Exactly one week from today the Baltimore Orioles will take the field in a game for the first time in 2013, against the Minnesota Twins at Ed Smith Stadium. The team that takes the field in that game will be much different from that which will take the field on April 2nd against Tampa on Opening Day, however at the very least it’s a game against another team with umpires, and some sort of strategy so to speak. The rule of thumb is that pitchers are usually a bit ahead of hitters, at least through the beginning of spring training. However as we progress through Grapefruit League play, is perfecting pitching or hitting more important?
I’ll give you my answer right here; you’re welcome to disagree if you’d like. I would submit that hitting is more important in spring training. I wouldn’t even say that it’s close; I’d argue that hitting is light years more important. Many pitchers take a brief respite after the culmination of the regular season or playoffs, and then start working out again and preparing for the next season in late November. Pitching is something that can be simulated and perfected anywhere that has a space of 60 ft 6 in. Granted you need the time in spring training to form rapport with a catcher and so forth, but you can work on velocity and location fairly easily all off season. Hitters can’t really simulate their craft in any other place besides a game, which puts them at a disadvantage.
Last year I felt like in the first part of spring training a lot of people were complaining about things such as strikeouts, foul outs, and speed, all among other things. A typical stat line for a hitter in an early spring training game is two at-bats, with the first ending in a swinging third strike (probably a case of the pitcher throwing a changeup and the batter getting way out in front of it – after fouling a couple back that is), and perhaps a weak base hit in the second at-bat. When the likes of Adam Jones or Nolan Reimld has a day like that in the coming weeks people will be leaving a lot of negative comments on the column. Heaven forbid it happens to Nate McLouth; how quickly a poor stat line in an exhibition game will make people forget about what he did for the franchise in August, September, and October last season! But don’t fret, there’s a silver lining to this story…
…this is fairly normal. As I said, pitchers are always a little bit ahead of hitters. It’ll take two weeks or so for guys to get their timing up to par. Draw a parrallel with NFL preseason for just a moment; whenever people say they shouldn’t play the preseason games or that four are too many, my argument is that if you want to see bad football for the first month of the regular season, be my guest and shorten the preseason. Some of these games will be painful to watch at times, and that’s almost the intention. Certainly guys aren’t going to go into games with the intention of striking out or failing, however it takes some time before they get back into a groove and back to where they were last season.
Spring training used to be something to which people had to travel in order to see. Granted that’s still true, however there’s now much more media coverage than in the past. MASN is broadcasting six games for the O’s this year, ESPN will broadcast another, and WBAL radio will have play-by-play of 16 games. That’s a great amount of access for fans at home, however they’re also in for some bad baseball. That aside, the first couple weeks of spring training is imperative for hitters to get their timing down right so that everything’s percolating properly come April. This is not to say that pitchers are totally in the clear and don’t need to get their work in, because that’s not true. However don’t be surprised if you see guys looking lost at the plate once the games start. But also understand that it will get better as we go through spring training…it should at least.
Jurrjens note: The Orioles agreed to a one-year minor league contract (with a spring training invite) with RHP Jair Jurrjens late last night. The club previously had a $1.5 million contract in place, however evidently there was something in the physical that raised a red flag. This gives the Orioles much more financial flexibility if Jurrjens re-injures himself, and another hidden benefit is that they don’t have to clear a roster spot for him at the moment. Obviously if he makes the team out of spring training that will be a different story, but we’re a long ways from that potential development.