It is easy to get swept up in spring training and forget that it is, in fact, training for the upcoming season. If a pitcher wants to add a slider to his repertoire, now is the time to try it out against big league hitters and if that slider earns him five runs, we’ll never see it in a big league game. It’s also a time to analyze mechanics, evaluate velocity and fine tune ball movement. It’s a time for catchers to get a feel for new pitchers and for coaches to begin assembling the rotation and bullpen assignments for the season. It is not a time to be counting earned runs.
Many baseball nerds, myself included, are quick to point out the flawed stat that ERA actually is because it is a presumed stat, not an actual stat. Unless a pitcher pitches nine innings every single outing, the stat is only a rough estimation of a pitcher’s quality.
Let’s take Ryan Cook who, with an ERA of 18.90, has even me second guessing his inclusion in the big leagues. He earned that ERA having only thrown 3.1 innings over the course of four games. In his first game, March 7, he threw one inning and had one earned run. This makes his average 9.00. See the flaw? The statistic assumes that Cook is going to grab, on average, one earned run per inning for the rest of the game. In his second game, March 10, he threw for an inning and had no earned runs which gave him an ERA of 0.00 for the day because the stat assumes that Ryan Cook will never have an earned run over 9 innings which, sadly, we all know isn’t true. That one extra inning, however, dropped his ERA in half to 4.50.
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Then there was his fourth and most recent outing on March 16. In that game he had six earned runs in .1 innings. It was a train wreck of an outing and, no doubt, nearly broke the Oakland Athletics twitterverse. The ERA for that game hovered around 163 and, yet, his overall ERA is still under 20. Obviously 163.00 is not a major league ERA and, in all probability, I could probably throw a lower ERA than that. This is the problem with the ERA statistic; it doesn’t really matter until the last game of the season. If Cook can manage five scoreless innings, he’s got an ERA around 7.5 which is still awful but it’s a far cry from the 163 he had a few games prior.
The stats during spring training for any position are useless. We can’t say that pitching stats don’t matter because they’re tweaking things and trying new pitches but then praise the batter who hits 5 home runs off of those same lousy pitches. Unless we’re actually watching the game, it’s impossible to get a feel for how well the team is playing from the box scores alone. Don’t look at stats. Look at movement, delivery, speed, control, mechanics, and release point otherwise you’re going to put Barry Zito in the Oakland Athletics rotation above Sonny Gray and we all know that’s just not going to happen.