Does Spring Training Success Really Mean Anything?


By all accounts, the Detroit Tigers are having a very solid Spring Training, as are their Central Division brethren.

Joker Marchant Stadium, Spring home of the Detroit Tigers. Credit: Jerome Miron-USA TODAY Sports

Heading into Sunday’s action, the Tigers’ 13-8 record placed them second in the Grapefruit League. Every member of the American League Central is having a good spring, particularly the Kansas City Royals and Cleveland Indians.

If baseball clustered the teams into divisional standings in spring, the AL Central would look like this as of Sunday morning:

Kansas City   16-4, .800

Cleveland      13-8, .619

Detroit           13-8, .619

Chicago         10-7, .588

Minnesota      11-11, .500

Of course, one could argue that the success of the Royals, Indians and White Sox has been due to the ability to play the Cubs often. Still, should fans get overly excited or upset by a team’s performance in the spring?

We all know the story of the 2012 Tigers. A World Series berth followed a so-so regular season. Spring Training was a smashing success for the team, going 20-8, but it wasn’t until almost six full months later that the team finally caught fire.

One can truly understand Royals’ fans excitement over spring success. Kansas City had a very solid off-season full of good trades and free agent pick-ups. All of this preseason success has allowed fans, who have endured the longest active postseason drought, to dream of October.

The Kansas City Royals have had a successful Spring Training to date. Credit: Jennifer Hilderbrand-USA TODAY Sports

This should not be a strange notion to over-analyze wins in practice games for Tigers’ fans. In the dark days of 1989 to 2005, anything seen as positive, and anything to keep people interested in baseball past Memorial Day, was always a sign for hope.

Indians’ fans are also bursting with hope following their recent transactions and solid spring. Cleveland has not played in the postseason since 2007, which also happened to be their most recent winning season, and resentment is at an all-time high at Progressive Field. The team struggles to fill the park, even in rare moments of recent success. While rushing out to the lead in the AL Central in 2011, and setting a franchise record with a 21-9 record in April, the team struggled to attract fans. This is quite a change for a team that once had 455 consecutive sellouts from 1995 to 2001.

It’s worth noting that the Indians finished in the middle of the pack in the Cactus League in 2011. Couple that with finishing fourth during the regular season of 2010, that incredible start was definitely not foreseen.

Not to throw cold water on the Royals’ hopes, but one only has to go back two years for the last time KC had the best spring training record. Regular season 2011? 20 games under .500.

Since this is a Tigers’ fan site, let’s take a look at recent years of success for the franchise. Was Spring Training an indicator of regular season success?

We already talked discussed last season, so let’s begin with 2011.

2011 Spring Training (20-14), Regular Season (95-67) AL Central title–ALCS berth

2009 ST (15-17), RS (86-77) Lost 163rd Game tie-breaker

2006 ST (18-15), RS (95-67), Wild-Card berth, AL Pennant

1987 ST (9-20), RS (98-64), AL East title

1984 ST (11-17), RS (104-58), AL East title, World Series title

The Cleveland Indians have also had a success spring in 2013. Credit: Jennifer Hilderbrand-USA TODAY Sports

It’s interesting to note that in arguably the best season in franchise history, 1984, the Tigers had the third fewest wins in Grapefruit League play. Three years later, they could only manage a baseball worst nine wins in the spring, but won nearly 100 games and clinched the franchise’s final AL East title.

Now, let’s take a look at some of the worst years in Tigers’ history.

2003 ST (14-17), RS (43-119)

2002 ST(16-15), RS (55-106)

1996 ST (20-10), RS (53-109)

1989 ST (15-16), RS (59-103)

These four seasons stand out as the worst in franchise history, but each Spring Training was respectable–and in one case (1996), down right good. Yet it resulted in the second worst season in franchise history.

So while Tigers’ fans would be crazy to think the team will waltz through the AL Central in 2013, it is also equally crazy for fans in Kansas City and Cleveland to get excited about pre-season success. It means nothing when games are for keeps.

After all, getting excited about preseason success should be the registered domain of us Detroit Lions’ fans.