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Wednesday, March 24, 2010
MLB: Springing into the Regular Season
by Carlton Chin and Don LaFronz
Spring training is in full swing and your team is red hot. Or maybe your team is stinking. But who cares? It's "just" spring training, right? Do wins and losses during spring training mean anything at all? We took a look at how spring training can potentially be an indication of how teams might perform during the regular season.
Data shows that spring training can be a leading indicator for regular season performance. In fact, some big surprises are sometimes predicted by spring training performance. If you are looking for undervalued and overvalued teams -- spring training can give you this edge, especially early in the season.
Spring Training Correlation to Regular Season
Lots of players are trying new things out. Split squads often represent teams, so can the games be meaningful? Players are just loosening up. Established teams have nothing to prove while less-proven teams are looking forward to the freshness and hope of a new spring. We actually expected little or no correlation between spring training and regular season records.
We took a look at results over the past seven years, or data from 2003-2009, and found that spring training records are somewhat correlated to the regular season. The actual statistical correlation is 0.21, but because this correlation statistic means little to most people, we tried to come up with meaningful ways to present the results.
Using the best and worst five teams in spring training going back to 2003, we looked at how these specific sets of teams performed. Teams that played well in spring training were three times as likely to make the playoffs as teams that played poorly (37.1% versus 11.4%). We also show the average winning percentage during the regular season for the best and worst-performing spring training teams.
Regular Season Performance of Best and Worst Spring Training Teams (2003-2009)
Average Regular Season Winning %
Top Five Teams in Spring Training
Worst Five Teams in Spring Training
Additional Notes on Results
The results have been even more striking over the past three season, with the top five spring training teams playing .545 ball, with 47% of these teams making the playoffs.
Spring training results can also flag some potential surprises such as Tampa Bay's 2008 season, where they played .599 ball to make the playoffs following a .407 regular season in 2007. Tampa Bay had a 2008 spring training winning percentage of .731!
If your team struggles during spring training, don't worry: even the worst teams made the playoffs at an 11.4% rate.
Spring training is not as meaningless as some fans think. Teams can use spring training as a springboard into the regular season. Teams may get into the habit of winning or losing. They might gain confidence - or lose confidence - as the season is set to start.