Detroit Tigers Spring Training Saber Storylines To Follow


Ah, spring training. The time of the year when fan optimism runneth over and small sample sizes reign supreme. Isn’t it great?

It’s time to get myself out of the NFL and NCAA hoops rut of only one or two games per week (a Tigers game every day? Brilliant!)

Since we’re all going to read way too much into numbers that are way too small anyway, I thought I’d chime in with two of my favorite case studies.

Austin Jackson’s batting average.
Austin Jackson had tremendous numbers for a rookie a season ago, but many internet analysts (including myself) wonder if he’ll be able to repeat his .293 batting average in his sophomore season. Austin’s league leading .396 BABIP has been said to be non-repeatable, and his 2010 strikeout rate (25.2% of plate appearances) was way too high (MLB average is 18.5%).

Will Austin’s 2011 batting average in fact be much worse than it was a season ago? Will he be able to sustain an “unsustainable” BABIP? Can he cut down the strikeouts to help out his batting average?

So far in this young Grapefruit League season, Jackson has acquired 13 plate appearances with one strikeout (7.7% strikeout rate), four hits on ten balls in play (.400 BABIP), and a .364 batting average.

For now, these numbers mean diddly-squat to us because of the aforementioned sample size issues, but it at least isn’t actively discouraging. We’ll keep our eye on it.

Rick Porcello’s strikeout numbers.
By traditional standards, Rick Porcello had a very good rookies season (3.96 ERA) and a pretty poor sophomore year (4.92 ERA), but the advanced statistics painted a different picture. According to fielding independent pitching numbers, Rick actually pitched a bit better in year two (4.31 FIP) than he did in year one (4.77 FIP). His strikeout rates were constant between the two years (12.4% and 12%), but he actually walked fewer hitters (7.2% to 5.4%) and gave up fewer home runs (3.2 to 2.6) in 2010 than he did back in 2009.

The walk and home run numbers are actually quite good, but if Rick wants to take that next step, it looks like he’ll have to improve on his strikeout totals. He’s been hovering around the 12% mark so far in his career, but he’ll never be considered an elite pitcher unless he can get that ratio much nearer to the league average mark of 18.2%.

Will he be able to take that step in 2011?

So far this spring, he’s faced only nine batters (one appearance and two innings pitched), but he’s recorded three strikeouts (33.3%), one walk (11.1%), and hasn’t surrendered a home run.

Again, it means diddly-squat, but it’s also not discouraging. Another thing to keep our eye on.