It's nice to think that spring training records do hold some significance when it comes to regular-season success. But the final numbers are rarely indicative of what a team is even looking for in March. Frankly, most of the starters' work is salted away by the third or fourth inning, rendering the rest of the game somewhat benign.
Your “paper champs” of the preseason in 2013? The Kansas City Royals (25-7), Seattle Mariners (22-11) and Baltimore Orioles (19-9). Granted, the Royals and O's had winning seasons, but the trio all missed the postseason. In 2012, the Blue Jays sent ripples through the baseball world with a 24-7 spring record, only to follow that up with a thoroughly underwhelming 73-89 regular-season mark.
We could sit here all day and talk team records, but more importance should be placed on individual player performances. While there is the occasional Jake Fox, there is more consistently the Clay Buchholz and Domonic Brown, both of whom I opined—correctly—would have stellar seasons a year ago. I was particularly sold on Buchholz, and apparently so were some of the folks following the Red Sox.
“So far this spring Buchholz has looked impressive,” penned Ben Shapiro of Masslive.com last March. “He's yet to allow an earned run this spring. ... He's healthy and he looks quite prepared to have a solid 2013.”
If you're wondering about the Red Sox's team exhibition record last year, it was dead even at 17-17. In fact, the last time a team jumped off the standings page in March and landed on its feet in October was the Giants during their championship season of 2010, when they went an MLB-best 23-12.
But, in 2012, when Boston uncharacteristically lost 93 games, they went 16-11 in their spring slate. On the flip side of the coin, Cody Ross did provide a sign of positive things to come on an individual level by launching six spring homers en route to launching 22 and driving in 81 runs in the regular season.
That same spring, Justin Verlander wasn't grooving any fastballs in coming off a Cy Young and MVP season, posting a 2-0 mark with a 2.03 ERA in 26.2 innings. He had no trouble turning that into another dominant regular season, posting a 17-8 record and 2.64 that regular season as the Tigers won the American League pennant.
There is no exact science. Some teams can have good springs and good regular seasons, and some players can hit their peak in the spring and be forgotten by April. But statistics will lean towards the opposite. Spring training is a chance for fans to watch the stars for a few innings, then grab some autographs, interact with a few willing players but, mostly, enjoy the sunshine. And, if you're feeling prophetic, maybe you can discover that “breakout” player and circle back to March later and say, “I told you so!”