Spring Training Isn’t As Important In Baseball

The first spring training games were played this weekend, meaning Major League Baseball season is just around the corner. It is a generally held opinion that spring training, or preseason games, don’t mean much, but it seems difficult to dismiss any kind of loss.

Of the three major sports, baseball, football and basketball, preseason games seem to mean the least, at least in terms of postseason success, in baseball.

Over the last five seasons, World Series participants have won 52 percent of their spring training games. World Series Champions won just over 55 percent of their spring games. Before going on to win the World Series in 2008, the Philadelphia Phillies won only 11 of their 25 spring training games.

Teams compete in many fewer preseason games in the NFL and the preseason winning percentage of Super Bowl teams is only about five percentage points higher than that of World Series teams.

Over the last five seasons, eventual Super Bowl participants won just over 57 percent of their preseason games, while just Super Bowl Champions won right at 60 percent of their preseason games.

When it comes to basketball over the same time period, NBA Finals participants and eventual Champions won just over 62 and 63 percent of their preseason games, respectively.

The Los Angeles Lakers won back-to-back championships in 2009 and 2010, and won 80 percent of their preseason games in each of those seasons.

However, the two seasons after that, in 2011 and 2012, the eventual champions, the Dallas Mavericks and the Miami Heat, won only 50 percent of their preseason games.

Over the past five seasons in each sport, no NFL or NBA champion has had a sub-.500 record in the preseason. Only one Super Bowl participant during that time, the Indianapolis Colts, who won only one preseason game in 2010, finished below .500 in preseason play.

The Heat in 2011 and the Lakers in 2008 are the only two NBA Finals participants in the last five years to finish the preseason schedule with a record below .500.

However, both of the 2011 World Series participants, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Texas Ranger finished spring training with records of 14-16-1.

The Phillies appeared in back-to-back World Series in 2008 and 2009 and in each of those seasons, they finished spring training with sub-.500 records.

None of this means that spring training and preseason games don’t serve a purpose.

Sure, it’s probably not a good idea to use the records from these exhibition games to make any kind of prediction about who will hoist the championship trophy at the end of the season, but they do serve a purpose. It is a very unquantified purpose, but a purpose nonetheless.

It would make for a stressful season if a head coach or manager had to spend the first few games of the regular season deciding who would come out on the winning end of a quarterback controversy or a battle for second base.

If your favorite team has a not-so-great spring training, don’t read too much into it, but don’t completely discard it either. As strange as it seems when it comes to sports that are so team-oriented, individual performance and settling the battles for each position is what the true focus is during these early season exhibition games..

Haley Markle is the assistant sports editor for the Arkansas Traveler. Her column appears every Monday. Follow the sports section on Twitter @UATravSports.

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