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Jake Fox has an MLB-high seven homers, but do spring stats really matter?

Mar 18, 2011, 11:50 AM EDT


Yesterday my Twitter feed lit up with Orioles writers marveling at Jake Fox hitting his sixth and seventh homers of the spring, which is good for the MLB lead and suddenly makes his chances of cracking the Opening Day roster a popular topic.

While no doubt impressed by the power display, manager Buck Showalter explained to Dan Connolly of the Baltimore Sun that Fox’s work defensively at catcher is also a huge factor:

I want him to show me what he can do catching. We all know he is capable of doing some good things with the bat. He had a good game behind the plate, a better game behind the plate. That’s really what I was looking at today.

Then, when asked if someone could hit seven spring training homers and still not make the team, Showalter replied simply: “Yes.” That may seem like a harsh assessment, particularly since any standout spring performances will get a certain segment of a team’s fan base clamoring for that player to make the team or take on a much bigger role, but in the big picture spring training performances simply aren’t that predictive.

For instance, last spring eight guys hit at least six homers. Ryan Zimmerman went on to post a career-high OPS and Chris Johnson hit .308 as a rookie, but none of the other six guys turned their big spring into a big regular season. Sean Rodriguez hit .251 and managed only nine homers in 118 games. Mike Napoli had a career-low .784 OPS that was 60 points below his 2009 mark. Justin Upton took a big step backward after a breakout 2009. Aaron Hill hit .205 in a miserable season. John Bowker hit .219. Delwyn Young hit .236.

You get the idea.

Spring training performances get a lot of attention because … well, what else is everyone writing about and watching a team every day going to focus on? However, ultimately whether a 28-year-old hitter like Fox with a lengthy track record on which to judge him performs well or poorly in some small sample of at-bats against pitchers of widely varying quality in games that don’t count for anything just doesn’t mean a whole lot.

None of which is to say Fox isn’t capable of producing when the games count, because despite struggling in the majors he has shown plenty of power in the minors. And certainly Fox hitting seven homers this spring is much better than Fox hitting zero homers this spring, but 50 at-bats shouldn’t dramatically alter the way Showalter and the Orioles view a player with nearly 3,000 at-bats in the majors and minors.

  1. Detroit Michael - Mar 18, 2011 at 12:17 PM

    While I think we typically overemphasize spring training statistics, they might mean something. Besides clobbering home runs in September 2009, Jose Bautista also had an outstanding spring training in 2010. At least one website highlighted it as a possible clue to a breakout:

  2. Panda Claus - Mar 18, 2011 at 12:17 PM

    It makes a difference to him of course since he’s fighting it out for a spot on the roster.

    At this point, on the chance he does make the cut, I’d prefer he save some of those dingers for when they’ll count.

    • randomdigits - Mar 18, 2011 at 1:18 PM

      The fight ended when Tatum strained his oblique. Tatum also has an option left so Fox is on the team Tatum is headed to VA Beach.

      Nice writeup Aaron

  3. sportsdrenched - Mar 18, 2011 at 12:49 PM

    Roster spots is about all spting numbers mean.

    Royals fans are familiar with this issue. After all. Alex “The Dominator” Gordon would be a first ballot HOF if we went by his spring numbers.

  4. sanzarq - Mar 18, 2011 at 1:32 PM

    Blah, blah, blah. Fox has got my vote. He can also play the corner infield spots in addition to catching. He would also probably be OK in RF in a pinch or as an occasional DH. In fact, if Wieters doesn’t do something to establish himself early on in year 3 of his highly hyped MLB career, I saw put Matt on the Bench & let Jake play full time. So there!

    Of course, I don’t think Buck is reading this blog, so my opinion probably amounts to doodly squat.

    I’m also rooting for Randy Winn as the 4th outfielder. Am I dreaming?

    • Panda Claus - Mar 18, 2011 at 3:58 PM

      Yes, yes you are dreaming about Winn.

      Wieters will be fine. Defensively he’s already very good, his game calling seems to be improving. Now when the hitting starts he will be complete.

  5. jwbiii - Mar 18, 2011 at 5:08 PM

    Fox is in a tough spot. As rosters are constructed now, with 6 or 7 man bulllpens, it’s hard to find a role for him. He can play 3B and LF, but he’s a defensive liability anywhere. If you have him as a second catcher, then you have to keep him in the game and downgrade your defense somewhere if you use him as a PH. You can’t take him out after using him as a PH because you’re screwed if Wieters takes a foul tip off his thumb or his cranium.When bullpens were smaller, he could have fit into a role like Lloyd McClendon or Cliff Johnson did. That role really doesn’t exist anymore. Is he a better choice for a fourth outfielder than Nolan Reimold? A better backup corner infielder choice than Brandon Snyder or Josh Bell?

  6. cleareye1 - Mar 18, 2011 at 5:30 PM

    What do you get paid for?

    Have the Dodgers been sold yet?

  7. ryanist - Mar 18, 2011 at 5:39 PM

    didn’t Jason Heyward have 247 spring homers last year? or did it just seem that way?

    • jwbiii - Mar 18, 2011 at 5:48 PM

      You are almost right. Jason Heyward broke 247 windshields in the parking lots beyond outfield bleachers during spring training last year.

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