Tout Table: Spring Training

Welcome this week’s Tout Table. Today, we asked the Touts what they look for in spring training.

Peter Kreutzer (Ask Rotoman, Fantasy Baseball Guide, @kroyte): Spring training is all about playing time. We’ve made our assessments of talent, but do the managers agree? And were there players off the radar who emerge to cut into someone else’s PT and create their own? There always are. Those are the Spring Training stories to follow.

Tim McCullough (Baseball Prospectus, @TimTenz): I always used to be able to wait until the games began to look for a pitcher or two that nobody else was onto to emerge during the first couple of weeks. Now, I find that I need to do that during spring training because of the sheer volume of information available to all. So I spend my time viewing spring training games looking at pitchers – especially the #3-5 starters for teams that are competing for spots in the rotation. When I’m not “scouting” pitchers, I am trying to discern playing time – again, for players that are fighting for starting jobs. Since playing time is so hard to forecast, I try to figure out which players may end up with more playing time than the projection systems are forecasting.

Michael Rathburn (Rotowire, @FantasyRath): Depth charts, batting order in the lineup, starting rotations; who is being overdrafted/underdrafted based on this info? Also, like Doug A said, the inury news. If a player is currently hurt, what is their status come opening day? We have seen this really come into play over the last few years on players. Velocity on pitchers not named Greinke.

Brad Johnson (Patreon/BaseballATeam, @BaseballATeam): In a general sense, I look for the obvious things – changes in velocity, athleticism, team depth charts, and the like. Anything that can upend what we knew when preparing our rankings and projections. More specifically, I’m always curious to see how teams handle logjams. The Harper signing created one in Philadelphia where a decent player in Nick Williams is probably now a trade candidate. The Yankees have some serious depth to sort through at 1B/DH. The Rockies brought in their usual collection of scrubby vets to block decent prospects. Detroit has… just kidding, Detroit’s a joke.

Doug Anderson (Fantrax, @rotodaddy): Almost everything I’m really paying attention to is health-related. Whether it’s big velocity changes or news of shoulder stuffness, those mean something. I pay no attention to stats of any kind. It’s very hard to pull anything out of stats when the competition is so varied.

Jason Collette (Rotowire, @jasoncollette): New pitches, of course. Look at how a change in repertoire turned castaways such as Wade Miley and Marco Gonzales into rosterable pitchers!

Justin Mason (Friends with Fantasy Benefits, Fangraphs, Fantasy Alarm, @JustinMasonFWFB): I am mostly looking to see that players are healthy through the spring. I also look at playing time, batting order, pitcher’s velocity and walk rates. I mostly don’t want to be too influenced by big or bad performances because it is such a small sample and the level of competition are not consistent.

Anthony Perri (Fantistics, @Anthony_Perri): Youngsters, Youngsters, Youngsters. How are the prospects doing against MLB pitching. Are they facing the top teir pitchers or coming in at the end of games, an indications that they may still be a year or two away. Stolen base attempts, are there established players looking to increase their attempts this season. Players returning from injury.

Rick Wolf (Fantasy Alarm, @RickWolf1): Every time I take the microphone with a guest or expert or GM, I ask about the Rockies and what is going to happen at 2B. Love Brendan Rodgers and have heard that he is comingsooner rather than later, but they have four guys there now that Daniel Murphy moves Ryan McMahon off of 1B. Garrett Hampson seems the favorite to start the season, but for how long?? If it is all season, he could steal 30+ bags and is worth a ton. If it is short lived as Rodgers is ready, then I want to own a piece of Brendan for this year.

Anthony Aniano (Rotoballer, @AAnianoFantasy): Every spring I look for two primary items, playing time and health. Players like Alex Bregman, Jose Altuve, Yu Darvish coming off surgery…do they look healthy and if so the production will follow. Looking for playing time could help sort some positional battles. The Mets CF situation, the Yankees IF as a whole and other all need to develop some type of clarity. Spring traing can help develop that clarity.

Ariel Cohen (CBS Sports, @ATCNY): For pitchers, I look at their velocity (except for Zack Greinke). I also look at their strikeouts vs. walks plus any new pitches they are throwing. For hitters, two things – I look at stolen base attempts and learn of any launch angle changes. Overall though, I look for health status in players who were out last year or who had offseason issues/surgery.

