As regular as clockwork, you can guarantee that this is the time of year when people will over-react to spring training numbers. Whether it's team wins or individual numbers, you can be sure that we will all over analyze and agonize, far beyond what we should. We looked at this three years ago, when we tried to correlate overall team numbers with regular season, and concluded:
Spring training numbers offer a very limited insight into what can be expected from a team's bats, arms or defense. The only area where the 2010 numbers showed any real correlation was in the ground-out/fly-out ratio returned by pitchers - and, let's be honest, that's hardly something on which we hang with baited breath during the regular season. Please bookmark this article, and treat it as the sabermetric equivalent of a brown-paper bag, into which you can breathe when the D-backs suck at [insert aspect of game].
Given the Diamondbacks have a collective 8.66 ERA - dead last in the majors - through the first six games, that's not a bad thing. But as further evidence, let's go back through the previous five years, and see which individual players have shown the biggest gulf between their spring batting average, or ERA for pitchers, and the same number once the games count. That can be seen either in ridiculously good spring numbers (over-achieving) or unsustainably poor ones (under-achieving): we've listed the most extreme of each, and bolded the very worst. The minimum to qualify, are 20 at-bats or 10 innings pitched in spring, along with 100 AB or 20 IP during the regular season.
Over-achiever (hitting): Chris Young - spring .403, regular season .231
Under-achiever (hitting): Willie Bloomquist - spring .169, regular season .302
Over-achiever (pitching): Mike Zagurski - spring 2.61, regular season 5.54
Under-achiever (pitching): Josh Collmenter - spring 9.95, regular season 3.69
Young's stellar start did carry over to the start of the regular season, but then he tried to emulate Michael Madsen in The Natural, and it all went downhill from there. Meanwhile, Zagurski's promising spring ERA was bettered by qualifying Diamondback pitchers only by David Hernandez. Yeah: how did that work out?
Over-achiever (hitting): Ryan Roberts - spring .500, regular season .249
Under-achiever (hitting): Xavier Nady - spring .204, regular season .248
Over-achiever (pitching): Barry Enright - spring 2.65, regular season 7.41
Under-achiever (pitching): Ian Kennedy - spring 4.76, regular season 2.88
That first figure is not a misprint. Tatman went 20-for-40 in spring that year. Meanwhile, Nady went 10-for-49 - but once the regular season started, they posted almost identical averages, Roberts failing to reach even half of his pre-season BA. On the mound, Enright continued his excellent work from the previous year, but that evaporated soon after Opening Day. Hopefully, Wade Miley can avoid a similar fare this year.
Over-achiever (hitting): Mark Reynolds - spring .382, regular season .198
Under-achiever (hitting): Miguel Montero - spring .180, regular season .266
Over-achiever (pitching): Rodrigo Lopez - spring 1.90, regular season 5.00
Under-achiever (pitching): Aaron Heilman - spring 6.75, regular season 4.50
Yes, this may be the first time Aaron Heilman and "under-achiever" have been used in the same sentence. But he wasn't as bad in 2010, as his spring numbers would indicate, though we're talki5ng about the difference between "bad" and "mediocre". Special K came within seven points of repeating Roberts' feat from the previous season, of hitting in the regular season at half the rate seen in the Cactus League.
Over-achiever (hitting): Chad Tracy - spring .386, regular season .237
Under-achiever (hitting): Justin Upton - spring .190, regular season .300
Over-achiever (pitching): Billy Buckner - spring 3.30, regular season 6.40
Under-achiever (pitching): Juan Gutierrez - spring 8.03, regular season 4.06
It was largely that solid spring performance which got Buckner a spot in the Diamondbacks bullpen, but five games in, he had worked four innings and allowed seven earned runs. Seven starts in May and June were little more successful, resulting in a 7.85 ERA there. Meanwhile., Tracy's average was twice that of J-Up. Funnily enough, that didn't last.
Over-achiever (hitting): Chris Burke - spring .395, regular season .194
Under-achiever (hitting): Stephen Drew - spring .206, regular season .291
Over-achiever (pitching): Edgar Gonzalez - spring 1.64, regular season 6.00
Under-achiever (pitching): Brandon Webb - spring 7.90, regular season 3.30
Webb wasn't perhaps the largest improvement in raw ERA, but Micah Owings going from 11.32 to 5.93 was less impressive than Webb going from awful to Cy Young runner-up. Burke's name is still brought up as one of the archetypal examples of why not to believe in spring numbers, even if it's less, in absolute terms, than say, Ryan Roberts in 2010. That's probably because Burke never did anything but suck for the Diamondbacks.
Who'll occupy the spots in 2013? Well, it's still extremely early days, but I feel optimistic that David Hernandez's 18.00 ERA is not going to stick around for the whole year. Then again, I've a suspicious Rod Barajas's .833 BA probably won't either!