny. Remember 2007? Gorzo was one of the Pirates’ better prospects that spring, but he struggled badly in camp and had lots of people clamoring for a longer look at Sean Burnett for a rotation spot that year. His numbers that spring look a lot like they do this spring; 15 strikeouts, 14 walks, 20 hits, and 21 earned runs in 20 innings spaced out over six appearances. He bounced back from that with his breakout 2007 campaign. So yes, Gorzo is having and ugly spring and yes, his spring is ugly in the same way that his 2008 was ugly, but there is some history of him having bad spring trainings and it not affecting his regular season performance. I’m not getting my hopes up for 2009 though, because everything seems to be trending the wrong way for Gorzo right now.

So what about Andy LaRoche? Right now he’s sitting on a 10-for-18 hot streak that’s lasted him the entire spring and when you look at that along with his four walks, it seems like he’s got an idea of what he’s doing at the plate again. That’s good news for sure, because at the end of the 2008 season it seemed like LaRoche would’ve been overmatched if I were on the mound and I haven’t done any significant pitching in almost six years. Still, there are some red flags. Nine of his 10 hits are singles and of course, spring training pitchers can skew towards fastballs, trying to iron their control out and stretch their arms. That leaves less guesswork for the hitters and one of LaRoche’s biggest problems last year seemed to be that he had no idea what was coming out of the pitcher’s hand at any given point in time. Even knowing that, I think this sort of performance has to be a good sign for him. Getting off on the right foot in the spring is an important step for a guy that struggled the way he did last year and while it might not ensure anything once the season starts, it’s at least a mental boost for a guy that probably needs it.

Of course, that’s the thing with spring training stats; in the end there’s so many variables that all we can do is try to use them to make an educated guess. Which is why I’m worried about Gorzelanny right now, but not completely hopeless and I’m happy that LaRoche is hitting, but I’m not penciling him in for an All-Star team yet.

Pat Lackey

About Pat Lackey

In 2005, I started a WHYGAVS instead of working on organic chemistry homework. Many years later, I've written about baseball and the Pirates for a number of sites all across the internet, but WHYGAVS is still my home. I still haven't finished that O-Chem homework, though.