Bob Smizik: Unimportance of exhibition games

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It would not be an exaggeration to call the Pirates current seven-week engagement in Bradenton their most important spring training in at least 20 years. You’d have to go back to the early 1990s to find a exhibition season more thick with meaning for the Pirates than this one.

Not only are they once again a contender, and trying for back-to-back postseason appearances, they have three players who are scheduled to leave spring training as first-time regulars.

That’s an unusual circumstance for a contender, but due to a variety of circumstances the Pirates likely will open the season with Jordy Mercer as the regular shortstop; with Jose Tabata as, at least, a platoon starter in right field; with Andrew Lambo as the left-handed hitting first baseman who, as such, figures to get the majority of playing time.

The real downside of all this is the Pirates won’t have much of an idea, if any, when the regular season begins if the three are ready for the challenge of championship-caliber baseball because of the meaningless of March baseball. It’s a crucial time to get ready for the season, but also a time when no one is sure who’s really ready.

Yes, it’s time once again for the annual sermon on the complete and total meaningless of exhibition baseball games. If you are excited by the Pirates come-from-behind win over the Yankees yesterday, relax. If you consider much of anything that transpires on the fields of Florida as important, you need to read on. But first this:

Warning: This information might be hazardous to your mental health.

For starters, let's drift back to the most incredibly meaningless exhibition-season performance in the history of Pirates baseball, if not all of MLB.

2012: In 55 spring training at bats, Matt Hague hit seven home runs. It was enough to earn him a position on the Pirates opening-day roster and send spams of excitement through some fans. Once the games began to count, Hague had 437 at bats, 367 of which were in the minors, and four home runs. That’s a home run every eight at bats in spring training; a home run ever 109 at bats in the regular season.

More annual exhibition season statistics that will cure all but the hopeless of Spring Training Fever:

2013: The Pirates leading hitter, 25 or more at bats, was Lucas May, .440. The team’s home run and RBI leader -- and this should provide a chuckle for his legion of fans -- was Gaby Sanchez. On the other end of the spectrum, MVP-to-be Andrew McCutchen batted .240; A.J. Burnett had an ERA of 7.35; Tony Watson 13.49.

2011: The two players who tied for the lead in spring training home runs were Lyle Overbay and John Bowker. The RBI leader was Overbay.

2010: The home run and RBI leader was Delwyn Young -- six and 18. That same spring, in 57 at bats, McCutchen had one homer and six RBIs, while in 41 at bats, Steve Pearce had three homers and nine RBIs.

2009: The home run and co-RBI leader -- with seven and 15 -- was Craig Monroe. The other RBI leader was Jeff Salazar.

2008: Pearce, him again, led the team with four homers and 10 RBIs.

2007: The home-run leader was Brad Eldred with six. The RBI leader was Ronny Paulino with 15. Also in 2007, Tom Gorzelanny was 0-2 with a 9.45 ERA in 20 innings. In the regular season, he was 14-10 with a 3.88 ERA.

2006: The home run and RBI leader -- 5 and 13 -- was Craig Wilson, whose MLB career ended in 2007.

2005: The home run leader, with five, was Wilson. The RBI leader, with 18, was Ty Wigginton.

2004: The leading hitter, more than 20 at bats, was Tike Redman, .347. A home-run leader, with five, was Bobby Hill, proof positive, some believed, that the Aramis Ramirez trade would yet bear fruit. Hill, the key acquisition in that infamous deal, went on to hit two more MLB home runs.

What should be taken from the above:

If you find yourself getting excited about spring training, there’s nothing wrong with that. It’s that time of year. But if you find yourself getting too excited, remember Matt Hague; remember Brad Eldred; remember Bobby Hill.

And most of all remember this: There is zero correlation between spring-training performance and regular-season performance.


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