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Good Spring, Hot Start?

Can a really, really good spring jump start a team's regular season?


Last week, we took a look at teams who posted plus .600 winning percentages in Spring Training and what happened to those teams in the subsequent regular season. Turned out that the big spring winners did not end up with successful regular seasons at any significant greater rate than those that did not.

With the Royals sitting at 13-1-1 this morning, it is hard to not revisit this issue in some respect. In this case, what about the really big winners: the teams that posted a .700 spring win percentage or greater? Only six teams have accomplished that feat in the past ten years and just one, last year's Toronto Blue Jays, failed to post a winning record. Four of the remaining five won 88 games or more, with the 2003 Royals' 83 wins being the only team of the five to not reach 88 wins.

Six teams in ten years, in my mind, is hardly enough of a sample to really determine if a big spring (really big - that's today's catchphrase) truly vaults a team into contention type winning, not just 'feel good' winning. It's nice that five out of six had winning records and four posted the following win totals: 88 (12 Tigers), 96 (10 Rays), 97 (09 Angels) and 103 (09 Yankees). The problem, of course, is that you can find eight teams with the same or better win totals that had horrible spring records.

I think a lot of us have a tendency to overestimate the value of momentum in baseball. I certainly have been guilty of this, but it does not keep me from wondering what those previous six really big spring winners did coming out of the gate in their respective regular seasons.

Obviously, the first one is easy.

The 2003 Royals won their first nine games and 16 of their first 19 with Mike MacDougal saving nine of those wins. They gave it all back, however, falling to 27-27 on June 1st and were five games out of first place on June 14th. Kansas City then won 20 of their next 29 games and surged to a 7.5 game lead on July 17th before the gradual (and in hindsight, inevitable) return to reality began. It was fun while it lasted, wasn't it?

Okay, now the 2009 Angels. They won the AL West that season, but the Angels' 26-8 spring did nothing for them to start the year: losing nine of their first fourteen games. Anaheim did not top the .500 mark until May 9th and lingered around there until a seven game winning streak in mid-June. That streak propelled them to a 34-11 run.

The 2009 World Champion Yankees did not leap out of the gate, either. After going 24-10 in the spring, New York was just 9-10 to start the regular season and only 15-17 on May 12th. They won nine straight after that and would have five more winning streaks of six or more games that season.

If you are hoping for another fast start to come along, the 2010 Tampa Bay Rays are here to provide it. After winning 20 of 28 in the spring, the Rays blasted out of the regular season gate. They split their first six games, but then won seven straight and then 12 of their next 16 to be fifteen games over .500 on May 7th. From there, the Rays simply keep steadily winning and eventually were the AL East champs.

Last year's Toronto team won 10 of their first 16 regular season games after a 24-7 spring. The Blue Jays were never able to push any further than five games over .500 the rest of the year, despite being 10-6 on April 23rd. They were 51-49 on July 28th and promptly lost six in a row and 21 of their next 26 games.

The Tigers also enjoyed a plus .700 spring in 2012 and parlayed that into a 9-3 regular season start. After sweeping the Royals, however, Detroit than went 11-21 and eventually fell six games below .500. In fact, the Tigers did not get back over .500 until a sweep of the Royals on July 8th. That sweep was part of an 11-2 run that got them back into the upper tier of the lowly Central (although it should be noted that Detroit was never more than six games back).

So, there's 729 words of no real conclusive evidence.

What we know is that six teams in the past ten years have posted a .700 or better spring winning percentage:

  • Five had winning records
  • Four won 88 or more games
  • Four won their division
  • Four got off to a good start in the regular season, but three of those four, ended up giving back their early advantage during the course of the season
  • Three won 96 or more games
  • Two went to the World Series
  • One won it all
Plan the parade? Maybe not, but surely go ahead and enjoy the ride.