Spring training is great. It is fun for the fans that have had to face a brutal winter with only the hope that baseball will restart once again. It is important for veterans to get back in shape and work on fundamentals. It is also a great opportunity for prospects to show off what they are made of, and possibly make the final roster.
It is great to see old faces in new places. We get to see Joe Maddon in a Cubs cap and Pablo Sandoval with the Red Sox for the first time. New teams are formed and we see how well they mesh. George Steinbrenner may have cared about losing spring training games to the rival Mets when he was the owner of the Yankees, but it has long been said that the outcomes of the games are of no particular importance.
I wanted to test this hypothesis that spring training has no effect on the regular season. I charted each team’s winning percentage from 2014 spring training to their regular season percentage. Teams played anywhere between 23 and 30 spring training games so winning percentage is the best measure to use.
From this data, I made a linear correlation and found an R-squared value of .195, meaning there is a weak correlation between team performance in spring training and the regular season. Teams were all over the place in differences between pre-season and the season. The Dodgers had a rough spring but were among the best regular season teams. The Dodgers winning percentage was .212 better in the regular season. After a strong spring, the Rays struggled and its winning percentage dropped by .221. Other teams saw little to no change, with the Tigers winning 55.5 percent of its games in both seasons.
I ran the same test for the 2013 season and found an even lower R-squared value, .0903. In 2012, the value dropped to .0024. With almost no correlation, it is safe to accept the hypothesis that spring training records are irrelevant.
Knowing that spring training performance record does not carry over to the regular season, I wondered if one season affected the next. I compared 2013 winning percentages to that team’s percentage in 2014. The R-square value was computed to be .1426, to give little support to that argument. However, 2012 was a fairly decent predictor of 2013 success, with an R-square of .3335, still not enough to prove a relationship.
As much as we love spring training, it is not indicative of regular season success. As of this writing, the reigning AL champs have the best spring training winning percentage. With more games, the regular season is prime time for percentages to regress to the mean. We should expect the Royals to perform more like a .500 team than an elite squad.