Michael Beller (Sports Illustrated, @MBeller): In spring training, I’m paying close attention to the health of players who were injured last year, and additions to a pitcher’s repertoire or tweak in delivery. Kris Bryant’s shoulder, Carlos Correa’s back, Corey Seager’s elbow, and on and on. That’s where I’m going to spend most of my energy. Pitchers also tell us who they want to be if they start working on something new in the spring, so we have to pay attention to that. A lot of the rest of what happens in the spring is just noise, and all of it is based on a small sample. A player’s health or a new pitch, though? That’s something from which we can draw some meaningful conclusions with just a few weeks of action.

Patrick Davitt (BaseballHQ, @patrickdavitt): In the early going, I’m interested in the health and injury stories—are players with health questions getting the reps expected for where we are in the camp process? Later on, I’ll be watching the lineups to see how various job competitions seem to be shaping up, as well as continuing to monitor for health, especially in game situations. Is the 2018 injury question SP throwing his breaking pitches as often and as well? How are velocities? And as we get quite near Opening Day, I’m interested in batting orders and platoons. Mind you, my last draft is March 16th, so I watch the last two weeks of camp mostly in my capacity as an analyst and writer, although I’m also interested in firming up my Week One FAAB plans.

Seth Trachtman (Rotoworld, @sethroto): I mainly track velocity changes and skill improvement. Specifically, I look for drastic command improvement from pitchers and plate discipline improvement from hitters. I owe my 2016 AL-only title to spring training after tracking Aaron Sanchez’s command improvements and buying him, as a result.

Nando Di Fino (The Athletic, @nandodifino): I’m bascially sitting around hoping that the players I’m super-high on are good enough to keep their jobs, but quiet enough for their perceived draft and auction values to not move. Outside of that, I try not to pay attention to anything else. I think teams are getting smarter and not showing their hand as much in spring training. Pitchers work on weird pitches, batters try new stuff and just look for reps. But I will say this… the “NOTES” or “NOTEBOOK” section of bigger columns from beat writers tend to be hugely important during spring training. Little injury tweaks, manager quotes, weird new positions they’re trying out on back fields. I know it’s not the exact anwer, but study the crap out of those little throwaway sections at the bottom of columns.

Howard Bender (Fantasy Alarm, @RotobuzzGuy): I want to know who’s in the best shape of their lives! That’s always the clincher! More seriously, it’s all about depth charts, position battles in the field and projected batting orders for hitters. You have to know who’s going to see the at-bats. For pitchers, I’m looking a lot at guys who have either added a new pitch or are improving on their secondary stuff.

Michael Stein (Fantasy Judgment, @FantasyJudgment): I am mostly focused on the health of players and trends of playing time for more marginal players. I try not to overreact to injuries during spring training, but when pitchers are shut down heading into March then I am greatly concerned about their availability for Opening Day. Generally we know how most rosters will be comprised so there are a handful of position battles throughout spring training. This usually means a 4th or 5th spot in the starting rotation, back end of a bullpen, and some regular positions. I typically wait to draft catchers until late in drafts so I look to see trends on teams with an open competition behind the plate and then take a flier on one or two of them after most others have been drafted.

Ryan Bloomfield (BaseballHQ, @RyanBHQ): Position battles, by far. Playing time is the hardest thing for us to project, and this is our first shot at getting clues on how things will shake out. There is some BaseballHQ research pointing to the predictive ability of spring training SB attempts, so I’m tracking that as well in today’s speed-starved game. I couldn’t care less about production from pitchers and established hitters.

Phil Hertz (BaseballHQ, @prhz50): I look at pitchers mainly, trying to see who’s throwing strikes, getting knocked around. Also pay attention to job battles and who’s playing more.

Bret Sayre (Baseball Prospectus, @BretSayreBP): Literally nothing other than health reports and a few key positional battles, and even those things can be dicey in terms of affecting your valuations. The less I pay attention to everything else that happens in the spring, the better off I am in the auctions and drafts to come, as it’s a time of great noise and very little signal.

