Baseball research and analysis is always adjusting to try to clarify player performance and value. During spring training, it’s always a bit of a moving target. The structure of spring training games makes it difficult to tell which stats are real and which are the product of lesser competition.
A team might play its projected starters for four or five innings at this stage and then as other players sub in, they’ll be facing non-roster invitees or minor leaguers. To rectify this issue, managers can alternate starters when there’s a camp battle in hopes to give all players fighting for a spot a chance to show up against the early, likely tougher, competition. This assumes that the manager worries about spring training stats at all (most shouldn’t but I bet some can’t escape them more often than would be optimal). If there’s a way to put a player’s stats into context of their opposition’s competition, it would help clear up the picture at least.
Baseball-Reference has such a tool now. It’s called the Quality of Opposition Measure. Basically it takes a look at who a player faced in a spring matchup and ranks them from 1-10. The closer the measurement is to 10, the tougher the competition.
With that in mind, there are three camp battles of intrigue: #5 starter, second base, and backup catcher. The Royals have only played 10 games this spring, so there’s nothing conclusive about spring stats, but just for the fun of it, I wanted to take an early look at these matchups to test drive the new B-R gadget.
September 26, 2012; Detroit, MI, USA; Kansas City Royals starting pitcher Luis Mendoza (39) pitches during the first inning against the Detroit Tigers at Comerica Park. Mandatory Credit: Rick Osentoski-USA TODAY Sports
Hochevar and Chen will pitch on Tuesday (piggybacking as they did their first time out) so they’ll get a chance to increase their sample size. Chen will hope to build on his first appearance, while Hochevar is looking to settle his command. Hochevar’s faced tougher competition, but Chen came in in the fourth inning of that game.
Tomorrow, it’s supposed to be the other way around with Chen starting and Hochevar coming in after to start an inning.
Mendoza has thrown more but has faced more minor league players. He’s pitching for Team Mexico in the World Baseball Classic.
Feb 21, 2013; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals catcher George Kottaras (26) poses for a picture during photo day at the Royals Spring Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
Both Kottaras and Hayes have played primarily after Salvador Perez has left the game. With the WBC approaching, the Royals made sure he got his at bats and he leads the team going into Tuesday with 21. While he’s with Team Venezuela, though, both Kottaras and Hayes should get more time against tougher competition.
These two are fairly evenly matched. They’ve both reached base six times (Kottaras got hit by a pitch) and the difference is left up to Hayes’s homer. I’ve omitted Adam Moore and Manuel Pina since neither are on the 40 man roster and I just don’t see the Royals pushing a player off for either of their sakes. Moore does have two homers, though.
Feb 21, 2013; Surprise, AZ, USA; Kansas City Royals second baseman Chris Getz (17) poses for a picture during photo day at the Royals Spring Training Facility. Mandatory Credit: Jake Roth-USA TODAY Sports
It’s amusing that this battle – which started LAST spring, really – is basically the same line until that homer comes up in Getz’s column. Seven games each. Fifteen plate appearances each. Four hits. Fourteen at bats. Then Getz gets three extra bases with a homer rather than a single as one of his hits.
The Royals have tried to alternate these two so one will start then the other comes in later. I suspect that’ll be the case until the end of spring training because Getz is the favorite of the Royals organization and (through ten Royals games) Giavotella is hitting better than last spring and his defense is reportedly better. If you’re a regular reader of mine, you know I prefer Giavotella, so I’ll point out that Getz was awarded a base hit on a dropped pop up that resulted in an RBI. With this small of a sample, that makes a big difference.
By the end of spring, though? Probably not that big of a deal. If Giavotella shows more power but can still get the bat on the ball and get on base, he’ll make it a tough decision. He’s faced more minor leaguers so far and he’s proven at Triple A that he can hit minor leaguers, so it’ll be interesting to track how his Opposition Measure increases with more starts (and his corresponding performance).
As camp progresses, and especially once teams regain players from WBC rosters, the OppQual should increase as players get shifted to minor league fields and leave big leaguers or high minors guys who will make a big league roster in 2013 left behind.
This new metric is based on last year’s level, so that can also add some noise to the measurement. It’s likely that, say, a Trevor Rosenthal or Shelby Miller ends up in the Cardinals rotation in 2013, but they both spent more time in Triple A last year than the majors (a combined seven innings until the playoffs). This metric will measure them as an 8 rather than a 10 (which they’d end up at next year in the metric’s formula). So much like spring training stats, the OppQual can tell you how a player is performing (and against who) in spring training to an extent, but it’s still not a perfect system. It’s a nice start, though and at least helps put a number out there for comparison’s sake.
What do you think? Useful tool, or more muddying of the waters?