03/01/2010 2:12 PM ET
Spring is for entertainment purposes only
Reading too much into performance is folly
By Howard Megdal / SNY.tv
Mike Jacobs has shown he can't hit lefties, and the Mets should expect this trend to continue. (AP)

There are those who believe that making roster choices or determining starting positions based upon a very small number of Spring Training at-bats or innings pitched is foolish, the equivalent of giving a player a job based on a strong September performance.

I happen to believe this understates the foolishness.

Each spring, players with hundreds or thousands of at-bats to provide an accurate read of their abilities impress coaches and managers on the strength of a laughably small number of appearances. Often, the results come against players who are less than Major League caliber, or trying out new things, rendering the results even less worthwhile.

Managers will leave pitchers in that would always get pulled in a regular-season game. Wind frequently aids home runs, and pitchers are often behind hitters, leaving the hitter in general and the pitcher who played winter ball to impress early.

The point is, with the Mets set to begin Spring Training play tomorrow, I think SNY ought to carry the game with a scroll across the bottom reading: "Warning: These Are Not Real Games. Do Not Attempt to Extrapolate."

Want more evidence? In the spring of 2009, Jeremy Reed hit .422/.493/.594 last year in 64 at-bats. Omir Santos had four home runs in 25 at-bats. Livan Hernandez had an ERA more than a run better than Johan Santana.

And this happens every year. 2009 was no fluke.

Even when it works out for the Mets, there is ample reason beyond spring performance to support such a move. Clearly, it was Rick Reed's stellar spring in 1997 that won him, out of nowhere, the fifth starter spot. And that certainly worked out, right? Well, his performance didn't come out of nowhere: He'd just finished 1996 with a 3.16 ERA and microscopic 1.6 walks per nine innings in Norfolk, and he had similar numbers in 1995.

In other words, it took a strong spring to show teams what had been evident for several years: Rick Reed was ready to be a good Major League pitcher.

So while it baffles and enrages me every time a major league team makes roster decisions based upon Spring Training, I am already gritting my teeth over the thought that the Mets appear set to do this at first base, center field, the fifth spot in the rotation and multiple spots in the bullpen.

I don't care what Mike Jacobs does in a half-dozen at-bats this spring. Dude can't hit lefties. In 420 career Major League at-bats against them, his OPS is .643. What is going to happen this spring to change that? Nothing.

And more disturbing still, it appears the Mets are counting on Sean Green's new arm angle to make him even more of a crossover pitcher. This seems odd for two reasons. For one, dropping down lower would seem to make his pitches easier to pick up for lefties. For another, he was already easy to pick up, allowing lefties to post an .817 OPS against him.

But if he manages to get a lefty or two out in the right spring game, you can count on him getting the chance to blow games against lefties as spring turns to summer.

My point is this: Just because the Mets do it (and to be fair, seemingly every Major League team takes such a flawed approach when choosing their roster) doesn't mean you have to do the same thing.

There is much to love about the sheer amount of baseball available to fans this March. If you are anything like me, the winter is spent wandering, junkie-like, desperate for whatever fix one can find. Caribbean League baseball? You bet! I wanted to know how Raul Gonzalez had aged, anyway!

The MLB Network, DVDs of Mets postseason games and the fantastic Mets Yearbook series on SNY all helped to some extent.

But real, live baseball comes Tuesday, with one of my favorite Mets, Nelson Figueroa, on the mound. And truly, while it is no substitute for regular season baseball, the aforementioned quick fixes are no substitute for Tuesday's broadcast.

And this is not to say that you shouldn't watch these games with the intent of learning about specific players. Seeing Ike Davis against left-handed pitching will be immensely illuminating. Does he have any idea what he's doing against them, or is he destined to become another Mike Jacobs?

And while I second Ted Bergin thinking that rushing Jenrry Mejia to the Majors is folly, I am eager to see just what kind of fastball makes some people willing to commit to such a mistake.

In fact, Spring Training is filled with potential stars of tomorrow, as well as players trying for one last shot. I was happy to see Andres Galarraga in camp a few years ago, and Glenn Davis years before that. It's the closest thing the Mets have to Old Timers' Day.

But Spring Training should be just like those games: for entertainment purposes only. Treat them any differently, and things like breaking camp with Manny Aybar can happen. As The Sporting News put it, "Randolph plans to base his roster decisions more on Spring Training performance than track record."

I assume you all remember how that turned out.

Howard Megdal is a contributor to SNY.tv, MLBTradeRumors.com and the editor of The Perpetual Post. His book, The Baseball Talmud, is available now. Follow him on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/HowardMegdal.
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