Jeff Boggis (Fantasy Football Empire, @JeffBoggis): What I’m looking for in Spring Training are position battles and playing time opportunity. It appears that Kansas City Catcher, Salvador Perez, will miss the entire 2019 season with damaging the ulnar collateral ligament in his right elbow. This may now force the Royals to test the free agency market for a new catcher. Regarding starting rotation battles, it appears that Atlanta has wrapped up their 5th starting pitcher with Touki Toussaint over Mike Soroka. Soroka is experiencing soreness in his surgically-repaired right shoulder.

Ralph Lifshitz (Razzball, @ProspectJesus): While it’s always nice to scroll through stats of any kind, there’s very little to take away from Spring Training numbers. It’s been said many times, but it comes down to two things, playing time/position battles and health. This is the time of year when an injury can sidetrack the best laid plans. It’s important to know who has nagging injuries versus bumps and bruises. Buying opportunities can be had when there’s an injury overreaction as well.

Mike Podhorzer (Fangraphs, @MikePodhorzer): Playing time battles, of course, as you can’t accrue fantasy value if you’re on the bench or in the minors. Batting orders, swing changes that show up in batted ball stats, and pitcher velocities all affect my projection.

Ray Flowers (Fantasy Guru Elite, @BaseballGuys): Players to stay healthy. Beyound that, I’m keeping a close eye on some position battles, including seemingly half the bullpens in baseball. I don’t know if we’re giong to get any clarity on the majority of those decisions, but I’m going to keep watching, keep the old ear to the grindstone, and hope that we can somehow descern how so many of these orgranizations are going to work the 9th inning.

Scott Swanay (FantasyBaseballSherpa, @fantasy_sherpa): I’m looking to see if any players have a dramatic spike in their walk rate during Spring Trainer – it may be nothing, or it may be a harbinger of improved plate discipline, which would make me more interested in them come draft/auction time, especially in an OBP league such as Tout. And of course particularly this year, late free agent signings that may affect playing time projections (see Williams, Nick).

Ryan Hallam (Fighting Chance Fantasy, @FightingChance): I like to watch the young kids, especially the ones who we know will have a fantasy impact to see how they do early. Vlad Guerrero, Eloy Jimenez, but also guys like Tyler O’Neill to seee if he can swat his way into playing time in the Majors. On the pitching side I definitely don’t put much stock into pitchers performance early in Spring as they are likely working on pitches or just getting work in. Maybe starting around March 20 or so results start to become more important.

D.J. Short (Rotoworld, @djshort): I pay attention to player health first and foremost. As others have said, a lot of the other things we see in spring training can just function as noise. I try to block a lot of it out, or at least not let it cloud my judgment. We’re talking about four or five weeks of games, often against minor leaguers and players who won’t make an Opening Day roster. I do believe it’s possible to overreact to health situations in spring training, but in most cases I’d rather invest in the healthy player than one who has a nagging issue or a pitcher who is lagging behind in terms of velocity.

Mike Gianella (Baseball Prospectus, @MikeGianella): Outside of injury news, I don’t look closely at Sptring Training until the last week or two. I’m watching for players who were hurt or returning from off-season surgery to see if they’re progressing. I like to see if hitters who have been working on a new stance or approach are still sticking to it by the last week of Spring Training and the same is true for pitchers with new pitches or increased velocity.

Mike Florio (NFL Network, @MichaelFFlorio): You do yourself a disservice if you buy into Spring results. In fact, you shouldn’t want your draft targets to have big springs becuase then their ADP will climb. Instead, what you should be looking for is changes/improvements. If you hear of a pitcher throwing a new pitch, or throwing harder, that is something to buy into. If a batter is lifting the ball there, that is something to look for. The one time you should look into results is when it comes down to playing time/positional battles.

Jeff Zimmerman (Fangraphs, The Process, @jeffwzimmerman): Most of Spring Training data is pure white noise. I do track a few items. Pitcher velocities as most start throwing hard and build up their arms to throw hard longer. Which regulars are playing on the minor league fields. These players are likely hurt and the team may put them on the DL to start the season. The lineups over the last week since teams will be setting spots for the regular season.