The performance of Jake Fox last year in spring training should remind us to never get caught up too much in spring training statistics. Yet, it’s all we will have to go on until opening day and we can’t say that spring stats don’t matter at all.
But when Fox hit 10 spring training homers last year to lead all big leaguers it led some to jump to the conclusion that he might hit 30 for the Orioles and some even said he should start at catcher ahead of Matt Wieters who was coming off a season where he had hit .249.
Buck Showalter kept hinting that Fox was coming up short on defense and was a not a lock for the opening day roster. Some fans didn’t understand that or didn’t want to hear that talk.
They saw a player with a slugging percentage of .797 and OPS of 1.122. We now know that Fox made the opening day roster, was designated for assignment on June 1, cleared waivers and went back to the minors. He later returned to the Orioles but left via minor league free agency over the winter to sign with Pittsburgh.
Despite the fact that Fox has 20 homers and 73 RBIs in 489 career major league at-bats, several organizations have now cut him loose and none has yet given him a chance to play every day. Maybe his time can still come, but it didn’t happen for him with the Orioles.
Watching Wieters go on to an All-Star Game and to win a Gold Glove last year, no one can debate that he was the best person to catch for the Orioles last season.
Looking back, maybe the O’s better play in 2011 would have been to let Fox serve as designated hitter and finally see what he could do with 500 at-bats, but Vlad Guerrero got that job and we know the rest of the story.
Meanwhile, J.J. Hardy hit just two spring training homers last March, then went on to mash 30 in 129 games during the regular season. But unlike Fox, Hardy already had his job as the every day shortstop and no one was focusing much on his spring stats.
In a sport where every possible stat is kept, we still don’t have a way to completely gauge spring training stats. Did most of those homers come off fastballs? Did most come off pitchers late in the game that had no chance to make someone’s roster?
The coaches, who have to make some tough roster decisions later in camp, at least have drills, batting practice and workouts to also watch the players and determine who should make the roster and who should not.
The rest of us are left with the spring training stats which never tell the whole story.