Three KC Royals were playing well when spring training came to a halt. Now, shifts in momentum could jeopardize their chances to make the club when baseball returns.
For three KC Royals with much at stake, the suspension of baseball came when momentum was with them. Former Royal closer Greg Holland was vying to re-establish his career where it started and peaked, Ryan O’Hearn was battling to retain his starting first base job and Bubba Starling was just fighting to stay in The Show. Good spring training performances helped, but they’ll need to maintain their good Cactus League momentum.
Momentum, however, is a fickle thing, a volatile sports force capable of creating or destroying hot streaks and bringing even the best athletes to their knees. A shift in their personal “Big Mo” when baseball returns may spell trouble for Holland, O’Hearn and Starling.
And for better or worse, spring training breeds momentum shifts. It’s a period of experimentation and preparation when veteran pitchers tinker with mechanics and new pitches; hitters work to recapture and refine timing while so often facing young, unproven hurlers who know more about throwing than pitching. Spring training skews statistics–weak or inconsistent hitters thrive on the many minor league pitchers they confront and experienced pitchers dominate batters searching for their timing.
Simply put, spring training-generated momentum inflates statistics beyond regular season norms and the regular season exposes the false promises of those spring camp numbers. Compare, for example, the stellar 2019 spring stats of O’Hearn and Starling with their subsequent regular season numbers.
O’Hearn had a homer with 14 RBIs and hit .320 in 50 at-bats, then plummeted to .195 (70 OPS+) and 14 homers and 38 RBIs for the season; Starling hit two spring homers with six RBIs and hit .344 with a 1.057 OPS+, then nose-dived to .215 with a 50 OPS+ in 56 games.
Should further proof of spring training momentum gone bad be required, consider the depressing case of Chris Owings, who tore up 2019 Cactus League pitching with four home runs, 13 RBIs, a .333 average and 1.129 OPS+ in 51 at-bats; when the real season came, his .133 in 40 games triggered his release and he then hit .156 in 26 games for Boston.
Such negative momentum swings will only hurt Holland, O’Hearn and Starling.