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Arbitrary to the Point of Being Random

Spring training games -- or, more specifically, player performances in spring training games -- are meaningless, and I don't know that I can stress this point enough. It's easy to get wrapped up in spring stats, to look at Raul Casanova and remark, "Wow, this guy is slugging .629! How the heck could Tampa Bay let this guy go?" The obvious answer, at least to anyone with at least an elementary understanding of sample sizes and random variation, is that Casanova, given a couple hundred plate-apps, would more closely replicate his pathetic career marks of .234/.301/.380 accrued over 1026 at-bats than the .314/.368/.629 that he has hit in an impossibly inconsequential 35 spring at-bats.

Casanova is just one of hundreds, if not thousands, of players who have ever had a spring training performance remarkably out of line with their career norms. "But he's in the best shape of his life", a random uninformed friend or possibly Dusty Baker might reply. Perhaps, but to make an ostensibly intelligent roster decision based on such a small number of plate appearances against arbitrary and often woeful competition is lunacy, especially when you consider how much money is riding on the success or failure of baseball teams in general and the Mets in particular.

I don't mean to single out Casanova, whom the Mets might have to promote to begin the season with Ramon Castro probably heading for the disabled list. Casanova might actually be a bad example because, given a blessing of good team health, he wouldn't be competing for a big league spot at all. A better example is the guy who is trying to distinguish himself from the pack in order to slide into a big league role that would really be available to him even if the rest of the team were healthy.

Two guys who *are* competing for an actual spot are Angel Pagan and Brady Clark, both of whom might make the club with Moises Alou out of action for the next month and the Mets' likely inclination to carry an extra position player in the season's early going. Neither is a terrific player, but the Mets don't really have any superior options immediately available to them. Or, at least options that wouldn't require giving up some non-existent minor league talent in return.

The Mets are also trying to finalize their Opening Day bullpen, a task which is still on the "To Do" pile and the results of which may hinge -- somewhat remarkably -- on the principals' performances in the last two exhibition games of the spring. That's right: forget everything anyone has done in their major or minor league careers up until this point. Those large sample sizes collected over a period of months or years? Not arbitrary enough. Instead, let's pick two random games -- say, the next two -- and base some fairly important baseball operations decisions on the decidedly random performances in said two games. It sounds completely ludicrous, but it's exactly what the Mets are doing. To wit:

The Mets don't know [what's going to happen], either. Two exhibition games now remain, and manager Willie Randolph has made it clear that he's willing -- almost eager -- to use both of them. His decisions need perspective; these games will provide it.
The article linked above was written by Anthony DiComo for I can't really tell if DiComo is editorializing something that Randolph has actually said -- that is, that he will base his decision(s) for the final bullpen spot(s) on the microcosmic results of the next two games -- or if this comment is DiComo's alone. I think we know that Randolph hasn't made up his mind yet, and he will really wait to see what happens tomorrow and Saturday before deciding to go one way or another. I don't think that I am exaggerating the truth when I say that Willie Randolph is going to construct the back end of the Mets' bullpen according to the events of two utterly meaningless spring training games. If he weren't, he would have already made his cuts and his promotions at this point. If we assume that he doesn't yet know which relievers will round out the bullpen, then it's pretty clear that everything that happened before today has not provided sufficient empirical evidence to sway him one way or another.

I'm not sure if there's a portmanteau rich enough to describe my feelings about this, but here goes: it's prepoculous. Preposterous and ridiculous. That's right: suck it, Carroll!

"His decisions need perspective; these games will provide it." How? How could they possibly provide any perspective other than that of sheer randomness? If Matt Wise goes out there and pitches like dogshit tomorrow while Mr. 6.46-career-ERA-mostly-as-a-reliever Brian Stokes pitches three scoreless innings, Stokes makes the Opening Day cut and Wise takes a long walk off a short pier? The level of asininity required to make a call like that is beyond comprehension, and yet it is almost certainly going to happen sometime in the next two days. Perhaps multiple times.

All we can do is throw up our hands in unbridled bewilderment and hope that the better players happen to actually perform better in these next two arbitrarily-selected talent showcases.