Spring training records might really matter

Will things still look up for the Atlanta Braves in 2012 if their spring record declines? (Daniel Shirey/US PRESSWIRE)

Who remembers last season’s World Series champs? The St. Louis Cardinals, of course!

How about the team that lost to the Cardinals in last year’s championship showdown? The Texas Rangers probably quickly come to mind for this answer.

How about the team that had the best record in spring training in 2011? Any takers? What about the team that had the worst 2011 spring training record? No clue, right?

Does spring training really matter as far as “W’s” and “L’s” are concerned? Do fans really care whether or not their favorite team won the Cactus League or Grapefruit League spring training crowns? For that matter, do fans worry if their team is the biggest spring stinker?

They probably should.

I got on this subject because I live in Atlanta, and I heard some sports radio talk about the Atlanta Braves and their stellar 1-10 spring training record. Being a Los Angeles Dodgers fan, I also looked at the spring training standings and realized that my boys in blue were at or near the top of the heap in Arizona thus far during exhibition play.

Should I be giddy with excitement because the Dodgers are winning much more than they are losing this spring? Should my neighbors be crying in their beers because their Braves are sucking grapefruits this spring?

Well, a 10-year look (it didn’t take me 10 years to do it, I just looked at numbers over a 10-year period!) at MLB’s spring training records reveals some interesting trends. You might have heard that “the numbers never lie;” the numbers I discovered should give baseball fans a little more reason to pay attention to spring training standings.

Here are some of the tidbits that I unearthed while looking at spring training records over the past 10 years:

• Out of the past 20 World Series participants since 2002, only six had a spring training record worse than one game under .500.
• Seven of the 10 teams that had the worst overall spring training record went on to finish last or next-to-last in their division that season.
• Only two of the 11 teams (two teams tied one year) with the best overall spring training record had a losing record that season.

So, am I saying from these stats that the Braves are going to finish last in the National League East this season? No. Am I also trying to say that the Dodgers will win the World Series. No, again.

What I am trying to point out, however, is that if I were a Braves fan, I would be a little concerned with my team’s 1-10 record as we are one-third of the way through the 2012 spring training schedule. If the Braves go on to finish with the worst overall record this spring, they are facing 10-year odds that are against them producing a winning season.

I’m prepared for all the “Braves Hater” comments that I’ll probably receive. Both of my sons were born in Atlanta and my wife is a big Braves fan. I pull for the Braves when they aren’t playing my Dodgers.

I’m not trying to hate on the Braves; I’m just trying to make a point that, to some extent, spring training records (at least the best and the worst) can play a part in a team’s regular season success.

When I passed this information along to a friend who’s a die-hard Braves fan, he looked at me like I had three heads. The Braves have suffered injuries, he said; they’ve been playing single-A guys who won’t be on the team come April.

I understand that. Every team, though, has had injuries and has played teenagers who will be nowhere near a major league roster this summer. I just think that if the losing continues like it has, overtaking the Philadelphia Phillies will be a much more difficult challenge for the Braves in 2012.

If the Dodgers continue to win out West this spring, I’m not going to be making World Series reservations for October. However, I will be hopeful that this season will be brighter, thanks to the precedent set by 82 percent of the other teams with the best spring training records since 2002.

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