The Tigers beat the "Mets" 4-2 today. The Mets, of course, only started one projected regular in Ryan Church and rested the remaining regulars. Jeremy Bonderman struggled. I have yet to hear how his arsenal was today. I'll be worried if his fastball is around 90 and his slider doesn't have the bite it normally does, as was the case last August. The bullpen was spectacular, as Tim Byrdak, Jason Grilli, Zach Miner, Preston Larrison, and Denny Bautista combined for seven scoreless innings. Aside from that, the Tigers strung together a few hits to push four across against Willie Collazo in the seventh inning. That seventh inning, though, shows exactly why Spring statistics are close to meaningless.
The fellas who put together The Book did a great job at really drilling into the readers head how statistics can randomly fluctuate in small sample sizes. They cite the example of a player with a skill of a .330 OBP. They calculated that in 95% of players in 100 plate appearances whose true OBP skill is .330 will be between .236 and .424. For 50 plate appearances, the limits become .197 and .463. Intuitively, we know this. Every opening day there are jokes about how the player who hit a grand slam is on pace for a record 648 RBI's on the year. The case they bring up in the book frequently is that of a coin flip, an event which should be 50/50. If you flip a coin 4 times and land on tails 3 times, it's not a 75% chance that the coin will land tails. What the heck does this have to do with baseball? There is a ton of randomness, especially with balls in play. The one play I heard in the seventh inning that sticks out was Wilkin Ramirez's seeing-eye, groundball, two-RBI single. A lot beyond the skill of Wilkin Ramirez went into those two RBI's, but it is going to show up in the stat sheet as a two-RBI single. When players are only getting a small amount of at bats, lucky breaks like the one that Ramirez got today are weighed heavily and don't get to balance out. Just bear in mind when somebody screams "Sample Size!" it's a legitimate argument, especially in Spring Training. Just don't get me started on the NFL Combine.
The other huge problem with Spring Training statistics is the varied range of opponent strength. There are so many types of pitchers in Spring training. Aces, stud relievers, minor league journeymen, prospects, injured retirees on a comeback, minor league fodder, LOOGY's, ROOGY's, and so on. The Tigers' four run inning came against Willie Collazo, a guy who walked seven without striking anybody out in his time in the Big Leagues last year. The players, such as Brandon Inge and Wilkin Ramirez who batted in the seventh inning had a distinct advantage over players who may have gotten to face Johan Santana, for example. Imagine if Brandon Inge were in competition with Curtis Granderson, and Brandon Inge got to pad his stats against Collazo. It's not quite a fair playing field and needs to be factored in.
That said, it may be wise to stack Inge's at bats against weaker competition this Spring if the goal is to boost his trading value. Batting him against the scrubs and almost exclusively against lefties once the season starts could get his offensive rate stats around his career .277/.347/.459 mark against lefties should make him more attractive to some teams out there. It's only a matter of time before the Dodgers bring in somebody else to block Andy LaRoche.