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Spring Stats Stay in Arizona When Tribe Heads to Toronto

| On 30, Mar 2013

By Mike Brandyberry

This afternoon, the Indians conclude their Cactus League play with their final game against the Cincinnati Reds. After 47 days of Spring Training, the Indians will board a plane this evening and leave the sunshine of Arizona for Toronto, where they open Tuesday evening against the Toronto Blue Jays.

Players like Scott Kazmir and Ryan Raburn likely have played their way onto the Indians’ roster from their strong springs, while others like David Huff and Ezequiel Carrera might have played their way off the roster. However, just like leaving the sunshine behind when they board the plane, players and managers alike leave Spring Training statistics behind as well.

When the Indians open on Tuesday in Toronto, roles for players have been defined and spring statistics have little to no affect upon determining those roles. According to Indians Manager Terry Francona, Spring Training is more about the process to prepare for the season than it is putting up numbers or impressive statistics.

“That’s kind of the beauty of spring training,” Francona said on Thursday. “Like (Jason Kipnis), he hasn’t really swung the bat very well. (Wednesday) he lines a ball in to left-center field. I wouldn’t be really shocked if the next couple days he starts to really feel good about himself. That’s great. You try to build on the positives and try learning from the negatives. That’s what Spring Training is.”

Kipnis has struggled this spring at the plate, hitting only .179 with two home runs and seven runs batted in over 56 at bats. He has started to find himself in the final week of the spring, however. Kipnis lined a double off the Chicago White Sox’s Jesse Crain to drive in a run during the sixth inning of the Indians 5-4 loss. But as Francona predicted, Kipnis has started to get hot. On Thursday, Kipnis hit a fifth inning, solo home run off San Diego Padres left-hander Clayton Kershaw. Friday, he laced another double off Kansas City Royals’ lefty Tim Collins.

For the Indians and most other teams, it isn’t about the statistics of the spring, but their approach. Making judgments about a player’s potential 2013 season with limited numbers. Kipnis’ spring struggles have been over only 56 at bats. Likewise, throughout most of the spring, the players they are facing from opposing teams could be pitchers whom they never have seen before, minor leaguers or players to which they’ve never consulted a scouting report on.

“I know what kind of at-bats they are having,” Francona said. “The sample size is so small that there are days where the wind and sun affects guy’s batting averages. It’s just not worth it.”

When the Indians leave Goodyear later today, the spring statistics remain in Arizona—just like the sunshine. Francona says he has never referred back to Spring Training statistics once the season begins.

Instead, the spring is a time to get ready and try to fill any holes before the season begins, because the grind of a 162-game schedule is where the real holes and imperfections of a team will be exposed. The Indians have experienced some moments like this during the last two seasons when they have competed for half of a season before falling out of contention.

“If you’re short in an area, over the course of a long season, it will get exposed,” Francona said. “That’s the best way to put it. You might go through periods where it doesn’t show itself, but if you’re short, it gets exposed.”

And those statistics, exposed over a long season, can live in baseball record books forever.

Photo: Chuck Crow/Cleveland Plain Dealer