Ryan Braun Has A Point, Spring Training Is Too Long

If your first reaction to reading the title was anything along the lines of “this bozo writer is siding with a proven liar and drug user”, then move along with your day because your closed mind will not appreciate the article. Now that you have been reminded about Braun’s infamous confession to lying about PED use, the fact remains that his recent comments about spring training being too long are valid.

Sure he comes across as a spoiled brat having a temper tantrum in the grocery store when mom says no to buying fruity pebbles, BUT if you get past the tone and listen to the message, he is right.

It is understood that in this day and age, the main point of Spring Training is about team building. Both in the sense of clubhouse camaraderie and building the roster past the core few who have their names written with ink on the lineup card. This year pitchers and catchers reported as early as February 13 while position players reported as early as February 17th. The first full slate of games played on Saturday February 25th.

Many childhood sports heroes (80’s and 90’s) openly reminisce about how they used to use their sports version of exhibition games to get into shape. These stories almost always conclude in how they could never do that in today’s era because nowadays athletes show up to camp already in shape. The exception to the rule last season being Pablo Sandoval and we all saw how that played out.

Something else that has changed dramatically since the 80’s and 90’s is the ability teams have to scout and watch players within their system. Nowadays seemingly every minor league baseball club has some sort of internet stream of their games. The flow of information about up-and-coming players is greater than the waters of Niagara Falls. Gone are the days when the first day of training camp was the first time a manager heard of a player on his own team.

Maybe the first day of training camp is when the manager first meets an acquired player via trade or free agency or the much ballyhooed prospect, but he already knows all about him. Thanks to the expanding world of sabermetrics the manager knows practically every tendency of his new players.

Baseball fans understand that Spring Training stats should be taken about as seriously as the Jerry Springer Show. For example, the Washington Nationals Michael Taylor batted .453 with 5 HR last spring creating much positive hype. Taylor finished 2016 batting .231 with 5 HR. The flip side is represented by Texas Rangers third baseman Adrian Beltre, who finished Spring Training batting .225. Combine that with fact Beltre was coming off a 2015 season that saw his batting average drop to its lowest point as a Ranger and the “is he done” statements were running wildly about then 36 year old. Beltre finished 2016 batting .300!

So then why the attempt at playing thirty (30) games?

We no longer live in a world where players report to camp out of shape. We no longer live in a world where you need to send scouts all over God’s green earth to watch the rookie you sent down. What would be the greatest concerns over shaving a week off of spring training and reducing the number of games to twenty (20)?

The “stretching out” of your starting rotation immediately comes to mind but now more than ever, pitchers are on off-season throwing programs. Would one week less of spring training really wreck the Clayton Kershaws and Chris Sales of the world? When answering that question, remind yourself of pitch limits and the continuing specialization of bullpens. Also ask yourself if you really expect your ace to go nine innings on Opening Day?

As for the batters, it is hard to believe that the Paul Goldschmidts and Ryan Brauns of the world need an enormous amount of at-bats to find their “rhythm”. As a baseball fan you will hear that word “rhythm” a lot because no matter how long or short spring training is, players cannot keep the same rhythm every game throughout the year.

Of course the bigger impact of a shortened spring would be on the rookies and tweeners. This would be a good time to remind everyone it is a 162-game regular season and baptism by fire opportunities always abound during the course of the season. If your team decides to return the hot rookie to the minors and stick with the unexciting veteran, that is not a casualty of a shortened spring but your team simply being timid. You can watch your favourite up-and-comers on MiLB.tv. The results may vary when they get called up to the bigs but that is not a valid argument for an extra week of spring training.



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