Whats in a Number?
A bunch of younger Giants — including Burriss, Sandoval, Hinshaw, Romo, Villalona and Velez — started three weeks of conditioning camp in Arizona today. All played winter ball, had a few weeks off and now are back to work. It’s the Giants second conditioning camp of the off-season (the first took place in late November), each with a different group of 20 or so players.
I talked today with Bobby Evans, director of player personnel, because I wanted to figure out how to interpret the players’ winter-league stats. What did Evans see when he read them? What was meaningful and what wasn’t?
“First, I want to make sure a guy’s playing,” Evans said. Sometimes, he said, a manager will sit a player for a variety of reasons. Last year, for instance, Merkin Valdez barely threw at all in the Dominican League, much to the frustration of Valdez and the Giants.
“So the stats are secondary to the opportunity simply to play,” Evans said.
And the stats, Evans has learned, must be taken with a grain of salt. You have to take into account the make-up of the team, the competitiveness of the league, the environment of the club.
“Although success in any form is still success,” he said.
Kevin Frandsen, coming off last year’s season-long injury, hit .331 and stole 10 bases in the Arizona fall league. “He proved to us, and to himself, that he has his feet back under him,” Evans said. “He played aggressive baseball from both sides of second base and with the bat.”
Winter ball isn’t great for everyone, though. Some young players, especially young pitchers, can do more harm than good by playing year-round. They’re not accustomed yet to putting their bodies through so many innings, so Evans and the Giants would rather they take some time off. But some minor-leaguers, struggling to make ends meet, want to pick up a little extra cash.
Winter ball is most useful, Evans said, for rehabbing players and for those who have had a taste of Triple A or the major leagues and need to sharpen their skills. He recalled one pitcher – not with the Giants — who threw nothing but fastballs all winter – something he couldn’t do in spring training, no matter how determined he was to improve that particular pitch. Playing in the competitive environment of the Dominican, Puerto Rican or Venezuelan league also helps young players grow up a little bit and can give them an edge over their less-seasoned rivals.
“It can be a very strategic opportunity for them,” Evans said.
This winter’s only disappointment, if it can be called that, is that Sandoval didn’t play as much third-base as the Giants would have liked to prepare him for becoming the team’s starter. But he hit .396 with 12 home runs in 192 at-bats.
The winter stats might not mean much, but when I see a BA just shy of .400, from a guy who was hitting the cover off the ball in September, I don’t care if he’s been playing on a sandlot or Yankee Stadium. The number alone is enough to get me counting the days until Opening Day.