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Do Spring Training Records Matter?

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There has been a lot of talk lately about the Mets' lackluster play this spring and how it might correlate to their performance once the regular season rolls around in a couple of weeks, and I think the general consensus among most folks is that a team's record in during spring training is borderline meaningless and that the games are really just tune-ups for the real action that is to come. In a general sense, I think this is fairly intuitive; a lot of these games, especially those played early in camp, feature just a couple of innings from the starting pitcher, and maybe a half-game worth of regular position players. As camp wears on and the starters are stretched out a bit, obviously they money players are out there more often than they are not and, at least superficially, the on-field talent begins to look a lot more like the regular season group.

I decided to take a quick look at team performance over the past few years to see how predictive spring records are for eventual playoff teams. I was able to track down won-loss data for spring games from 2003-2006, and I dumped them into a spreadsheet for those teams that went on to appear in the postseason in a given year. Using my rudimentary Excel skills, I calculated the spring training and regular season winning percentages for those teams. You can see the actual results here.

What I found is that, collectively, the playoff teams did quite well during the spring, and of course extremely well during the regular season. The aggregate winning percentage during spring training games versus regular season games breaks down as follows:

Year Spring WPCT Season WPCT
2003 .527 .588
2004 .539 .593
2005 .527 .575
2006 .551 .579

Interestingly, the teams collectively performed somewhat better during the regular season than they did during the spring, but again, considered as a whole, the teams were quite good even when the games didn't count.

At the individual team level, ten teams (out of 32) finished below .500 in spring training and went on to appear in the postseason that year. Two other teams finished at exactly .500, and seven teams finished at .600 or better. The worst team was the 2004 Dodgers, who went 12-21 in exhibition play (.364 winning percentage) before going 93-79 to win the National League West. The best team was the 2004 Twins, who won two-thirds of their spring games, going 20-10 before taking the American League Central with a 92-70 regular season record.

Nothing earth-shattering here, but it is interesting to see that, while the playoff teams have collectively fared quite well during the spring, there have been plenty of cases -- around 31%, actually -- where a would-be playoff team won fewer than half of their spring training games. The Mets are now 8-14 on the spring, a pathetic .364 winning percentage, the same as the 2004 Dodgers.