Spring stats could be indicator for regular season
Higher slugging percentages in Grapefruit League season has some correlation
CLEARWATER, Fla. -- Domonic Brown and Ryan Howard have been bashing baseballs since the Phillies opened their Grapefruit League schedule last month.
That's great, but does it really mean anything?
"It's good for someone who we think needs to show us something," manager Charlie Manuel said following Thursday's 10-6 loss to the Twins at Bright House Field. "That's definitely good, but at the same time, when the season starts, we're talking about two different seasons. But it is very encouraging when you see somebody swinging the bat like Brown. I've seen some real big improvement out of him."
But keep an eye on Howard, Brown and other Phillies hitters through the end of Spring Training.
Particularly, pay attention to their slugging percentages.
Baseball statistician and author John Dewan found that players who beat their career slugging percentage by more than 200 points in Spring Training have more than a 60 percent chance at beating their career slugging percentage during the regular season (minimum 200 regular season at-bats and 40 Spring Training at-bats).
It is not a fail-proof predictor, but it is something interesting to watch before the Phillies open the regular season April 1 in Atlanta. Consider for a moment that since Dewan started writing about his Spring Training predictor in 2005, eight of the 12 Phillies on his list ended up surpassing their career slugging percentages during the regular season. Of the four players that fell short, two were not everyday players (Eric Bruntlett in 2009 and Pete Orr in '11) and one got injured midway through the season (Jim Thome in '05).
Jimmy Rollins had a great spring in 2009, but he fell 18 points short of his career .441 slugging percentage during the regular season.
The list successfully predicted good seasons for Pat Burrell and Placido Polanco in 2005, Howard in '06, Chase Utley and Greg Dobbs in '07, Jayson Werth and Carlos Ruiz in '09 and Ruiz again last year.
It is early in the Grapefruit League season, so no Phillies player has accumulated 40 at-bats. Of the nine players with 20 or more at-bats, Brown, Howard and Kevin Frandsen are fitting the bill.
Brown has a .767 slugging percentage in 30 at-bats this spring, a hefty .379 points above his career slugging percentage of .388.
"It's definitely a confidence booster," Brown said. "The thing about it is, with the hitting coaches we have, they don't let you take an at-bat off. If I do something during an at-bat, they're saying something to me when I get back to the dugout, even if I get a hit on the next pitch. That keeps me focused."
Frandsen has a .696 slugging percentage in 23 at-bats. He has a career .364 slugging percentage, putting him 332 points above his career mark. Not bad for a typically slow starter in the spring.
"I don't put usual stock in the numbers," Frandsen said. "At-bat-wise, hitting the ball hard consistently, having deep at-bats, doing those things, that's what has separated me this year from the last four or five years. But I feel the same. Nothing has changed as far as my approach."
Howard has a .727 slugging percentage in 33 at-bats. He has a career .551 slugging percentage, putting him 176 points above his career mark.
If they keep up their pace, it could bode well for the Phillies' lineup this season. It has in the past.
But Brown also is playing well defensively. He cut off a ball in left-center field in the second inning, preventing the Twins' Wilkin Ramirez from turning a single into a double. Brown also made a nice shoestring catch in shallow left field a few innings later.
Brown, who had issues with both his knees last season, would not have made those plays last year.
"Come on," Brown said. "You guys saw me out there last year. No chance."
Yes, everything seems to be going right for Brown so far this spring. The Phillies hope he keeps it up.
Todd Zolecki is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.