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Royal We-ekender: Peter O’Brien, Cactus League MVP candidate

Spring training stats don’t matter - or do they?

MLB: Kansas City Royals-Media Day Allan Henry-USA TODAY Sports

Rosenheck’s study showed that peripheral stats like walk and strikeout rate stabilize much quicker in spring training than usual go-to stats like batting average or ERA (this is true in the regular season as well) -- and thus were more predictive of what does happen in the regular season. This was especially true for young players.

  • I tried to look at strikeout rates the last two spring training among just the core players and I did find that they did go up from 16% in 2015 to 18% in 2016. That is not insignificant, but I don’t know if it enough to have foretold the strikeout rate increase they would have in the regular season from 16% to 20%. And the hitters responsible for the strikeout increase last year weren’t that evident in spring training. Lorenzo Cain was the big whiffer last spring, but his regular season strikeout rate was along career averages. Alex Gordon actually had his strikeout rate go down from 2015 spring training to 2016 spring training, but saw his strikeout rate go up in the regular season. So, I’m pretty skeptical of spring training stats. After all, Reymond Fuentes was their Cactus League MVP last year, and he fizzled out pretty quickly.
  • I was thinking about new young players that could impress in camp and a few names came to mind. Peter O’Brien has already hit a home run, and I jokingly tweeted that he was my pick for Cactus League MVP. He seems like a good bet to have a big spring, since he has massive power that will play well in this environment, and he will be playing later in games against AAA-caliber pitchers. Barring injury, he won’t make this club, but he will probably do enough to get some print and some fans calling for him to be on the Opening Day roster.
  • Two other names I think could impress in camp are Corey Toups and Eric Stout. If this was the 2006-era Royals, Toups would have been rushed to the big leagues, but thankfully he has been allowed to develop. He won’t make the Opening Day roster barring some trades or injuries, but if the second base picture is still muddled this summer, Toups could enter into the picture. He can hit for average, draw walks, hit for power, run a bit, and play solid defense at second base.
  • Eric Stout has an outside chance at making the club as a left-handed specialist. He was promoted rather aggressively last year, but his strikeout rates spiked to nearly a whiff-per-inning, and he performed well in last year’s Arizona Fall League. The other lefty bullpen candidates are Matt Strahm (who won’t be a specialist), Mike Minor (who hasn’t pitched in the big leagues since 2014), Travis Wood (if he doesn’t make the rotation), Jonathan Sanchez (the less said, the better), and Scott Alexander.
  • Rob Manfred says Las Vegas is a “viable” market for MLB which is beyond laughable. Vegas may still be a fun place to visit, it has been one of the fastest-growing cities in the country, and they seem dead-set on paying whatever it takes to get professional sports franchises. However, Las Vegas is still a pretty small market - it has about 150,000 fewer TV homes than Cincinnati, the smallest current TV market in baseball. Baseball is also increasingly a regional sport, with regional sports networks being the lifeblood for many franchises. Las Vegas has nothing but desert around it, making it difficult to reap much revenue from such a sports network. The median income is also well below that of other MLB markets, and of course, many of the residents work non-traditional hours, making attendance at evening games a dicey proposition. Sure, there will be reliance on tourists to fill seats, but that would further hurt the home team’s efforts to build a fanbase when half the crowd is there to root against them. Let’s call it what it is - a flimsy ploy for MLB to try to leverage Oakland and Tampa/St. Petersburg into building new stadiums.