Spring Training: Where everyone is ahead and behind and not trying

Chris Sale

killed a man who was supposed to be his friend. // Mandatory Credit: Rick Scuteri-USA TODAY Sports

Recently there was an anecdote about White Sox hitters taking live batting practice off Chris Sale at Spring Training. The reports tried to shield everyone’s feelings, but there were implications that Sale dominated in a fashion that could be considered uncouth.

"Scott Merkin:“Judging by the reaction of Avisail Garcia, Jose Abreu and Gordon Beckham in the box against the White Sox ace, Sale might already be ahead of schedule in 2014 preparation.”"

Perhaps they were uncomfortable, perhaps they were humbled to the degree that they couldn’t totally drive out painful memories of childhood trauma for hours afterward. Either way, one of the typical excuses for poor Spring Training performance was triggered.

"“Of course, pitchers being well ahead of hitters who aren’t officially scheduled to report until Thursday might have factored into some of the perplexed looks attached to Sale offerings.”"

This is logical. Pitchers have been working for longer–and with the exception of Jose Abreu, who might have rolled out of his introductory news conference and just took cuts in the U.S. Cellular batting cages for four months–they should be a step farther into their preparation. If it’s a good enough strategy to win back-to-back Chicago public league tennis championships, then surely it applies to professional athletes.

But despite all the work hitters have to do to re-establish timing, rhythm and balance at the plate, pitching is a complex game of finding the feel. And not only is it a struggle, but once poor pitching results start tumbling in, it’s often revealed that they’re not even trying. The perpetually rehabbing Jake Peavy was always big on announcing that he had just been working on fastball command during a Spring shelling, but Brian MacPherson’s piece about Jackie Bradley Jr.’s helium-inflated Spring Training last year from the Providence Journal really lays it out:

"“Getting outs isn’t often the primary priority for a pitcher making spring-training starts, especially in the early going. The priority instead tends to be working on a particular pitch or on throwing the ball to a particular side of the plate — or even something even more big-picture such as tempo or release point.Scouting the hitters in the opposing lineup, something every pitcher does during the regular season, is a complete afterthought in spring training. Pitchers can walk out to the mound with only a vague idea of who they might be facing.”"

So pitchers are ahead of hitters, until pitchers decide to start working on fundamentals and transform into tomato cans. If they feel the need to sharpen up such basic elements during the Spring, it calls into question how far ahead they ever really were.

And then, once real ball starts, the cold weather is supposed to provide pitchers with another boost.

"Dan Van Dyck from 2009:By now it may seem like a tired-out — and to some, trite — topic, but the winds of optimism were blowing at U.S. Cellular Field on Tuesday.Those winds would be warm and gusty, making it feel like the anticipated start of summer, or so the White Sox can only hope.If this weather doesn’t heat up their icy power play, then the alternative answer to their problems could be scary.Theirs is an offense in need of any bit of brightness, and those who usually scoff at statistics were citing the past.“It gets a little fun when it gets warm,” designated hitter Jim Thome said.And it gets even more fun if you’re playing at the Cell, which historically plays small in the summer."

Hitters were apparently better when the year first started last season…

…so if cold weather is a factor, it wasn’t nearly as pressing as the other issues playing into early season ball. Unless the White Sox stumbling all over all season long threw off the stats of the entire league. These things tend to fluctuate, after all.


This is not to say that these old seasonal adages are nonsense and people who cite them are dumb, but they seem to come from a personal place, and are better off for specific players than being applied broadly, where placing all the stories and statistics into the same place looks like madness.