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Your Friday Spring Training Non-Update

Mike SteffanosFriday, March 6, 2009
By Mike Steffanos

Some readers have asked me why I haven't spent more time this spring writing about the spring games and the ongoing battle for the fifth starter's job. To tell you the truth, I'm coming around to the belief that the all of the scrutiny on spring training in recent years works against what spring training is supposed to accomplish.

When I was a kid there would be a veritable trickle of news from the start of camp until the teams came up north to play real baseball games. Pitchers would work on building their arm strength back up, as well as trying to improve some facet of their games that would lead to more wins in the regular season. Only a guy fighting for a job would be pitching with regular season intensity.

No one cared if a starting pitcher had a bloated ERA in Florida as long as he was ready to pitch once the games started counting. If he got knocked around in mid-March because he was throwing his changeup a lot more than usual, you didn't read any dire predictions of imminent doom in the paper the next day.

Before I go further and this comes across as a criticism of the media which covers the team, I understand very well that the only reason they are down there is because fans demand more coverage today than did 10 or 20 years ago. Once down there, columnists and beat writers have to write things that grab a reader's attention.

Still, though, particularly in the case of the pitching, to make a lot out of a pitchers "struggles" in early spring training games is missing the point of the difference between practice and actual performance. After not pitching all winter, it's not the end of the world if John Maine can't find his groove on March 5.

I wrote something about Freddy Garcia and Livan Hernandez, the two "innings eaters" fighting for the fifth starter's job, making a point that you can't eat major league innings if you no longer able to pitch at a high level. Specifically I was worried about the low fastball velocity seen from both pitchers in the early going.

A friend of mine who read that congratulated me on my prescience when Livan, who had been the "front-runner", went out and got it handed to him in a spring training game. As much as I would like to claim credit for "predicting" that, I honestly didn't. I was just making a point about what I would have to see from either of those two pitchers before I could take any possibility of them eating innings for us this season seriously.

Just because Garcia has struggled twice and Livan once does not mean that I expect them to fail. I don't have enough info yet to decide anything of the sort. I could only continue to try to catch their outings to see if one or both picks up some oomph on the heater as their arms strengthen.

Even then, I'm humbled by the fact that I am not there watching them throw their bullpens and Live B.P., and I really can't know everything that's going on. What I see from the writers who cover the team doesn't fill in the gaps, because I only see what they choose to write, and I understand their primary job is to sell papers, not inform me of all the nuances in a camp.

I think we forget that at times -- we bloggers and avid 365 days a year fans -- we are not in possession of all of the data upon which these evaluations are made. I've concentrated on pitchers in this piece, but much of the same is true for hitters.

So while I will continue to do my best to make points that I feel are valid, I will not extrapolate from my limited perspective to make bold predictions that have little value. Frankly, the best advice I received on spring training came to me years ago from a person I respected -- take everything you see with a grain of salt, and don't believe half of the hyperbole.

If we continue to make too much of what happens in these exhibition games, we run the risk of not allowing these ballplayers to use spring training to get ready and get better. Teams in small markets with less of a spotlight on March games will actually be at an advantage over teams in markets like ours where everything is magnified.

I take these games for what they are -- a chance to get a peek at a few key guys, especially new ones, and a way to whet my appetite for the upcoming season.

About Mike: I was the original writer on this web site, actually its only writer for the first 15 months of existence. Although I am grateful for the excellent contributions of my fellow writers here, I have no plans of stepping back into strictly an editorial role. I started this thing in the first place because I love to write and I love the Mets, and blogging here keeps me somewhat sane. If you haven't had enough already, more bio info can be found here.

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