The Numbers Game: Spring Training and opening month correlations for Furcal, Beltran and Holliday


The regular season begins one week from today for the St. Louis Cardinals. They have had a very nice Spring Training so far despite the numerous injuries that have already besieged the club.

Each team begins the spring with many minor leaguers mixed in with the veterans. It takes a good two to three weeks before the lineups become predominately loaded with major league talent. Even then the starting pitchers are only trying to get their work in and won’t stay in a game long enough to qualify for a win until their second to last start on average.

Typically win/loss records don’t amount to much in Spring Training. But do player stats in spring translate into the first month or so of the season? Most people will tell you no; and I’m not setting out to say that there is a distinct correlation. But, I’d like to take a look a few hitters for the Cardinals and compare some of their Spring Training stats with the first month of the season in the same year to see if there is anything we can draw from the numbers.

I selected players who I feel need to get off to a good start for the Cardinals and it just so happens they are the first three hitters in the projected lineup. That alone makes them important to the success of the club. Here is a simple chart, displaying recent seasons the player participated in a full Spring Training and then played a majority of that season’s March/April regular season games, which I will interchangeably call the first month of the season hereafter.

As the team’s leadoff hitter, Rafael Furcal is expected and being paid to be the catalyst for the Cardinals. Furcal’s 2009 Spring Training seems very much in line with his first month of the regular season. But the following season he had a poor spring and left it all behind when the real games started. I did not supply last season for Furcal as he only had 28 plate appearances in the first month. But, the poor performance in the opening month (.192/.250/0/2/1) resembled his Spring Training numbers (.232/.295/0/1/1). So in two of the three years Furcal’s performance was close. For his career he is a .269 hitter with a .342 OBP in regular season’s first month. This spring in 43 plate appearances through Monday’s game he sits at; .195/.233/1/2/0. It could be a slow opening month for Furcal.

Carlos Beltran has large expectations being placed on him in his first season with the Cards. I had to go back to 2008 & 2009 to find seasons where he played a good deal in both spring and the first month of the season. That should tell you something right there, but let’s leave the injury history alone for now and review the numbers. Beltran actually seems to play pretty closely to the same lines in the seasons shown. One good sign is that even when Beltran was not hitting well in the beginning of 2008, he was still getting on base and provided some production. For his career in March/April, Beltran is a .289 hitter with a .384 OBP. This spring in 42 plate appearances he’s produced; .342/.405/1/1/0. The power is missing right now, but if he is going to be hitting in the two-hole (I still say he shouldn’t be) he needs to concentrate on getting on base more than anything else. The home runs will likely come along.

Matt Holliday is now perceived as the player who needs to produce consistently and display the ability to carry the team. He is hitting in the coveted third spot in the lineup so his performance is very important. If either or both Furcal and Beltran are in scoring position, Holliday will be expected to bring them home. Filling the shoes of Albert Pujols is a pressure he has not had to endure. The good news is Holliday seems to have pretty good Spring Training numbers and last season in particular he was excellent from the moment he began playing, even after the appendectomy he had after the first game of the season. In 39 plate appearances this spring, Holliday is mashing. He’s hitting .444/.487/3/10/0. For his career in March/April he’s a .315 hitter with an OBP of .374.

Again, all of this research could have been for naught. Furcal may find his swing and Holliday could slump as soon as the calendar changes. Furcal has had a few rough Spring Trainings in a row now. Maybe he just doesn’t perform well out of the gate. In one of those seasons he had an exceptional first month, so not all is lost due to poor performance in Spring Training. More good news is that Beltran gets on base often, even when he is not hitting the ball well. This bodes well for any slumps that Furcal may endure. If both are clicking then Holliday may have a monster first month of the season.

I wouldn’t put a lot of emphasis on Spring Training stats and the first month of the regular season correlating unless there was a decent sample size. In this case I believe there is enough data to support a theory that at least two of the three players discussed can get the Cardinals on the board in the first inning in plenty of games.

What do you think? Did I waste my time or is there something to the data? Let me know in the comments.

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